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United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)


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The United Nations has proclaimed a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) to gather ocean stakeholders worldwide behind a common framework that will ensure ocean science can fully support countries in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal 14 on the ocean.

As mandated by the UN General Assembly, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO will coordinate the Decade’s preparatory process, inviting the global ocean community to plan for the next ten years in ocean science and technology to deliver, together, the ocean we need for the future we want!

IMPORTANT UPDATE: The Call for nominations to the Executive Planning Group (EPG) of the UN Decade of Ocean Science is now open. Should you wish to submit a nomination, please refer to the circular letter under the "Documents" tab below.


Why a Decade of Ocean Science?

While all major international assessments find that much of the ocean is now seriously degraded, there is an increasingly urgent need to find scientific solutions that allow us to understand the changes taking place in our ocean, and to reverse the declining health of our planet’s largest ecosystem.

The UN Decade of Ocean Science seeks to transform and bolster the way in which the scientific community, governments, civil society, and the UN System coordinate their actions toward “conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” – as stated in Objective 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Decade will act to fill major gaps in our knowledge of the ocean and ability to sustainable manage its resources:

  • There is no internationally-agreed methodology for estimating the economic value of services the ocean provides to humankind;
  • Science cannot yet meaningfully evaluate the cumulative impacts of climate change, marine pollution and other anthropogenic stresses on the health of the ocean ecosystem;
  • For 99% of habitable marine areas, we lack the basic biodiversity knowledge we require for effective management;
  • Only 5% of the ocean floor has been mapped and only 1% of this mapped area has been gridded at high resolution;
  • 103 million square miles of the deep sea exist in perpetual darkness and up to a million marine species could still be unknown to science;
  • Only 3 humans have explored the deepest known point of the ocean.

What do we hope to achieve through the Decade?

The most important legacies of the UN Decade of Ocean Science will be a new generation of ocean scientists and technicians, with the establishment of new research networks, and a new generation of enhanced observational systems, facilities and infrastructure that will help countries achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Decade will also raise unprecedented levels of interest and participation from youth, the general public, and decision-makers around the globe.

Through wide consultations with all relevant stakeholders, the Decade’s preparatory process will propose specific objectives and deliverables to be achieved by 2030. In calling for the Decade at the UN General Assembly and other international fora, the IOC has proposed some preliminary objectives: 

  • Enhancing sustainable use of ocean and marine resources including a focus on: making an inventory of ocean resources and ecosystem services; understanding and quantifying biogeographical zones and the potential role of marine protected areas; 

  • Expanding use of knowledge about the ocean conditions including data management, data gathering, modeling, forecasting ocean food productivity and evaluating its capacity to meet growing demands;
  • Supporting the development of the ocean economy including analyses of economic and social benefits from the sustainable use of marine resources and science-based management;
  • Sustainable management of coastal ecosystems including ecosystem resilience and marine spatial planning to minimize impacts of sea-level rise, extreme weather events, flooding and erosion, improvements of baselines on environmental conditions and public perceptions;
  • Increasing scientific knowledge about the impacts of cumulative interacting stressors such as warming, acidification and habitat destruction; 

  • Achieving integrated observations and data sharing including the use of satellites, fixed and moving observing platforms, all feeding into common data management and the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS).

How can the Decade improve ocean management?

We cannot manage what we cannot measure. The following are examples of ocean management applications that will be supported by improved data and knowledge generated under the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development:

Coastal Zone Management and Adaptation Marine Spatial Planning Marine Protected Areas
Fishery Regulations National contributions to UNFCCC National Ocean Policies
Marine Research and Development Regional and National Capacity Development Early Warning Against Ocean Hazards


For the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development to be successful, a definite set of themes and programmes will need to be determined, on the basis of agreed criteria and indicators of progress. Partnerships will lead the way to the establishment of funding mechanisms and the execution of activities.

Under a mandate from the UN General Assembly, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO is now working to bring together all ocean stakeholders to develop a common Implementation Plan for the UN Decade of Ocean Science.

Do you identify with any of these groups?

Decision-makers Ocean managers Scientists Educators
Civil society organizations Private Sector Youth activists Philathropists


Would you like to contribute, financially or otherwise, toward the activities of the UN Decade of Ocean Science?

Would you like to engage in the consultation process for designing the Decade?

Then join UNESCO’s IOC to design the UN Decade of Ocean Science and have your say about the next 10 years of ocean science development!

Please reach out to UNESCO’s IOC via oceandecade@unesco.org

Planning for a Decade of Ocean Science Action

The Proclamation of the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development by the UN General Assembly marks the beginning of a process of consultations with all ocean stakeholders, coordinated by UNESCO’s IOC, to prepare a concerted Decade Implementation Plan.

The Implementation Plan will include the following elements: 

  • An international science plan that will define key issues, priority scientific questions of high relevance to sustainable development (Agenda 2030), and will propose scientific themes and outcomes to structure the implementation of the Decade. The Science Plan will be built upon consultations with the scientific community (through global and regional workshops) to be undertaken in 2018-2019. The Science Plan should also define the modalities for synthesizing the results of research activities undertaken during the Decade;  
  • An Implementation strategy providing a guiding strategy rather than detailed operational procedures, which also includes governance arrangements in terms of structure and functions of coordinating structures (Steering committee, International project office, working groups to be established from 2021, etc.);
  • Development of a Capacity Development plan with a view to facilitate improved scientific knowledge transfer to wider segments of society and regional/national  governments, and to enable educational and capacity development opportunities in support of early career scientists;
  • Establishment of financial mechanisms;
  • Procedures for monitoring implementation/reporting on the Decade implementation; 
  • Guidelines for development of partnerships under the Decade;
  • A Communications strategy;
  • Mechanisms for coordinating the activities of the organizations of the United Nations system and those of other intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations concerned;
  • Guidelines for the establishment at the national level of mechanisms to mobilize public support and engage national institutions in the implementation of Decade activities.

This tentative timeline illustrates the preparatory process for the establishment of the Decade: