As societies shape COVID-19 recovery plans, oceans must not be forgotten. Efforts to “build back better” and create a sustainable, inclusive and resilient recovery must include a commitment to protect our oceans. SEI works in a range of decision-making arenas and on research topics geared to driving the agenda on sustainable oceans, including the Marine Strategy Framework, the International Oceans Governance Forum, advising the Kenyan Government on the blue economy, our work with Ocean Finance, SEI’s International Centre of Excellence on Transforming Development and Disaster Risk, and our current chairmanship in the Global Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction (PEDRR).

“The ocean is usually seen as the outlet of all human activities. Therefore many of the answers to resolve problems related to marine pollution are on land. This requires a systemic understanding of a different magnitude and the inclusion of a broader set of actors beyond marine science and marine policy.”

— Karina Barquet, Lead of the Strategic Policy Engagement for Oceans and Biodiversity, SEI.

SEI is working to improve the connections between land, coasts and the ocean through the following systemic approaches:

  1. Spatial planning of coasts, including designing and monitoring land-based activities that take into account impacts on the ocean, and building resilient coasts that are better prepared to withstand compounding and cascading effects from climate change on critical infrastructure.
  2. Circular approaches that close loops by changing production patterns in food, industry, and utility services – perhaps one of the most important ways to to limit pollution flows into the ocean.
  3. Capacity building around systemic decision-making to improve scientific uptake and address Agenda 2030, including synergies and trade-offs between individual SDG targets and the whole system. A holistic approach is especially critical for oceans, because it is easier to hide environmental impacts in oceans than on land. Taking a system-wide view in planning would help to identify potential impacts ahead of time, and would better protect coastal and marine ecosystems.

The key to supporting decision-making is to put research and innovation at the heart of policy. This is the aim of Horizon Europe, an upcoming research and innovation programme with five mission areas, developed with the aim of delivering solutions for some of the greatest challenges facing our world.

In an early effort to help align research and policy towards a mission-oriented framework, on 10 June SEI and partners will host Mission Blue, a workshop to pilot-test Horizon Europe’s mission area on “Healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters”. The workshop will focus on creating interventions that can contribute to a future where the Baltic Sea is free of pollution.

The workshop is part of the BONUS RETURN project, a three-year project led by SEI, which aims to turn waste into circular solutions to protect the Baltic Sea environment. The starting point for achieving the project goals is that linear “use and dispose” models are not up to the task. Instead, interventions modelled on the concept of reduce-reuse-recycle-recover are crucial for “closing the loop” and limiting the total input of nutrients and pollutants into watersheds and the ocean, while at the same time addressing emissions from the extraction of raw materials.

Tested solutions are useful for responding to urgent problems in the short term, but in there is also a need to develop ambitious innovations that challenge mainstream business models, redesign socio-technical systems, change urban and rural landscapes, and experiment with new governance, policy and economic frameworks. The Mission Blue workshop aims to design practical, tangible solutions, and interventions composed of interconnected technological, policy and environmental innovations that help us reflect on the kinds of innovation, or mixes of innovation, that have the highest potential to achieve transformative impact.

Greater recognition of the connections between land and ocean-based activities would also make it possible to strengthen connections between Ocean-related SDGs and other targets. On World Oceans Day, we are committed to action that brings together decision-makers, scientists, and innovators to protect our oceans.

Read more about the upcoming workshop, Mission Blue.