Its significance as a biodiversity hotspot, carbon sink, and source of fish, for transportation, recreation and indigenous ways of life put the ocean front and center in several important policy processes. Yet, many people are not aware of the role of the ocean and scientists often struggle to deliver their findings to policy-makers in a format and language that they find useful.
To kick-start discussions and action towards one of the seven outcomes to be achieved within the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, DIE’s director Prof. Dr. Anna-Katharina Hornidge and Sebastian Unger from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) co-chaired a three-day Laboratory on the topic of “An Accessible Ocean”, hosted by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in partnership with the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO). The event took place from 10-12 May and pursued three essential questions: how are knowledges, data and expertise currently shared, how does this relate to the knowledge needs for key ocean governance processes (e.g. protecting marine biodiversity and estimating tipping points in the ocean’s capacity to absorb carbon) and how can science-policy-society interfaces be improved?
Within the laboratory, Mirja Schoderer and Ramona Hägele, both DIE, organised a side-event on 11 May that investigated what “accessible” ocean science means from multiple perspectives in virtual panel discussion. They were joined by Claas Faber, data manager at GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Marine Research in Kiel, Dr. Leticia Cotrim da Cunha, oceanographer at Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Anne Broocks, sociologist at Leibniz Center for Marine Tropical Research (ZMT) working for the Civil Peace Service in Bolivia, and Geraldine Guillevic, science communicator from the French National Institute for Ocean Science (Ifremer).
They argued that in order to be accessible, science needs to be understandable for the general public but also understanding of the fact that other forms of knowledge exist that do not have to be pressed into a scientific mold to carry validity. Accessible science needs to be findable (e.g. during an online search), viewable without paywalls, and be based on interoperable and reusable data, complying with the so-called FAIR principles. Panelists agreed that increasing the accessibility of ocean science requires change at the individual but also at the structural level: scientists need to become better communicators but they can only do so if sufficient time and financial resources are available to develop these skills, which implies necessary changes at the level of scientific funding. These are also required to establish long-term technical and organisational infrastructures that promote the sharing of data and knowledge, as well as to set up research projects in a manner that supports the establishment of a transdisciplinary dialogue between natural science, social science, the humanities and non-scientific forms of knowledge.
The call for a change in funding structures was repeated several times throughout the laboratory as a prerequisite to increase the accessibility of ocean science by promoting transdisciplinary work and better communication. One way for states to pool funding globally to support such projects and to increase the scope of ocean observations that emerged during the laboratory was the creation of an ocean equivalent to the International Space Station. Strengthening existing science-policy interfaces and integrating ocean topics into the work of scientific advisory boards also present important avenues for scientific findings to inform policy-making.