Equitable and inclusive deep sea science can only be achieved once we understand the capacity gaps and take grass-roots action to address these gaps.
The Indian Ocean is bordered by coastal states of Africa and Asia and Small Island Developing States that are strewn across the vast expanse of the blue azure waters. For island nation residents like myself, the ocean is part of our daily life. Coastal communities have fostered a unique relationship with this vast expanse of water, awed by its natural beauty, respectful of its mood swings, and reliant on the ocean’s bounties for our livelihoods and economic stability. However, while deep waters make up more than 90% of the Indian Ocean and more than 70% of most of our Exclusive Economic Zones, we are only able to truly explore and connect with the upper 30 meters of our ocean where sunlit coral reefs thrive and where our physiological access is conceivable. Beyond this invisible barrier, where sunlight is devoid, accessibility for exploration, science, and research requires an expansive list of capacities.
It is of no surprise then that the monopoly of deep-sea exploration, science, and research has been held by a small number of high-income nations who are privy to cutting-edge platforms, equipment, expertise, and funding. This leads to a disproportionate distribution of data repositories, technological advancement, and archived biological samples by higher-income countries. Leveling the playing field and ensuring equitable and inclusive access to the deep sea is a vital aspiration and one that must be backed up by action in the programs that we create on the ground. The Global Deep-sea Capacity Assessment conducted by the Ocean Discovery League is an important first step towards a more equitable approach to deep-sea science, research, and exploration.
This global assessment unveils answers to some of the most basic and pertinent questions like What is the current state of deep-sea research and exploration in my region? or What are the barriers and opportunities to enable deep-sea research in my region? These questions are vital to first understanding the needs and national, local, and regional expertise and capacities that may already exist. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the results show that there is a limited global deep-sea survey ability within my region, Africa. Encouragingly, however, there is a growing desire to be more active in deep-sea exploration and research: 20.8% of respondents stated capacity building opportunities as important, and 60.8% stated that exploration and research in the deep sea are important.
The Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment is a much-needed guidance document on where our global efforts must be invested over the next decade if we genuinely want to see a more equitable and inclusive deep-sea research and exploration space.