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One Ocean Hub’s Contributions to Challenges Highlighted in the Second World Ocean Assessment

Senia Febrica

One Ocean Hub, University of Strathclyde, UK

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This blog post examines to what extent research conducted under the One Ocean Hub can contribute to the key areas for action identified in the second World Ocean.

The Second World Ocean Assessment (WOA II), published in May 2021, is the major output of the second cycle of the Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the States of the Marine Environment, including Socioeconomic Aspects (the Regular Process). The Regular Process is an integrated assessment of the world’s ocean at the global level covering environmental, economic and social aspects that made up of more than 300 experts, drawn from a pool of over 780 experts from around the world.  The first World Ocean Assessment that was published in 2015 warned about the serious degradation of our ocean due pressures generated from human activities (WOA II, 2021: iii). The second World Ocean Assessment noted that there has been some improvement in responses to address pressures on the ocean from human activities such as the establishment of marine protected areas and improved management of fisheries in some regions. However, it concluded that human activities such as plastics pollution and unsustainable fishing continue to contribute to the degradation of our oceans.

This blog post will examine to what extent research conducted under the One Ocean Hub can contribute to the key areas for action identified in the second World Ocean, as follows:

1. Cleaning up the ocean from waste, pollution, and hazardous substance

2. Protecting marine ecosystems

3. Understanding the ocean for sustainable management

4. Promoting safety from the ocean

5. Sustainable food from the ocean

6. Sustainable economic use of the ocean

7.  Effective implementation of international law


In terms of contributing to a clean ocean, the second World Ocean Assessment brought to light the pressure arising from the release of pollutants from the manufacturing industry, agriculture, tourism, and marine litter. In that connection, the One Ocean Hub is conducting research and supporting capacity strengthening in low and middle income countries on microplastic pollution and impacts of microplastic on fish health. Our researchers are also working to highlight the link between human rights and marine plastics pollution. Marine plastics pose a significant threat to the ability of humans to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health,  through skin contact, inhalation, and direct ingestion of toxins, which could occur at various stages of the plastics lifecycle (Hamley, Narayanaswamy and Kantai, 2021). Indirectly marine plastics also bring knock-on impacts for ecosystems and their services, human health and food safety in their various stage of life-cycle.


With regards to the protection of marine ecosystems, the second World Ocean Assessment underscores the need to enhance our understanding of the distribution and status of species and habitats and how they are being affected by anthropogenic pressures. As part of the Hub research on sustainable fisheries, we are investigating multiple, potentially conflicting, fishery sectors (artisanal, small-scale, commercial, recreational, aquaculture) and, integrating other knowledge(s) to develop the understanding of the role of fisheries in critical marine habitats, the potential impact from plastics and climate change, and the ecosystem response to different socio-ecological and governance approaches.

Furthermore, the Hub’s research on offshore marine biodiversity and spatial management contributes to the protection of marine ecosystem by:

  • advancing understanding of offshore marine biodiversity and developing an online marine taxonomic atlas for the Southeast Atlantic area;
  • undertaking habitat, ecosystem and ecosystem service mapping and valuation to support spatial management in the Southeast Atlantic including areas beyond national jurisdiction; and
  • strengthening capacity to undertake offshore marine research, and knowledge to contribute to international processes relating to offshore marine management and biodiversity.

Crucial also to the protection of marine ecosystem is the role of cultural and intangible heritage of our oceans. The Hub research highlights the essential role of human bonds, cultural, and religious connectivity for conservation and sustainable use of the ocean. Our research programme on emotional connections with the ocean through the arts explores how cultural heritage and creative responses can bring together stakeholders in ocean research and help surface multiple conceptions of the ocean; evolving challenges to, and possible futures for, ocean management. The Hub for instance has initiated the ‘Deep Emotional Engagement Programme (DEEP) Fund’ to commission artistic responses that capture connections with the ocean in our partner countries. Few examples of the projects supported include the Keiskamma Art Project in South Africa; Netai en Namou Toc [Stories of Mother Ocean] in Vanuatu; and Cocooned in Harmony in Ghana. To learn more about these projects read a blogpost authored by our researcher Dr Lisa McDonald, Glasgow School of Art (McDonald, 27 January 2021).


In terms of understanding the ocean for sustainable management, the second World Ocean Assessment noted the disparities remain in knowledge to support ecosystem-based management, particularly in the areas beyond national jurisdiction, since most research and available information relate to the North Atlantic Ocean, the North Pacific Ocean, and the Arctic Ocean. The One Ocean Hub research aims to provide direct contribution in enriching our understanding of the ocean. The Hub is bringing together existing data sets in the South East Atlantic with a view to developing tools to support marine spatial planning and management of deep-water ecosystems including an online, open access, taxonomic atlas for the South East Atlantic region; and develop and implement capacity strengthening programme for offshore research methods, and offshore biodiversity knowledge in low and middle income countries.

We are also working towards making a contribution that integrated marine and social sciences to the fourth Intergovernmental Conference on an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ treaty) that is expected to take place from 1627 August 2021. For this purpose, in collaboration with the UN Division of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, we organised a series of capacity building sessions on the BBNJ treaty tailored for negotiators and other stakeholders on 23rd-25th November 2020 (Febrica, 29 November 2020). Our capacity building sessions address the following topics:

  1. Purpose, History, Procedural Aspects, and Topics Negotiated under the BBNJ Treaty
  2. Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity & Marine Genetic Resources
  3. Area Based Management Tools & Capacity Building and Technology Transfer


With regards to promotion of safety from the ocean, the second World Ocean Assessment highlighted a wide range of events in and on the ocean that threaten communities who are dependent on the oceans. These include marine heatwaves, tropical cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons, flooding and sea level rise that are increasing in frequency and severity due to climate change. In this connection, the One Ocean Hub is developing an integrated ecosystem assessment trade-off analysis tool for improved multi-sectoral planning and ecosystem modelling work to understand the impact of climate change and improve communities resilience.In addition, the Hub’s “Building Resilient Coastal Cities, Algoa Bay case,” brings together researchers who are working in partnerships with local managers and relevant governance structures to co-create climate services. It aims to investigate how area-based management tools such as Integrated Coastal Management, Marine Protected Areas and Marine Spatial Planning can work together on a daily basis to identify gaps and barriers that can be addressed by climate services.

The One Ocean Hub also contributes to improve communities’ adaptive capacity through elevated education and awareness through the development of new technologies and the use of theatre production, Empatheatre: Lalela uLwandle (Listen to the Sea). Empatheatre assists us to think through how issues of race, class and culture intersect with ocean governance policy and processes and how ideas of cultural heritage may be incorporated into marine spatial planning. It uses creative participatory methods to produce forms of public storytelling that extend research beyond the walls of academia. Empatheatre Lalela uLwandle highlights the deep connection between marine ecosystems to human life and puts emphasis on the importance of fair and equitable benefits. It draws our attention to the implications of behavior, collective decisions, and efforts to build solidarity around the health of oceans not just on human but on all life on earth (Erwin, 2019).


On improving the sustainability of food from the ocean, the second World Ocean Assessment drew attention to the crucial role played by the ocean as it provides about 17% of all animal protein consumed by humans and supports about 12% of human livelihoods. In this connection, the Hub’ is co-developing, including traditional knowledge, tools to assess, manage and monitor multiple fisheries sectors and co-developing fisheries stock assessment methods. In order to improve fisheries monitoring, Hub researchers based at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, such as Professor Benjamin Kofi-Nyarko and Professor Agrrey Finn, and their UK counterparts such as Dr Kieran Hyder and Dr James Bell based at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), UK are seeking to co-develop accessible technology in the form of mobile apps for monitoring fish populations and illegal fishing practices. In South Africa, Ghana, and Namibia our researchers, including Dr Jackie Sunde at the University of Cape Town, Dr Bolanle Erinosho at the University of Cape Coast, and Professor Alex Kanyimba at the University of Namibia, are working with small-scale fishers’ leaders and community members to explore the customs, traditions, and laws of select coastal communities in their focus countries that contribute to both conservation and sustainable use of marine resources. In addition, Dr Laura Major, Dr Alana Lancaster, Dr Alexander Winkler, Dr Michel Wahome, and Mitchell Lennan, are researching the impacts of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing) in undermining our ability to conserve and sustainably use of our ocean to ensure food sustainability. Furthermore, the One Ocean Hub delivered capacity-building sessions for the UN Nippon Fellows and Alumni, the majority of whom are government officials from low and middle income country, to map the problems posed by illicit activities in the ocean, and highlight the role of global supply chains, external market incentives, and customary practices in Africa and Caribbean to find possible solutions to tackle the problems posed by IUU fishing on 16th June 2020 and 4th November 2020.


