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Preserving the Ocean

Covering over two-thirds of our blue planet, the ocean makes it habitable. It is at the origin of all life on Earth and affects each of our lives: it is the source of our freshwater and of half the oxygen we breathe; it also influences our climate and weather. Our ocean provides food, medicine, and mineral and energy resources. It supports a multitude of life forms and shapes the Earth’s characteristics.

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO) is working to improve responses to the unprecedented environmental changes and human impacts now occurring and to promote ocean health via marine sciences. Much regard is given to Africa as well as Small Island Developing States where livelihoods depend heavily on marine resources.

Marine ecosystem-based management requires a new generation of spatial planning tools to empower marine managers to implement best policies. IOC-UNESCO promotes Marine Spatial Planning, a practical way to create and establish a more rational organization of the use of marine space and the interactions between its uses, to balance demands for development with the need to protect marine ecosystems, and to achieve social and economic objectives in an open and planned way. The Integrated Coastal Area Management (ICAM) programme is designed to assist countries in their efforts to build marine scientific and technological capabilities.

The Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS) coordinates and manages the global marine biodiversity knowledge base.  The information portal holds data from bacteria to whales, from the equator to the poles and from the surface to the deepest ocean trenches. It is used around the globe for planning ocean conservation policies, and identifying biodiversity hotspots and global trends in species distribution.

IOC-UNESCO supports the UN World Ocean Assessment, which is the regular process of reviewing the state of the marine environment, including socio-economic aspects. Keeping the world’s ocean and seas under continuing review by integrating existing information from different disciplines will help to improve the responses from national governments and the international community to the unprecedented environmental changes now occurring.

The International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange programme (IODE) enhances marine research and management by facilitating the exploitation, development, and exchange of data and information among Member States. The IODE works to narrow the “digital divide” by training marine information specialists and improving data system capacity in developing states, with an emphasis on Africa.  The IOC manages the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) to provide a coordinated approach for monitoring and observing the global ocean, which requires an international effort and broad cooperation.

The ocean surface currently absorbs almost one-third of the CO2 that is emitted to the atmosphere from human activities, including fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, and cement production.  Our science programmes support many studies of the impacts of climate change, including the International Ocean Carbon Coordination Project (IOCCP), the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), and the Ocean Observations Panel for Climate (OOPC).