Shining a light on ocean research - accelerating solutions to urgent global challenges

Springer Nature Group
By: Anna Armstrong, Tue Jun 8 2021
Anna Armstrong

Author: Anna Armstrong

Senior Editor Nature

As we celebrate World Oceans Day today, it is great to see that  Ocean research has been gaining increased attention at a political level, with the inception this year of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and the UN Ocean Conference scheduled for next year, intent on scaling up action for SDG14: Life Below Water

The growing focus on ocean research comes from a recognition of the ongoing decline in ocean health and the global harm this is causing, and the understanding that sustainable and equitable ocean management can help to turn the tide on this decline and safeguard the ocean’s provision of nutritional, economic and social goods.  Helping to accelerate solutions to such urgent challenges is central to us at Springer Nature, and therefore we have been keen to represent the work being done in this important area of research in the pages of our journals, utilising not only our dedicated SDG publishing programme, our specific SDG 14 Hub and our multidisciplinary capability, but also our incredible editorial and design expertise.

We were therefore thrilled to play a part in the Ocean Panel project, an initiative which brought together a vast body of researchers and legal and policy experts to answer questions posed by fourteen heads of state about the state of the ocean and opportunities for action.

The project started in 2018, when the Ocean Panel commissioned a comprehensive assessment of ocean science and knowledge with significant policy relevance.  The assessment brought in contributions from over 250 experts from 48 countries.  We were incredibly proud that Nature and the Nature Portfolio were appointed the publishing partner for this project’s initial output - a series of ‘Blue Papers’ exploring the pressing challenges at the nexus of the ocean and the economy, providing thematic deep dives into a range of topics and offering a robust knowledge base to inform a new ocean report and the Ocean Panel’s action agenda.

Publishing research on behalf of research consortia is not new to us, and with this important package we believed we could offer additional value.  Instead of merely taking the ‘blue’ literature from the Ocean Panel and publishing, say, short summaries of the research, we proposed that we use our editorial expertise to publish adaptations of the Blue Papers in the Nature journals, with editors taking them through the full editorial and peer review process.  This, we believed, would improve the rigour of the published research and elevate its status, and bring the findings to a new audience.  We also believed that by fully utilising our award-winning inhouse design capabilities we could make the research as accessible and compelling as possible to the widest possible audience.  This saw us reach beyond the pages of our journals and create immersive infographics, illustrations and a podcast to accompany the work.

The research in this collection will help to shape the new ocean narrative and identify opportunities to facilitate the transition to a sustainable ocean economy.  For example, one research paper published in Nature, explores the food production potential of the ocean.  The authors find that the ocean could sustainably produce 36-74% more seafood compared with current levels;  this is equivalent to 12-25% of the estimated increase in all meat needed to feed 9.8 billion people by 2050.  The greatest potential for growth lies with the farming of seafood.

We also ventured into new disciplinary waters with this project.  Nature published a Perspective (a type of review article that allows for more opinion) on organised crime in the fisheries sector led by a legal scholar from South Africa.  This article put a spotlight on how the many facets of organized crime in this sector, including fraud, drug trafficking and forced labour, are hindering progress towards the development of a sustainable ocean economy.  Similarly, an expert Comment in Nature Food highlighted how poor ocean governance enables illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing with negative impacts on seafood value chains, environment, society and global food security.

Overall, hundreds of pages of academic study were turned into a bespoke package of beautifully presented, succinct and accessible research papers, reviews and opinion pieces, and immersive infographics, accessible to a new, large and highly relevant audience.  A podcast, recorded with Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway and Philip Campbell, Editor-in-Chief of Springer Nature, has been listened to by more than 50,000 people.   The future of food from the sea paper alone has been accessed 41,000 times.  

To see world leaders talking to researchers and building policy (such as the commitment to sustainably manage 100% of their national waters by 2025) on the back of this has been inspiring.  If the pledges made are kept, this project could serve as an excellent example of how the direct collaboration of policy makers, in this case heads of state, and researchers can drive progress towards a sustainable future.

We are building on the momentum of this project with a series of initiatives exploring how science can inform progress towards the SDGs.  The Blue Food Assessment is one such initiative.  This project takes an in-depth look at the contribution that aquatic foods, traditionally neglected in international food policy discourse, can make to healthy and sustainable food systems.  We plan to publish the output prior to the UN Food Systems Summit later on this year, with the intention of feeding into the summit a clearer understanding of where blue foods sit within the global food policy landscape.  

Continued collaboration of this kind, between the research, scientific and policy communities, is key to raising awareness and understanding of the issues facing the ocean and we look forward to continuing to foster these dialogues. 

Anna Armstrong

Author: Anna Armstrong

Senior Editor Nature

Anna Armstrong is a Senior Editor at Nature, handling research papers in ecology, food systems science and sustainability.  Before joining Nature Anna worked as an editor on Nature Plants and Nature Geoscience.  Anna obtained her PhD in plant ecophysiology from the University of York, and enjoyed a brief spell as a postdoctoral researcher at the Australian National University.

Related Tags: