Inequitable global access to the resources needed for deep-ocean exploration and research has led to deficiencies in knowledge and governance.
The deep ocean constitutes our planet’s largest ecosystem, providing more than 90% of habitable space for life on this planet. It comprises an astonishing variety of habitats, ridges and plains, mountains and trenches, hydrothermal vents, coral and sponge gardens, the deep pelagic, and much more. The ocean depths are home to an incredible range of biodiversity, with novel adaptations that have shifted our understanding of the very limits of life. There is little doubt they are key to ensuring planetary health through the provision of essential ecosystem services; and yet, we estimate that far less than 1% has ever been seen, that two-thirds of the inhabiting species remain unknown to us, and that remarkably few of us have ever ventured down into those dark depths.
It is clear that the technological and financial resources needed for deep-ocean exploration and research, combined with such activities occurring in largely non-inclusive operations, have resulted in inequitable global access and capacity. Combine this with our general deficiencies in knowledge and governance, and we see why the deep ocean has been the domain of just a few. The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) sets out to change that situation by serving as a convening framework for diverse stakeholders to co-design and co-deliver solution-oriented research. The Ocean Decade affirms that capacity development, ocean literacy, and the removal of barriers to full gender, generational, and geographic diversity are essential elements of progress.
At a time when we must put a stop to the decline in the ocean’s health, true deep-ocean stewardship is needed more than ever. A firm grasp of currently existing capacity is fundamental as we move forward. This Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment report is such an important tool for removing barriers in deep-ocean research. With its 360 respondents from 124 countries and territories, the report has the magnitude to expose systemic inequities and key gaps. For example, I note that 73% of respondents from Melanesia think of deep-sea research and exploration as important considerations for their countries and that 91% of them do not think they have the adequate tools and technologies to conduct these activities.
In the interests of transparency and inclusiveness, I am pleased to see the results of all this effort being shared in this report. I hope it will help us to better explore, understand, and conserve the ocean’s precious resources and services. The Ocean Decade will indeed witness more incredible deep-ocean discoveries. May they and this report inspire us to create what is needed to correct the inequities of our various deep-sea capacities through partnerships and technology transfer.