Our Future Oceans

International collaboration and evidence-based policy are critical for our future oceans

World Oceans Day is a moment to celebrate, and reflect upon, the critical role oceans play in our lives. This is reflected not only in the enormity of our oceans, comprising over 70% of our planet’s surface, but also in the important role it plays in regulating our atmosphere and climate.

This is evidenced by the fact that 70% of our oxygen comes from the ocean and more than 93% of the additional heat from greenhouse gas emissions (produced since the 1970s) were absorbed by the ocean. Given its great size and importance, one could argue that our world might be more accurately named Planet Ocean.

Our oceans also support a diverse range of ecosystems, such as estuaries, kelp forests, coral reefs, rocky shores and polar environments, each of which contain a fascinating array of marine life.  These can be wonderful places for recreation, tourism and cultural activities, but are also crucially important in supporting fisheries which provide an essential source of nutrients, micronutrients, and income to many.

Despite their great importance, there is cause for concern for the future of many of our marine ecosystems and the fisheries that depend on them.  Climate change, fishing pressure, and their combined effects, are impacting fisheries catches, yet there is a lack of climate-related literature available for many important fisheries species, fisheries bycatch remains one of the biggest threats to marine mammal populations and political disputes are inhibiting crucial multilateral fisheries management.

Given the rapid pace of change in our oceans, coupled together with the fact that there is so much critical information that we do not yet know about our ocean ecosystems, the marine life they contain, the fisheries and in turn the livelihoods they support, is there any case for optimism?  I think there is. Genuine international collaboration and science-based solutions offer great promise. The importance of a solid evidence base, coupled with global action, has never been more clear than it is currently as viewed through the lens of the devastating global pandemic we are now experiencing.  The rapidity with which our actions have changed locally, regionally and globally over the past few months is also a clear example of humanity’s ability to bring about significant change when we deem it to be necessary.

The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, commencing in 2021, provides an exciting opportunity to bring about significant change for our degraded oceans on which we depend so much.  It will build new foundations between science, policy and society in order to strengthen management of our oceans for the benefit of us all.  It promises to provide an important platform to enable the gathering and synthesis of knowledge to provide the basis for informed, science-based decisions which will underpin improvements in ecological health and enable us all to continue to benefit from our oceans into the future.

As the Editor-in-Chief of Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries I’m excited about the opportunities that the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development brings for our community as well as for our oceans and the life within it. Generating and synthesising research, identifying knowledge gaps, and setting priorities for the future on various aspects of fish and fisheries biology is our focus.
In line with my optimism for the future, I am pleased to report that we are in the process of publishing a special issue titled “Future Seas 2030: pathways to sustainability” which will set the scene for the decade to come. The issue will detail interdisciplinary, evidence-informed, plausible scenarios of the future by 2030 for a range of 12 key challenges that our ocean face such as climate driven species redistribution, marine pollution, food security, conservation, and ensuring a fair future for Indigenous Peoples.  We look forward to playing an important role in providing 'The Science We Need for the Ocean We Want'.”

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Professor Jan M. Strugnell

Director of the Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture at James Cook University, Australia. 

Editor-in-Chief of Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries (Twitter: @RFBFisheries)

She investigates the evolution and function of marine organisms using genomic, proteomic and environmental DNA techniques and has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers.