5-6 July 2023

The 10th-anniversary celebration of the Galway Statement, held on the 5th and 6th July 2023, brought together experts and stakeholders from across the Atlantic region to commemorate a decade of the landmark agreement. An agreement that has since set the stage for enhanced transatlantic marine research and cooperation. 

Organized by the All-Atlantic Ocean Research and Innovation Alliance (AAORIA) in collaboration with the Irish Government, the European Commission, the Marine Institute, and the University of Galway, the gathering explored the strides made in marine research cooperation and ocean observation over the past ten years and set sights for the future – how to address shared challenges for sustainable ocean use.

Participating in this celebratory event were three Early Career Ocean Professionals (ECOPs) sponsored by EU4OceanObs project to attend; Kolisa Sinyanya, Isabela Ribeiro, and Mariana de Botton. Intrigued by the voices of the next generation of ocean leaders, we sat down with Kolisa, Isabela, and Mariana to hear their thoughts on the significance of transatlantic marine research and ocean observation in shaping policies for the sustainable future of the Atlantic Ocean and its coastal communities. 

In a world where the health of our oceans holds the key to sustainable development, the voices of ECOPs offer a fresh perspective on the role of data, science, and international collaboration in tackling pressing environmental and societal challenges.

Introducing the ECOPs

Kolisa, an ocean researcher and science communicator at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, has dedicated her PhD work to exploring ocean biogeochemistry, with a particular focus on the Agulhas Current and the relationships between phytoplankton, nutrient uptake and biogeochemical cycling.

Isabela, armed with a bachelor’s degree in oceanography and a master’s degree in coastal management, is currently based at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, where she is focusing her PhD on the development of environmental policies addressing anthropogenic impacts in the marine environment, notably the Plastic Treaty (UNEA 5/14).

Mariana, a master’s graduate in Climate Physics from Utrecht University, ventured into understanding pollution distribution in the Coral Reef System in Veracruz during her bachelor’s studies. For her master’s thesis, she investigated plastic accumulation in ocean eddies and its correlation with chlorophyll levels.

Observation and Prediction: Shaping Research and Collaborations

Ocean observation stands as a cornerstone of informed policymaking, its reach extending across the globe, providing essential insights into the complex marine environment. At the time of the signing of the Galway Statement, in 2013, all three ECOPs were at the very beginning of their ocean career journey. Today, ocean observation and international collaborations form key elements of their work. It is within this context that they share their perspectives on how ocean observation and prediction have become essentials in shaping their research endeavors and international collaborations whilst catalyzing their understanding of the intricate dynamics of the ocean.

Kolisa, whose research predominantly centres on the Indian Ocean and parts of the Southern Ocean, emphasized the significance of Atlantic Ocean data in understanding phytoplankton dynamics and biogeochemical cycling. “Because I focus on the Agulhas Current, the Atlantic Ocean’s ocean observations and predictions are key in my understanding of the dynamics and relationships between phytoplankton, nutrient uptake, and biogeochemical cycling,” Kolisa remarks. Her work underscores that while her research may be rooted in the Indian and Southern Oceans, insights drawn from Atlantic Ocean observations hold the key to understanding broader oceanic relationships.

For Mariana, ocean observation and prediction formed the heart of her educational journey. “Both have played an important role in my education, helping me better understand the basics of the state of the Atlantic Ocean” she asserts. Her research demonstrates the synergy between observational data and theoretical frameworks, adding “For my work in plastic accumulation in ocean eddies, I used both the scientific knowledge expanded and developed through ocean observations, as well as the data itself to support my research.” Such an amalgamation enriches comprehension of ocean dynamics and enables better-informed solutions for ecosystem health.

Meanwhile, Isabela, who is actively engaged in studying the development of environmental policies, offers insights into the power of ocean observation in decision-making. “Over the last decade, we have definitely seen some improvements in Brazil’s data-informed decision-making at local, regional, and national levels,” she notes. This transformation, despite challenges, underscores the importance of data-driven methodologies in shaping policies that prioritize sustainability going forward. 

As science forms the basis of informed decision-making, the ECOPs’ journeys reflect the potential that ocean observation holds in guiding sustainable practices and policies worldwide.

Harnessing Ocean Data for Sustainable Coastal Communities

Unified in their conviction, the ECOPs perceive ocean observation and prediction as the heart of coastal resilience, catalyzing sustainable economic growth, and driving the holistic development of communities hugging the Atlantic shores.

Kolisa emphasizes how “Ocean observations and predictions contribute greatly to understanding the shifts that have occurred in coastal regions.” This comprehension, in turn, becomes a beacon for orchestrating growth while nurturing the health of the oceans. At the same time, Kolisa highlights the essential role of engaging stakeholders across the spectrum, supporting the diversity of perspectives to address complex challenges and steer sustainable growth. “It is important to hear from everyone, [scientists, communities and policy makers] … we need to consider diversity in our efforts because it brings about new ideas, different perspectives, and beneficial changes to what we are used to,she adds. 

Mariana’s perspective sharpens the focus on data-driven solutions: “Having more observations and predictions allows us to expand our knowledge and understanding of our coasts, and compounding this with the existing scientific and empirical knowledge of our coastal communities aids us in reaching better sustainable solutions.” Through examples like sargassum detection and plastic clean-up scheduling, she illuminates the power of data to empower coastal communities to conquer challenges with strategic precision.