In terms of advancing sustainable economic use of the ocean, the second World Ocean Assessment highlighted how the ocean supports a wide range of economic activities, including maritime transport, tourism, energy, and the use of marine genetic resources. In that connection, the One Ocean Hub’s transdisciplinarity work (see hereherehere and here) that brings together stakeholders and researchers from different disciplines including law, economy, arts, and marine science seek to provide meaningful contributions in advancing sustainable economic use of the ocean by examining the tensions between different sectors of ocean use, and developing tools that can support an integrative marine spatial planning (Algoa Bay Project 2021). To illustrate this, in South Africa, one of the Hub’s focus countries, we bring together 23 legal, ethical and environmental dimensions with human emotional and sensory engagement experts such as Dr Bernadette Snow, the University of Strathclyde, and Dr Denning Metuge, Mia Strand, Nelson Mandela University, to examine the impacts of marine and coastal mining and transparency of the inshore coastal recreational fisheries and fisheries management.

The Hub research in South Africa also seeks to contribute to knowledge on marine genetic resources and inform the national Marine Ecosystem Classification and advance shallow and deep water (technical and scientific) research capacity to support informed ocean decision-making through biodiversity surveys and the sampling of slope, abyss and seamounts (Algoa Bay Project, 2021). In order to advance equity and diversity in oceans research, our team in South Africa is also supported by intellectual property experts and environmental justice scholars to ensure fair and equitable approaches as part of international scientific cooperation for marine bio-discovery (see here).


Finally, the second World Ocean Assessment called for the effective implementation of international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). To that end, the One Ocean Hub seeks to promote the implementation of relevant international conventions on the marine environment, related environmental challenges and human rights (inspired by the 2018 UN Framework Principles on Human Rights and the Environment) with a view to advancing ocean conservation and sustainable use in full cognisance of their importance for the protection and full realization of the human rights of communities that are most dependent on oceans for their lives and livelihoods. Equally, it seeks to develop a full understanding of how consideration of human rights can support more public awareness and commitment to the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean (see herehere and here).

The Hub, for instance, co-organised a Regional Virtual Legal Training Workshop for South Africa, Ghana, and Namibia with the Food and Agriculture Organization on 12-15 April 2021 to test the use of the Legislative Guide as well as of a draft policy and legal diagnostic tool for sustainable small-scale fisheries, in the context of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication.  These Guidelines, which were endorsed by the FAO Committee on Fisheries in June 2014, are the first international instrument dedicated entirely to the small-scale fisheries sector to clarify how to implement international law to adequately ensure the social, economic, and environmental sustainability of small-scale fisheries. As a follow up action to this workshop, we are co-organising webinar series with the FAO to support the development and implementation of the Namibia Plan of Action on Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries on 10th -11th June 2021. To register for this webinar please see here and here.

In addition, the One Ocean Hub also contributed to the global and regional virtual consultations organized by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on the protection of environmental human rights defenders on the 3-4 and 7 May 2021. Our contributions highlighted the vital role of small-scale fishers in ocean conservation and its sustainable use, and the pressing need for their better protection of small-scale fishers as environmental defenders. See here to learn more and please register here to our follow-up event during World Oceans Week 2021.