Workshop summary: Development of an Integrated Ocean Research Network (Future Earth Ocean Knowledge-Action Network)

Participants from 27 countries assembled in the cruise ship terminal “Ostseekai” in Kiel, Germany, for a recent workshop on ocean sustainability research. Photo: J. Steffen/GEOMAR
An international community addressing ocean sustainability research looks to future opportunities by bundling their knowledge into a global research network.

The ocean covers 71% of the Earth surface and has long played an important role in the livelihood and cultures of humans around the world. The exponential growth of human populations and their development needs, however, have put increasing stresses on the marine environment and ecosystem services they produce for people. The world needs more coherent, inclusive and effective ocean conservation and governance strategies in order to safeguard human prosperity and still allow the ocean to be used by current and future generations.

In particular, the research community is working to define acceptable targets for ocean health and sustainability, establish the knowledge base needed to maintain and improve the health of ocean systems and develop ways to predict and respond to shocks or disasters in the ocean and its impacts on humanity. Charting a course from understanding ocean systems and the challenges facing the ocean to changing policies, practices, governance and behaviours to sustain ocean systems will require developing scalable and integrated systems approaches to ocean issues. It will also require researchers to collaborate with the users of this knowledge.

In order to begin forming a global network focused on ocean research, the Cluster of Excellence “The Future Ocean” in cooperation with Future Earth and the International Council for Science (ICSU) hosted an international workshop on 4 to 5 December 2016 in Kiel, Germany. It was called “Workshop on the Development of an Integrative Ocean Research Network (Future Earth Ocean Knowledge-Action Network).” Partners on the workshop included the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), UNESCO’s International Oceanographic Commission (IOC), ICSU’s Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The workshop assembled around 100 representatives from several existing academic and practitioner communities dealing with ocean sustainability. It sought to scope new international transdisciplinary ocean research activities that could be pursued within an integrative ocean research network over the coming years. During panel discussions and interactive sessions, participants exchanged core ideas, practicalities and expectations for an integrative ocean research network. Participants also co-designed priority research activities within several break-out groups and identified possible funding institutions and prospective partners, including non-academic and action-oriented groups and industry.

Over the course of two days, the workshop included a few short presentations but focused more on facilitating discussions through panels, group work and a poster session. The first discussion round included a panel with five stakeholders and stimulated the workshop participants, provided background information and offered opinions and expectations of an Ocean Knowledge-Action Network. Later on the first day, a World Café session facilitated discussions on several supporting elements that could be incorporated into an integrated science platform. They included “Games and Comics,” “Global Learning Networks” and “Engaging Society.” Participants could choose five out of the 10 topics and join vibrant, 20-minute conversations at a series of thematic tables moderated by experts.

In a panel discussion on Best Practices and Global Perspectives, the panellists debated the main challenges and possibilities and good examples of efforts to build capacities in ocean research outside of academia and secure long-term funding. About 40 posters offered workshop participants information about several organisations, programmes, ongoing and planned projects, state of the art ocean science and existing inter- and transdisciplinary research initiatives.

The second day focused on shaping the contents of the Ocean Knowledge-Action Network. The participants joined 10 breakout groups aimed at designing integrated research priority activities with global ambitions but also regional relevance for informing sustainable ocean development and solutions. For two hours, groups of eight to 12 people worked on proposed topics, such as “Integrative Coastal Research,” “Marine Debris and Plastics” and “Ocean Disasters and Risk Reduction.”

The results from the discussions will be published in a report due out in February 2017. The next steps for the preliminary Development Team will be to assemble the Steering Committee for the Ocean Knowledge-Action Network, which will develop a “Research and Engagement Plan” based on the scoping activities held during the workshop. The main focus of the Ocean Knowledge-Action Network over the next couple of weeks will be engaging in The Ocean Conference. This UN event will focus on the Sustainable Development Goal addressing ocean health (SDG-14) and will run from 5 to 9 June 2017 in New York. The Ocean Knowledge-Action Network will seek representation at a Preparatory Meeting for this event that will be held 15 to 16 February 2017 at the UN headquarters.

If you would like to find out more about this workshop, visit the website. The organisers will publish a summary report soon. Interested researchers and stakeholders will also have an opportunity to apply to join the Steering Committee of the Ocean Knowledge-Action Network in early 2017.