Isabela, however, believes that the key to coastal resilience lies in equitable growth. “I think the biggest challenge is the unequal investment in science and technology that global south countries faceexplains Isabela. Isabela envisions continuous funding through initiatives like AAORIA, a lifeline to address the imbalances and usher in a new era of equitable scientific progress. “I believe that AAORIA could serve as a platform to overcome this [funding] inequality.” Access to data can bridge gaps between Atlantic North and South countries, fostering collaborations that contribute to the balanced development of coastal regions.

Gaps, Challenges, and Opportunities in Ocean Data Utilization

Resolving the inequality in funding is not only important to stimulate coastal resilience but also because it contributes to large data gaps which in turn hinder policy making. “… In Brazil, we often suffer from lack of funding and the discontinuation of programs due to the fact that the environment is not a major priority. This has severe implications for science-based policy making and could definitely be improved,describes Isabela.

Even in the well-studied Atlantic Ocean, gaps remain in ocean observation efforts. Kolisa’s interest in the nutrient-poor North Atlantic unveils the need for comprehensive data. “I believe that knowing the phytoplankton species dynamics and obtaining data from the region is very key to us understanding their roles in the biological pump,” explains Kolisa.

For Mariana, the biggest challenge is the need for standardized data and open science: “Protocols for and the standardization of data is important so that it can be used to its full potential. We must also advocate for more open science, because data has to be a resource that everyone can take advantage of.” These measures enhance data’s usability, enabling researchers, policymakers, and communities to leverage it effectively for innovative projects and informed decisions. However, for successful utilization, Mariana emphasizes that data needs to be properly communicated so to bridge the gap between complex scientific results and actionable decisions. “If we are not able to communicate the data driven scientific results, that data will not fulfill its purpose of enabling an informed understanding of what needs to be taken into account for decision making,” highlights Mariana. 

ECOPs as Catalysts for Change

With prevalent challenges and opportunities underlined, the spotlight turns to the ECOPs, all of whom stand as agents of change. Emerging leaders poised to shape the course of oceanic exploration, policy formulation, and sustainable development.

Through participation in the Galway Statement celebration, the ECOPs saw their role in shaping policies and actions going forward evolving. They urged for greater inclusion, recognition, and participation of ECOPs in policy arenas and policy-making spaces to create a lasting impact. “[ECOPs] should be part of the conversation and actively participate in events, conferences, parliaments, and so on … our access to these spaces and our participation should be guaranteed and recognized,” stresses Isabela. Similarly, Kolisa envisions a collaborative future for ECOPs. “I envision a world where we can be included in international gatherings…playing strategic positions in decision-making,” she expresses. She believes that ECOPs can play a pivotal role in shaping informed decisions through their expertise and engagement and help bridge the gap between data-driven science and policy.

Participation in such places is not only empowering for ECOPs, equipping them with much desired exposure, skills, and expertise, but it also allows for international collaborations and intergenerational knowledge exchange to take place. “Networking plays a big role in collaboration for future projects, thus working together towards the same sustainable goals. Representation helps us understand different perspectives, where we have to be active listeners; even when looking at the same problem, there are different parts of it that affect us differently,” elaborates Mariana.

Representation from stakeholders across the world and younger generations at conferences and events contributes to better communication, empathy, and understanding, enriching ocean observation efforts and improving the Atlantic ecosystem’s comprehension.

Empowering the Next Generation

Captivating future generations and empowering them to pursue a path towards becoming an ECOP, is a continuous process. All three ECOPs emphasized the crucial role of universities and educational programs in enhancing ocean observation knowledge in curricula. They proposed interdisciplinary approaches, inclusivity, and courses on environmental awareness.

Universities and educational programs need to approach ocean observations and predictions in an inter/transdisciplinary way, bringing together scientists with different backgrounds to qualify better the information collected and its implications in the real world,” states Isabela. She underscores the need for a holistic understanding of ocean science, that spans multiple disciplines, to gain different perspectives.

Similarly, Mariana further proposes, “Introducing courses where different disciplines converge, helping us understand other areas of ocean science that are not specific to our educational background, and also involving the community in local projects will aid in our efforts towards sustainable solutions.

Lastly, Kolisa underscores the power of education and communication: “Science communication is one such powerful tool to achieve this…bridging the gap between the experts, communities (laymen), governments, and policymakers,” Kolisa believes that effective communication and education are instrumental in empowering future leaders to make informed decisions for ocean sustainability and address complex ocean-related challenges. “I wish for future ECOPs to be highly enthusiastic about research and communicating it. Make the research fun!” Kolisa expressed.

In all, the ECOPs stress the importance of communication and collaboration skills for future ocean leaders, urging them to advocate for intersectionality and representation. They highlight that knowledge and involvement will always provide meaningful contributions in ocean science.

Charting a Sustainable Future

As ocean observation continues to elucidate the complexities of our marine ecosystems, the insights shared by Kolisa, Isabela, and Mariana offer a glimpse into the evolving landscape of ocean science, policy, and collaboration. With their passion, dedication, and commitment, these ECOPs represent a powerful force of positive change for the Atlantic and beyond. Their dedication to research, communication, and collaboration offers hope for a thriving and resilient ocean ecosystem.

Article by Mafalda de Freitas, Peniche Watch, Portugal