World Ocean Assessment, Part 1

In January 2016, the United Nations General Assembly accepted a 1,752 page report entitled "The First Global Integrated Marine Assessment - World Ocean Assessment 1," complied by some twenty recognized ocean experts, lead by Llorna Inniss and Alan Simcock, further supplemented through contribution and peer reviews by an additional 200 ocean research scientists and policy administrators within and outside the UN structure worldwide.

According to the Introduction, the process "was tasked with providing a first Assessment that could serve as a baseline for future cycles of the process. The vast scale of the ocean and the complexities of its many facets are revealed again and again throughout this first Assessment. Likewise, the challenges that must be faced are presented. We have also sought to identify the main gaps in knowledge and in capacity-building that hinder the responses to these challenges. These elements are summarized...under ten themes: climate change, over- exploitation of marine living resources, the significance of food security and food safety, patterns of biodiversity and the changes in them, the pressures from increased uses of ocean space, the threats from increased pollution, the effects of cumulative impacts, the inequalities in the distribution of benefits from the ocean, the importance of coherent management of human impacts on the ocean, and the problems of delay in implementing known solutions."

This is an enormous undertaking, and is certainly the most inclusive and up-to-the-moment survey of all aspects of the ocean and its relationship to the natural and social worlds we live in. I have been exploring the document for days, feeling as suspended and lost as a diver deep underwater surrounded by the full actuality of this vast ocean environment and unsure if it is possible, even in part, to understand any of it. I wonder how many others, even amongst the most dedicated ocean wonks, will read this. It won't be many, as the length, depth, breadth of reference, and report language are intimidating, challenging, and very time-consuming, and I fear that this massive effort may not achieve its purpose other than to provide a kind of foundation for a massive bureaucratic edifice and process for which the UN is well-known and for which the public has no connection.

I am not sure that even ocean or environmental journalists will enter this world. I saw almost no news coverage of the Report announcement and, during various ocean conferences that I have attended over the past year, the project was barely mentioned or, if so, met with an uncertain shrug. That does not seem fair. Inniss and Simcock and their colleagues have invested enormous energy and experience in this report, and have produced something formidable, insightful, comprehensive, and useful in itself and as a baseline for future evaluation and action. Let's acknowledge that contribution, honoring their work that so few of us have the expertise, dedication, and durability to perform. To do so, I intend to devote this and some future editions of World Ocean Radio in effort to share some of the value contained within. Let's dive in.

Many of the ten themes are familiar and have received much attention to date in both research and policy discussions and the media. "Climate change" and "over-exploitation of resources" are common subjects everywhere, not without controversy or resolution, but at least in public view. Several of the others are not necessarily new, such as "threats of increased pollution" or "the significance of food security and food safety" or "the importance of coherent management of human impacts on the ocean," and they receive amplified treatment from time to time. Still others are newly nuanced or expanded into global awareness, specifically 'the pressures from increased uses of ocean space," or "the inequalities in the distribution of benefits from the ocean," or "the problems of delay in implementing known solutions." And deeper within the report there are numerous sub-sets of specific problems and challenges, and these too evolve the discussion as a result of new research and broader perspectives - all of it adding up to a well-realized fulfillment of intention and guideline for ocean observation that cannot be ignored.

"World Ocean Assessment" is a four-part blog series.

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Peter Neill is author of the recently released "The Once and Future Ocean: Notes Toward a New Hydraulic Society" now available through Amazon.com, IPG.com, and through your favorite local bookseller.