How scientists need to lead the public to a healthier planet

The Source
By: Lucy Frisch, Fri Jun 5 2020
Lucy Frisch

Author: Lucy Frisch

In honor of UN World Oceans Day (8 June), and in collaboration with Oceanic Global, we are excited to launch our new SDG 14 hub, dedicated to life below water. This day is about celebrating the ocean and its importance to the planet and our lives, while raising awareness about the many threats it faces. 

Sergio Rossi is the author of Oceans in Decline and a huge proponent of science education and science journalism. In this interview, he shares the means by which he believes researchers will be able to make the most impactful change against SDG14.

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How is your organization addressing UN Sustainable Development Goals 14, Life below water?

The Universitá del Salento and the Universidade Federal do Cearà, academic institutions where I work, are deeply committed to the search for nature-based solutions. We indeed think that we are part of nature and we have to understand this point. Once you realize it, you can start looking for solutions that are within the Earth's materials and energy limits. The Blue Growth has to be truly understood as another form of view life, in which we try to apply the know-how that we have to live in harmony with the ecological cycles: not economically sustainable, but sustainable for our own survivorship, based on the new perspectives of the oceans not on its exploitation but out of respect for the limits of its growth.

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What do you think is the most relevant way to measure success against this goal in your field?

Results in food sovereign and ocean restoration. If we are able to protect and restore marine habitats and create ocean management to ensure food for locals, this would be a real success for everybody. The problem is the synergistic impacts that are making deep and, in some way, irreversible (from the human time scale point of view) perturbations that we are witnessing.

What do you think is the most productive way that researchers can engage policy makers?

Making programs in which there is a serious citizen science approach. Policy makers are sensible to what people are thinking about a determinate theme or a problem (it translates to votes and power). If you reach the people with a bottom-up approach, with awareness and education, it is possible that you can really address the problem and push political actors to move. I think that the top-down approach has not been successful, and our pressure has been rather weak. The solutions have to come from local parties rather than general problems. The other way round is almost impossible because each area, each country, region or city will have their own peculiarities. However, communication is essential to exchange experiences, and this has to be favoured in the political arena. This is why I always work towards scientific outreach in many forms.

How do you prioritize public engagement and how
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important is it for the future of our oceans?

Everything must be based on engagement with the public. It is time we, scientists, take the “torch of responsibility” to amplify our message that another world is possible but with new roles that have to be carefully explained. I’m working on a marine restoration plan in which the center is the person, the person that is enrolled to make active transplanting of the biota in the benthos through a specific program, driven by marine biologists. If these programs become a reality in many places around the world, showing the possibility that the oceans can be recovered, we will win an essential ally to make another way of life possible.

What are the short- and long-term goals of your work?

Short-term is to pursue specific projects to understand the role of marine animal forests (my specialty) as carbon immobilizers and how these three-dimensional, live structures based on benthic suspension feeders (sponges, corals, gorgonians, bryozoans, etc.) will survive the climate change challenges that are already present in our oceans. In the long-term, my dream is to coordinate a very ambitious plan of restoration of these marine animal forests (and other coastal habitats) in different parts of the world, making a huge effort to educate and engage the people. When I was 11 years old (1980) the Oceans were the promise of a fantastic future. We are still waiting. But in this decade, the decade of the oceans, this might come true and this vast extension of water will help us survive in front of the bleak future we face.

All our interviews reflect the views and opinions of the interviewees.

Visit our new SDG14 hub to explore the latest content related to life below water.

About Sergio Rossi

Sergio Rossi
Sergio Rossi is a research scientist specializing in marine natural resources and biological oceanography.  He is  Associate Professor at the DiSTeBA, Dipartimento di Scienze e Tecnologie Biologiche ed Ambientali in the Università del Salento, and Visiting Professor at the Universidade Federal do Cearà. He is also invited researcher at the Environmental Science and Technology Institute (ICTA-Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain).  His lines of research are related to Marine Biodiversity and Global Change and can be synthesized as: 1) Studying the role of environmental and biological factors of the water column on the distribution, nutritional condition and survival of benthic organisms to increase the knowledge and tools for coastal management. 2) Studying the physiology and trophic ecology of benthic in front of global change. 3) Underwater mapping and distribution of benthic suspension feeders through remote and deep diving techniques (Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) crossing experimental information with seascape methods to understand energy fluxes in the benthos, carbon sink role of the benthic suspension feeders and the anthropogenic impacts on benthic populations. 4) Conservation and restoration research on marine biodiversity in coastal areas. 5) Marine ecosystem services and environmental education, studying aspects of natural ecosystem and resource management. He also developed third-generation biofuel (marine microalgae) applied protocols, using all the above mentioned knowledge and my network to make a realistic approach to this energy alternative. Lastly, but just as important, his job as a scientific journalist, reflected in his collaborations with several journals and magazines, demonstrates my strong commitment with scientific outreach (also reflected in eco-thrillers and books for kids). Oceans in Decline (Springer-Nature, Copernicus series) and The forgotten continent: Visions about Antarctica (Tusquets) are critical essay books that are a strong examples of his efforts to communicate science to a wide audience in a rigorous, but easily comprehensible way. 

Lucy Frisch

Author: Lucy Frisch

Lucy Frisch is a Senior Marketing Manager leading the Content Marketing Programmes team, based in the New York office. She has a passion for storytelling and works to humanize the research published across Springer Nature with a focus on the researcher experience.

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