Written by Nereus Research Associate Colette Wabnitz,

Much of the news about the ocean tends to be dominated by doom-and-gloom messages. While it is important to remind ourselves and the public at large of threats facing the ocean and our role in devastating biodiversity loss (see recent IPBES report), there is also a growing need to coordinate and integrate the science that exists to support and enable ocean solutions because doom-and-gloom without solutions leads to apathy. As Elin Kesley – co-founder with Nancy Knowlton, Cynthia Vernon and others of #OceanOptimism – aptly summarised, “According to researchers at Columbia University’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, […] overburdening people’s capacity for worry with too much doom and gloom leads to emotional numbing. When we believe our actions are too small to make a difference, we tend to behave in ways that create the conditions in which those expectations are realized. […] Hopelessness undermines the very engagement with marine issues we seek to create. Feeling hopeful [on the other hand] enhances our capacity to take meaningful action.”

In that spirit, the OceanVisions summit[1] had three aims in mind: (1) develop a forum where scientists can highlight ocean solutions research in the areas of resilience, adaptation, mitigation and sustainability; (2) amplify and promote scalable solutions across human, climate and ecological dimensions; and (3) create a platform for partnerships and engagement between research, public, private, and non-profit groups. These were addressed around six sessions and a number of events seeking to galvanise awareness and engagement around truly innovative solutions-oriented work in different fields of ocean research (including an Ocean Visions Startups & Solutions Event at the aquarium). The six sessions were:

  1. Adaptive Social-Ecological Systems: Coastal Climate Change;
  2. Resilience of Coastal Ecosystems: Tropical Oceans and Coral Reefs;
  3. Protecting Ocean Health: Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia;
  4. Sustainability of Ocean Resources: Marine Spatial Planning;
  5. Mitigation: Scalable strategies for Blue Carbon*;
  6. Integrated Modelling of Human and Climate Impacts on Ocean Systems

Each of these sessions was introduced by three keynotes, followed by a number of presenters, highlighting how research (natural, social and engineering) is contributing to ocean solutions and how that research can be amplified for further action-oriented translational work. A live recording of the 4-day summit is available here.

Being held in coordination with COMPASS meant a great conference kick-off in the form of a mock press conference with a panel of distinguished journalists and scientists. It also gave an opportunity for attendees to pitch their stories throughout the conference and get tips on successfully communicating science to larger audiences. Nereus Fellow Becca Selden, an invited speaker in session VI, opened the floor in style at the Marine Media Mixer Reception by pitching her work on how fishing communities are responding to climate-driven species range shifts on the US East coast.

The meeting was attended by a wide diversity of participants in terms of their career stage, origin and fields. Yet sadly, given recent restrictions around the issuance of US visas, many promising young researchers who had been afforded funding support to participate were not able to attend. On a positive note, female representation was absolutely outstanding and a true highlight of the summit. Of the five distinguished scientists on the COMPASS panel, four were women. Out of 63 confirmed speakers 31 were female, with many more as part of the audience.

The organisers anticipate holding Ocean Visions summit every two years. They will center around specific themes such as ‘OceanVisions2021 – Marine Pollution’ (focusing on debris and plastics) and ‘OceanVisions2023 – Food Systems’ (focusing on the ocean’s capacity to support sustainable food productions deriving from fisheries and aquaculture) – so stay tuned!

*Nereus Principal Investigator Malin Pinksy presented during session 5 – Mitigation: Scalable strategies for Blue Carbon

Photo below courtesy of COMPASS

COMPASS and their team and journalists (from left to right: Stephen Posner [COMPASS], Chris Joyce [NPR], David Malakoff [Science], Nancy Baron [COMPASS], Kendra Pierre-Louis [New York Times], Jon Suttner [CNN], Laura Helmuth [Washington Post], Lori Arguelles [COMPASS])


[1] Held in coordination with the IOC-UNESCO, the Ocean Conservancy, and COMPASS and part of a larger OceanVisions initiative co-organized by partners at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Smithsonian Institution, Stanford University, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Skidaway Institution of Oceanography & University of Georgia, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Georgia Aquarium, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Birch Aquarium Scripps. For more information visit: http://www.oceanvisions.org/ocean-visions-initiative

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