From plastic pollution to rising sea levels and acidification to over-fishing, the threats facing our oceans are well documented.
Now, an ambitious £20 million programme – the UK Research and Innovation’s Global Challenges Research Fund (UKRI GCRF) One Ocean Hub – has been announced, and is aimed at transforming the global response to these urgent challenges.
Led by the University of Strathclyde, the Hub will bring together the competing interests and agendas of the individuals, groups and organisations that rely on our oceans to realise a vision of an integrated and sustainable approach to managing their use.
Nelson Mandela University, which has positioned itself as a leader in ocean sciences research, is one of the numerous partners in this global research initiative that is aimed at collectively tackling the world’s ocean challenges through a transdisciplinary approach.
This will see a number of Mandela University researchers, including Professors Patrick Vrancken (SARChI Chair in Law of the Sea and Development in Africa), Mandy Lombard (SARChI Chair in Marine Spatial Planning), Rose Boswell (Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts), Janine Adams (SARChI Chair in Shallow Water Ecosystems), Hennie van As (Director: Centre for Law in Action), Dr Bernadette Snow (Director: Institute for Coastal and Marine Research), Dr Kerry Sink (CMR Research Associate) and post graduate students working together with the other partners in the Hub.
A key priority of One Ocean Hub will be to ensure the knowledge, experiences and rights of those most-reliant upon the oceans, and disproportionately affected by the failure to protect them, are recognised.
The team will set out to uncover the less tangible values of the ocean, and the hidden ‘trade-offs’ in ocean decision-making.
The goal is to ensure decision-making is based on evidence of risks and opportunities among competing ocean uses.
The five-year programme is being funded by the UKRI GCRF and will involve more than 50 partners, including Mandela University and other world-leading research centres, development organisations, community representatives, governments and multiple UN agencies.
One Ocean Hub programme leader, Professor Elisa Morgera, Director of the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law & Governance with the Law School, said: “Millions of people all over the world are entirely reliant upon the ocean for food, jobs and transport yet over-exploitation, competing uses, pollution and climate change are pushing ocean ecosystems towards a tipping point.
“The One Ocean Hub will bridge the current disconnects across law, science and policy to empower local communities, woman and youth – who are particularly impacted by decision-making – to co-develop research and solutions.
“The aim is to predict, harness and share equitably environmental, socioeconomic and cultural benefits from ocean conservation and sustainable use.
“The Hub will also identify hidden trade-offs between more easily monetized fishing or mining activities and less-understood values of the ocean’s deep cultural role, function in the carbon cycle, and potential in medical innovation.”
Mandela University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Engagement, Prof Andrew Leitch, expressed his delight at the approval of the funding for the One Ocean Hub.
“The Hub represents an innovative and dynamic plan to integrate research across disciplines in different sectors and at different scales (global-local) to address multiple challenges to ocean health that undermine multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” he said.
“Being part of the international consortium that has been established, we look forward to actively supporting this ambitious project which will hopefully advance our knowledge to address global issues challenging our planet.”
Mandela University is currently hosting a four-day Inception Phase Regional Workshop; the main objective of which is to get the discussions going among research partners on expectations and contributions to the work that lies ahead.
Professor Andrew Thompson, UKRI Champion for International and Executive Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), said: “The sheer scale and ambition of these Hubs is what makes them so exciting. They enable us to deliver a coordinated global response with UK researchers working in partnership with researchers, governments, NGOs, community groups and international agencies across developing countries.
“Each Hub has the potential to transform the quality of life for multitudes throughout the world and safeguard our planet for future generations.”
Within the initial five years of the programme, the team hopes to advance an integrated and inclusive approach to ocean management at a national level in South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Fiji and the Solomon Islands that enhances the resilience of marine ecosystems and of vulnerable groups.
Professor Morgera said: “Our aspiration is that decisions on the ocean will be informed by multiple values and knowledge systems and that the rights and worldviews of communities, women and youth will be recognised, valued and realised.”
The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government in late 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries. The One Ocean Hub will help to support the UK’s international commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG 14 on the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans.