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Identifying a path toward deep-sea sustainability and resilience

Capacity assessment is critical for managing the cumulative impacts of deep-ocean resource development.

Published onSep 12, 2022
Identifying a path toward deep-sea sustainability and resilience

Living on the South Pacific island of Rarotonga, Cook Islands, the value of the ocean is obvious daily. Seafood supports almost 40% of our diet, while in the outer islands, the proportion of seafood makes up over 60%. But the sea provides far more benefits than nutrition alone. Women often take children to glean the reefs providing them with an early education on the reefs and their significance. Women commonly glean the reefs in small groups where they use the time for socializing, networking, and general leisure. Fathers spend quality time with older children on small pelagic fishing boats. Many small businesses are based on fishing including fishing charters, fish processing and supplying fish to the local and tourist market. Traditional seafood dishes are favored at social gatherings. The sea is also a place for recreation and sport, warns of changes in weather, and is the location for practicing the ancient craft of traditional ocean voyaging.  

"It helps to highlight capacity gaps and focus capacity-building efforts so that countries are in a better position to decide independently whether and how to proceed with ocean resource development activities." --Jacqueline Evans, 2019 Goldman Prize Recipient, Cook Islands


As the world becomes more anxious to address global warming, attention is increasingly turning to the ocean as a source of renewable energy and minerals. But the ocean is already under pressure from the impacts of human development. Overfishing, the effects of climate change, and pollution from plastics and land development are global problems with untold consequences. The impacts of new human activities such as seabed mining have the potential to push the health of oceans beyond the threshold of sustainability. The Cook Islands has the greatest volumes of high-density, high-quality manganese nodules on the seabed within a single Exclusive Economic Zone. Yet, it’s well known that Small Island Developing States (SIDS), often with few economic alternatives aside from fisheries and tourism, are challenged by insufficient human and institutional capacity in ocean management, research, and data collection.  

The assessment presented in this report is a first step to improving research capacity in countries with the potential to develop deep-ocean resources. It helps to highlight capacity gaps and focus capacity-building efforts so that countries are in a better position to decide independently whether and how to proceed with ocean resource development activities.  

As the world’s human population approaches 8 billion and is set to peak at 11 billion in around 2100, the demand for ocean resources and the generation of waste and pollution will likewise increase. The need to identify a path towards sustainability and resilience while protecting the ocean has become critical. Together with other work to advance ocean science, the Global Deep-sea Capacity Assessment is essential for helping the world prepare for the future demands of deep-ocean resource development. For anyone working to achieve this goal, this report is compulsory reading.

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