September 2021 OES Beacon

A Decade is Not Only a Matter of Time and Space

Atmanand M A, Jay Pearlman, Christopher Whitt, UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development

This article discusses the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) and the planned involvement of the OES, to include our OCEANS and other conferences and events.

The ocean is essential to the Earth’s ecosystem and sustain- ability. It absorbs greenhouse gases, influences weather, is an energy resource, provides food and jobs, and many other factors relevant for human sustenance. Peter Thompson, United Nations (UN) special envoy for the ocean said that “Ocean science, supported by capacity development, is essential not only to inform Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14) but also other SDGs that have an ocean dimension.”

Achieving sustainability is a global challenge that must include and go beyond national interests. It involves both natural and human impacts on the ocean ecosystem that have created challenges. Overfishing and bycatch, marine debris, contamination and loss of marine biodiversity are widely acknowledged. The United Nations’ First World Ocean Assessment in 2016 1,2 found that much of the ocean is now seriously degraded.

To address this requires expanded approaches to governance and to ocean knowledge. The UN has taken an active interest in facilitating governance discussions for the oceans. For example, the UN is furthering discussions for an international, legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction 3. Since the seas beyond national jurisdiction make up 40 percent of the surface of our planet, as well as 64 percent of the surface of the oceans, the sustainability of marine ecosystems in this region is a priority. The priorities must, of course, also include waters within national jurisdiction. Given the vastness of the oceans and their complexity, particularly in coastal waters (national jurisdictions), the challenge of observing, quantifying, and understanding the oceans requires a major initiative of global scale. Action can only be effective if it is based on sound knowledge informed by science and engineering.

Recognizing that humanity is at a pivotal point, on December 5, 2017, the UN declared 2021-2030 as the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (the “Ocean Decade”), which is focused on the “science we need for the ocean we want.”4 The Ocean Decade will provide the framework for international cooperation and actions needed to develop the scientific research, engineering, and innovative technologies that can connect ocean science with the needs of society. These actions will connect our research and applications to areas such as coastal zone management, marine spatial planning, and marine protected areas, fisheries management, early warning systems, development of national ocean policies and R&D research strategies, and regional and national capacity development planning. This involves contributions across geographic regions, across generations, and across regions of differing resources and infrastructure. It involves new technologies such as low-cost autonomous vehicles, newer observation platforms, cost-effective ocean renewables, new underwater communications, expanded interoperability, increased data accessibility, and new analysis and modeling techniques.

Achieving significant advances during a single decade requires clear and reasonable objectives and a path to achieve these to the level that they will impact society. The objectives have been grouped into desired outcomes. These are5:

•  A clean ocean where sources of pollution are identified and removed

•  A healthy and resilient ocean where marine ecosystems are mapped and protected

•  A predictable ocean where society has the capacity to under-stand current and future ocean conditions

•  A safe ocean where people are protected from ocean hazards

•  A sustainably harvested ocean ensuring the provision of food supply

•  A transparent ocean with open access to data, information and technologies

•  An inspiring and engaging ocean where society understands and values the ocean

The actions in each of these will be built on a foundation of interoperability and knowledge sharing including information management, standards and best practices, and capacity development. Oceanic engineering of observing systems, their components, and information management is essential for achieving these objectives.

The UN Decade is meant to inspire all stakeholders to take action to achieve the seven outcomes cited above. There is a strong need to have engineering intervention at many levels. The current style of “business as usual” is to be modified drastically. Engineering innovations could:

•   reduce pollution such as plastics, chemicals, fertilizers,

•   reduce capital costs of renewable ocean energy technologies like wave, offshore wind, thermal energy conversion,

•   reduce operations cost of scientific observations due to ship time and related infrastructure,

•   improve remote observations technologies,

•   make managing and analysing large datasets more efficient and accessible, and

•   standardize observations and enable better ocean management, amongst many other possibilities.

Our engineering community must engage broadly with scientists and end-users to co-design the changes necessary for integrated, interoperable global actions working across disciplines and cultures6. What, then, is the role of IEEE OES in the Ocean Decade?

We will contribute to the Ocean Decade in many ways, which for now we group into two major categories: bringing the Ocean Decade to oceanic engineering, and bringing oceanic engineering to the Ocean Decade.

Bringing the Ocean Decade to oceanic engineering involves raising awareness among students, professions, companies and institutions. This could include things like special sessions and keynote presentations at our conferences and workshops. Indeed, such events are already planned for OCEANS 2021 and OCEANS 2022. There could also be local events and activities, so if your chapter or other group would like to have more information or find expert speakers, OES can help.

Bringing oceanic engineering to the Ocean Decade means inspiring our members, students, companies, institutions and other agencies to take new actions to innovate and build technologies that help achieve the Ocean Decade goals. Some ways to achieve this might be recognitions for innovations that align with Ocean Decade outcomes (for example, technical presentations or paper prizes, or recognitions for industrial innovations during OCEANS exhibitions). A key element of the Ocean Decade is co-design, so there will also be focused workshops at both OES conferences, as well as at selected science conferences organized by other associations that will bring together experts from both science and engineering.

There are definitely more activities than we have been yet able to conceive and plan. We want to see activities at all levels of OES, including local chapters. To sustain long-term Ocean Decade involvement, OES has established an Ocean Decade committee, and planned a funding initiative for 2022 (and hopefully beyond—throughout the decade). The funding initiative will support the volunteer work to implement the activities described above, as well as have incentives for new ideas and initiatives that our members and chapters suggest, to start with. The next generation will bear the brunt of climate change and the related outcomes and so they are key stakeholders in the Ocean Decade. This is recognized by the prominence of the Ocean Decade Early Career Ocean Professional (ECOP) program, as well as a strong emphasis on ocean literacy and munity engagement.

Our Young Professionals (YPs) have long been involved with existing OES activities that already contribute to ocean awareness and education by participating in various student outreach activities around the world, such as the Singapore AUV Challenge and the European Robotics League. These YPs are also working with Ocean Decade ECOPs to bring the voice of the youth to the movement. One such event was the recently held Virtual ECOPs Day on 1st-2nd June7. We highlighted our YPs involvement with Earthzine, SAUVC, ERL, and in helping organize workshops and symposia. You can watch the video we presented here ( and see our impression at the V.ECOP day 2021 Story map. We also par-Summit on how to engage ECOPs in this movement. An ECOP programme has been officially endorsed by the IOC and Ocean Decade8, led by an informal working group for ECOPs. If you are interested in participating in YP/ECOP activities specifically, please contact Hari Vishnu (

The potential is huge for OES to catalyze engineering contributions to the Ocean. However, this requires support from many volunteers of IEEE OES. We need volunteers who can support these activities in their region and technical area. Volunteers are requested to complete the google form9 indicating your willingness. We will form appropriate groups and take it forward on a large scale.


2 Front. Mar. Sci., 06 June 2019 fmars.2019.00298




6 Pearlman, et al., Front. Mar. Sci., 05 May 2021

7 VECOP- Program.pdf

8 – intro