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Region Summary: Oceania

High-level findings on the deep-sea capacity of 28 geographical areas in Oceania, divided into four subregions: Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, and Australia & New Zealand.

Published onSep 12, 2022
Region Summary: Oceania
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This assessment includes information about the technical and human capacity of 28 GeoAreas in Oceania divided into four subregions: Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, and Australia & New Zealand (Figure 1) [1]. Oceania claims the largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and deep-sea area of all regions. The largest depth zone in Oceania, by area, lies 4,000-6,000 meters below sea level, covering 50% of all Oceanian EEZs [2][3][4].

Figure 1

Oceania Subregions
Map of Oceania showing the four subregions used in the 2022 Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment: Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, and Australia & New Zealand, indicated by shades of red for each subregion’s exclusive economic zones (EEZs). [1][2][3][4]


Oceania poses the most significant opportunity for expanding deep-ocean research and exploration, given the area's vast quantity of deep-sea and strong connection with the marine environment. A detailed report of Oceania’s subregions and their GeoAreas can be found in Region Results: Oceania.

Status of Deep Sea Exploration & Research

Survey respondents were asked to assess the status of deep-sea exploration and research in their GeoArea by stating to what extent they agreed with the following statements: (1) deep-sea exploration and research are considered important in their GeoArea, (2) they have in-country deep-sea technology, and (3) they have in-country deep-sea expertise. 

Seventy-two percent of respondents for Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia agreed that exploration and research were considered important in their GeoArea, but only 6% reported they had in-country technology, and 17% reported they had in-country expertise to conduct deep-sea exploration and research. In Australia & New Zealand, 40% of respondents said exploration and research were considered important in their GeoArea, while 80-100% agreed that they had the in-country technology and expertise to conduct deep-sea exploration and research. In every subregion of Oceania, the in-country expertise rating was equal to or higher than the in-country tools and technology rating.

Table 1

Group

Importance

Tech

Expertise

Subregions

A

High

High

High

Northern Europe, Western Europe, Eastern Asia

B

Low

High

High

Australia & New Zealand, Northern America

C

Low

Low

Mid

Eastern Europe, Southern Europe, Western Asia, Northern Africa, South America

D

High

Low

Mid

Southeastern Asia, Western Africa

E

High

Low

Low

Melanesia, Micronesia, Southern Asia, Eastern Africa

F

Low

Low

Low

Polynesia, Middle Africa, Southern Africa, Central America, Caribbean

These respondent-assessed reports of in-country importance, technology, and expertise were also used to evaluate respondents’ perceptions of the importance of and existence of in-country resources for deep-sea exploration and research at the subregional level (Table 1). 

"About time to commence work in this area as we have the Government submarine cable for telecommunications in the country. No deep sea marine scientists to monitor the impacts of this." --Respondent for Vanuatu, Melanesia


Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities

Conservation & protection, climate change, and seabed mining were the three most important deep-sea issues identified by respondents for Oceania. The three most important challenges were funding, human capacity, and access to deep submergence vehicles. More precise data collection technology, training opportunities, and better data tools were identified as the most exciting opportunities by respondents for this region. 

"For us to effectively develop and conduct research and monitoring in the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, we need access to readily available vessels that are able to travel offshore for multiple days. In addition, we need support to be able to cover fuel and crew costs."  --Respondent for Palau, Micronesia


Deep-Sea Capacity Presence, Accessibility, and Satisfaction

The next part of the assessment recorded the presence of marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology—vessels, deep submergence vehicles (DSVs), sensors, and data tools—based on extensive research, survey respondents’ access to each type of technology, and respondents’ satisfaction with the technology to which they have access.

Organizations & Industries

Using manual research and survey data, we assessed marine organizations and industries as a proxy for human capacity1

Our research on organizations and industries focused on ocean-based institutions, such as universities, government agencies, and various marine industries. We identified 170 deep-sea and marine organizations in Oceania through research and survey responses: 60 universities and research laboratories, 69 government agencies and ministries, and 41 other organizations. Australia & New Zealand had the highest number of organizations per GeoArea; Micronesia had the lowest. 

The most common industries in Oceania were fisheries & aquaculture and marine transportation, followed by tourism. The least present active industry was deep-sea mining. Fifteen GeoAreas across Oceania were prospecting for deep-sea mining, mainly by foreign countries (e.g., Belgium, Germany, Canada, Russia). Industries like construction and renewable energy are also often dependent on foreign capacity. Only one GeoArea of Oceania, New Zealand, had all types of industries if the active prospecting for deep-sea mining is included.

Vessels

Vessels were the technical capacity with the highest presence in Oceania, and GeoAreas in Oceania had a higher average presence of multiple vessel types compared to other regions of the world. Access to vessels in Oceania was low compared to other types of technical capacities but comparable to most other regions worldwide. Respondent satisfaction with vessels in Oceania was lower than in all other regions, except Africa and Latin America & the Caribbean.

Recreational vessels were the most present, followed by fishing vessels. Navy vessels were the least present type of vessel found in Oceania. The most accessible vessels to respondents for Oceania were fishing vessels, followed by traditional vessels. 

More than a third of respondents for Oceania reported having no access to vessels, and nearly two-thirds reported that increased access to vessels would have a high impact or would be transformative for their work.

Deep Submergence Vehicles

While deep submergence vehicles (DSVs) were the technical capacity with the lowest presence in Oceania, there was a high presence of multiple DSV types in Australia & New Zealand and a very low presence in Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. Similarly, access to DSVs was highest in Australia & New Zealand and very low in all other subregions. 

Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) were the most present DSVs in Oceania, followed by benthic landers. Human-occupied vehicles (HOVs) and drifters were the least present types. The most accessible DSVs in Oceania were benthic landers, followed by ROVs and AUVs. Nearly two-thirds of respondents for Oceania reported having no access to any DSVs. 

While 52% of DSVs to which respondents had access could operate deeper than 200 meters, only respondents in Australia & New Zealand reported access to DSVs that could operate deeper than 1,000 meters. Therefore, respondents for Micronesian, Melanesian, and Polynesian EEZs did not have access to more than 91% of the EEZ area deeper than 1,000 meters in their subregions.

In Oceania, 70% of respondents reported that increased access to DSVs would be transformative for their work. Access to low-cost deep-ocean tools could be incredibly beneficial to this region.

Sensors

The distribution of sensor systems in Oceania varied widely, with the presence of multiple types of sensor systems running from very low to very high. Respondent access to sensor systems was similarly distributed from very low to low in Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia to high in Australia & New Zealand.

Navigation systems were the most common type of sensors, followed by water sampling systems. The least common type of sensor found in Oceania was eDNA. The most accessible sensor systems in Oceania were water sampling systems, followed by chemical sensors and CTDs. Nearly one-third of respondents reported having no access to deep-sea sensors.

Factors respondents noted that impacted how well deep-sea sensors in their GeoArea met their needs included lack of access, lack of technical expertise, and availability of platforms from which to deploy sensors.

GeoAreas like Palau and Tonga depended heavily on foreign capacities for sensors. Seventy-four percent of respondents for Oceania reported that increased access to deep-sea sensor systems would have a high impact or would be transformative for their work.

Data Tools

Data tool presence in Oceania ranged from very low to very high, similar to Africa and Latin America & the Caribbean. Like sensor systems, data tools also had a wide range of accessibility, from high levels of access in Australia & New Zealand to low or very low access in the other subregions. 

Despite relatively low levels of access to sensors, 78% of respondents for Oceania reported data tools as important for their work. The most common data tool accessible in Oceania was geographic information systems (GIS), followed by data management tools and data storage capacity. Nearly one-quarter of respondents for Oceania reported having no access to any of the listed data tools. 

Satisfaction with data tools in Oceania was low to moderate, similar to most other regions worldwide. Seventy percent of respondents for Oceania reported that increased access to data tools would have a high impact or would be transformative for their work.

"The sensors are not the problem - the platform (eg ROV) is the problem." --Respondent for Australia, Oceania


Deep-Sea Capacity Indices

Organizations, industries, vessels, DSVs, sensors, and data tools were assessed using research to identify the presence of capacity in each GeoArea and survey responses to identify accessibility to and satisfaction of vessels, DSVs, sensors, and data tools in each subregion. We used this information to group subregions based on similarities concerning the presence of marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology, access to technology, and satisfaction with the technology available, allowing for comparison between locations on a subregional, regional, and global scale (Table 2).

Table 2

Group

Presence

Access

Satisfaction

Subregions

A

Mid-high

High

High

Northern Europe, Northern America

B

Mid

Mid

Mid

Australia & New Zealand, Western Europe, Southern Europe, Eastern Asia, Southeastern Asia

C

Mid

Low-mid

Low-mid

Eastern Europe, Western Asia, Southern Asia, Northern Africa, Southern Africa, South America

D

Low

Low

Low-mid

Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia, Western Africa, Middle Africa, Eastern Africa, Central America, Caribbean

Australia & New Zealand had a moderate to high presence of marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology, access to technology, and satisfaction with them. In contrast, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia had a low presence of marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology, low access to technology, and low to mid satisfaction with the technology to which they have access. Of all the GeoAreas in Oceania, Australia had the highest presence of deep-sea technology while Nauru, Pitcairn Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, and Tuvalu had the least. 

"RESEARCHER PERSPECTIVE
“In recent years, minerals such as manganese nodules found at 4,000-6,000 m have become of global interest and value. Because of this new interest, there is an invested drive to understand how these resources can be extracted with minimal impact and understand better the environment in which these nodules are formed. Much research and data are now required to provide new information on these nodule-rich areas within the Pacific, particularly for the Cook Islands, Nauru, and Tonga. Using deep-sea mining as an example, the Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment provides a platform where governments and NGOs from Oceania can now access information on where current deep-sea capacity resources are.” --Alanna Smith, Te Ipukarea Society, Cook Islands"

Conclusion

Oceania presents one of the most significant worldwide opportunities for deep-sea exploration and research. It has the largest deep-ocean EEZ area in the world and has the least capacity to explore it through local marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology. Local interest is high, as respondents from Oceania agreed far more than other regions that deep-sea exploration was considered important by those in their country. 

Oceania's incredibly diverse marine industry includes tourism opportunities to cargo ship services, offshore surveillance, and fisheries. Foreign capacity is strongly present in industries like construction or renewable energy and in the presence and access to DSVs and sensors for GeoAreas like Palau, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Tokelau. Capacity is available for some smaller islands assessed, such as Niue, Tokelau, and Christmas Island, with support provided by Australia or New Zealand.

Offshore industries within Oceania have created economic opportunities across many countries. These opportunities increase social capacity through marine-related jobs and citizens pursuing higher education. Lower-income nations were found to have limited technology and technical expertise but were more suited to using traditional practices and knowledge. 

Deep-sea mineral deposits and other natural resources make Oceania a target for industry development and a potential location for exploiting these resources. Local communities' inability to explore and protect them only increases this risk. The Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment consolidates information on local capabilities, creating the foundation for countries and organizations to develop strategies for independent research capabilities to make informed local management and investment decisions.

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