14 Mar 2024
by Amy McLellan

IMarEST at the UN Ocean Decade conference: where science meets world

With its tagline of ‘The science we need for the ocean we want’, it seems the UN Ocean Decade, 2021-2030, was created with IMarEST in mind.

The UN Ocean Decade aims to bring together scientists, policymakers, and other stakeholders to stimulate scientific endeavour and knowledge generation to reverse declines in ocean health and create new opportunities for sustainable development.

But while there are many scientific papers delving into oceanic themes big and small, translating those understandings into practical solutions and workable policy initiatives is proving a greater challenge.

“When seeking solutions to meeting the sustainable development goals, it’s hard to reach across domains and disciplines and get people to talk to each other in a common language,” says Ralph Rayner, Professorial Research Fellow at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate and the Environment and co-chair of the IMarEST Operational Oceanography Special Interest Group (SIG).

“There are lots of barriers to overcome, but this is where IMarEST can contribute to the debate because it operates at the interface between engineering, science, [and] technology.”

Some of the most immediate priorities on the UN Ocean Decade agenda include tackling marine pollution, the protection and restoration of ecosystems and biodiversity, developing sustainable fishing and an equitable ocean economy. Priorities also include unlocking ocean-based solutions to climate change, increasing community resilience to ocean hazards, and expanding the global ocean observing system. These are all topics of interest to the SIGs.

There’s also a focus on changing humanity’s relationship with the ocean; after all, the planet we all call home is more ocean than land. And it seems this change is already underway. Recent alarm at extreme weather events means the ocean is now back in public consciousness in a way it perhaps hasn’t been for many years.

“The ocean is getting more attention than in the past because there’s now greater recognition of the critical role the ocean plays in controlling and moderating our climate and also the potential for ocean-based mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions,” notes Rayner.

Bringing together the brightest minds

The 2024 UN Ocean Decade conference falls on 10-12 April and is taking place in the coastal city of Barcelona, Spain, representing a useful staging post of this decade-long ocean focus. There is also a series of satellite events from 8-12 April.

The opening sessions of the main event will pull together heads of state, leaders of UN agencies, business leaders and NGOs along with scientists and researchers from leading institutions around the world. There will also be representatives from indigenous and human rights groups.

The key, of course, is to ensure all this effort results in real-world outcomes rather than a well-meaning talking shop.

Here, IMarEST can play an important role, with the Institute co-hosting and particpating in side events designed to connect the dots and accelerate innovation.

The Innovation in Ocean Policy event will highlight ocean policy challenges and opportunities at regional and international levels, while another side event is being delivered by the UN Ocean Decade Technology and Innovation Working Group.

IMarEST is also co-hosting a session on Funding & Resources for Innovators, which will feature both early career ocean professionals (ECOPs) who have raised finance, and others such as private philanthropic organisations and donors to discuss leveraging and awarding funding. 

Targeting the important nexus of where science meets technologists, engineering and finance, these events and sessions are designed to help embolden innovators to deliver real-world solutions that are aligned with sustainable development goals.

There’s no registration fee to participate in the conference although a modest donation to a travel fund to support selected participants from Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and ECOPs is requested.

Discover more about the UN Ocean Decade conference.

IMarEST at the UN Ocean Decade conference*:

Side event 1

Capacity development for the ocean we want: Exploring science communication and solving global capacity development challenges

UN ECOP [early career ocean professional]

P31, Institut de Ciències del Mar

This Satellite Event strives to find innovative and efficient solutions to address specific challenges related to capacity development/sharing. By ensuring an inclusive, international and intersectoral atmosphere, we aim for an impactful and meaningful event that will inform further development of the Ocean Decade by supplying concrete suggestions for further capacity development. The mini-hackathon will be designed to be interactive and action-oriented, with a focus on providing Early Career Ocean Professionals with opportunities to develop practical skills and tools that they can use in their careers, through solving ‘real world’ challenges.

8th April 17.00 - 19.00 ICM
Sea HubSea Hub

Side event 2

Gathering forces for science-policy nexus, innovation, and funding


Sala d’Actes, Fundació Barcelona Capital Nàutica

This Satellite Event will provide a dynamic platform for participants to engage with leading experts to foster collaborative and innovative solutions for positive change, and to illustrate some barriers found for Early Career Ocean Professionals (ECOPs) to find entry-points into the science-to-policy interface. A diverse array of speakers, including policymakers, scientists, innovators and industry leaders, will provide multifaceted insights. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn from experts leading to valuable insights and connections. Our event will discuss science-policy nexus, innovation and funding, and will bring subject matter experts and industry leaders to explore topics through structured panels and back-and-forth conversations.

9th April 17.00 - 19.00
Port Hub

Side event 3

Technology and innovation showcase

UN Ocean Decade Technology and Innovation Working Group (TIWG)

Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI)

Caribbean Sea Room (124+125), Barcelona International Convention Centre (CCIB)

A diverse cohort of 10 presenters will provide 3-min presentations as “pitches” and “reverse pitches” aligned against the 10 Ocean Decade Challenges. Pitches will be from technology providers encompassing startups, corporations and research labs. Reverse Pitches will be from end users who need new solutions. This will be followed by a panel discussion featuring funders, workforce development and policy experts to give practical advice and discuss the barriers to implementing new solutions. Attendees will rapidly learn about new ocean technologies, while also broadening their network in the technology community.

12thApril 8.30 - 9.45 in main conference venue

Networking event

Technology and innovation showcase

Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI)

[drinks and light refreshment]

12th April 18.00 to 21.00 in main conference venue

* Locations and timings subject to confirmation

If you are attending, come along to the IMarEST booth located in the main venue.


Main image: Container ship travels across the water; credit: Shutterstock


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