50 Years of Ocean Collaboration

Fifty years of oceanographic collaboration sees a transformation in ocean science and services

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO celebrates its 50th Anniversary in 2010.

The IOC promotes international cooperation and coordinates programmes in marine research, services, observation systems, hazard mitigation and capacity development in order to learn more and better manage the nature and resources of the ocean and coastal areas. It aims to improve the management practices and the decision-making processes of its Member States, foster sustainable development and protect the marine environment. It also strives to enhance ocean governance, especially by strengthening Member States' marine scientific research and ocean management.

IOC Programs
Image credit: The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC)


Campaigning for sustainable ocean ecosystems

The livelihoods and food sources of many people depend on the sustainability of coastal tropical ecosystems, many of which are under threat. As the designated UN agency for coordinating global ocean sciences, IOC has a responsibility to develop capacities to arrest an accelerating trend of degradation.

The Commission seeks to strengthen scientific, legal and institutional structures through leadership and team building in marine and coastal science institutes to break the spiral of non-sustainable dependence on external donors. It works with Member States to strengthen their ability to conduct the science and observations needed to underpin informed decision-making for sustainable use of the ocean and coastal seas.

Protecting people from marine hazards

After 40 years of coordinating the Pacific Tsunami Warning System (PTWS), UNESCO/IOC is now helping to coordinate a global effort to establish ocean-based tsunami warning systems as part of an overall multi-hazard disaster reduction strategy. The IOC works with Member States, other UN agencies and Non-Government Organizations to build sustainable tsunami early warning systems, to ultimately provide protection at local, regional and global scales.


Tsunami early warning systems
Image credit: The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC)

IOC aid and advice helps policy-makers and managers reduce risks to coastal communities from tsunamis, storm surges and other coastal hazards by focusing on adaptation measures.


Unprecedented ocean observations

An international effort, and broad cooperation, has made possible our present day unprecedented observing, monitoring and analysis of the global oceans.

The IOC, with partner Organizations, manages the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), which coordinates deployment of observation technologies, the rapid and universal collection and dissemination of data, and delivery of marine information to marine management and decision makers. It also works to increase the public's appreciation of our changeable oceans.


Ocean Observations
Image credit: The Joint WMO-IOC Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology in situ Observing Programme Support Centre (JCOMMOPS)

The Global Observing Ocean System offers a unified global network providing the information needed by governments, industry, science and the public to manage marine-related issues, including environmental concerns and the influence of the ocean on climate.


Managing a changing environment

The world's oceans, coasts, and marine ecosystems are undergoing great changes from greenhouse gases, pollution, overfishing, coastal development and increasing populations. The IOC helps planners to design adaptation and mitigation strategies.

The IOC supports the UN's regular reviews of the state of the marine environment, including socio-economic impacts. Integrating information from different disciplines helps national governments and the international community respond to the challenges posed by the unprecedented environmental changes driven by human activities.

A new generation of spatial planning tools is being developed to support marine spatial planning, the public process of analysing and allocating human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic, and social objectives specified by lawmakers.

We cannot underestimate the importance of the oceans to global climate change. The Global Ocean Observing System contributes directly to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as the ocean component of the Global Climate Observing System. IOC science programs support many studies of the impacts of climate change, including the International Ocean Carbon Coordination Project (IOCCP). The surface ocean currently absorbs almost one-third of the CO2 emitted to the atmosphere from human activities, including fossil fuel combustion, deforestation and cement production. The IOCCP coordinates continuous monitoring and research of the effects of increasing CO2 levels on the future acidity of the oceans, the effects on calcifying organisms and coral growth rates, and the changing climate effects on atmosphere/ocean exchange of CO2.


Into the future

In celebrating its 50th Anniversary, the IOC aims to:

(i) Improve public awareness of the importance of collaboration and involvement in ocean science at all levels of society;
(ii) Take advantage of advances in marine sciences and related international cooperation, at the global, regional and national levels;
(iii) Promote a better image of the Commission and of the solidarity of the ocean science community;
(iv) Demonstrate to governments and the community the value of the Commission's achievements-- and make the international community and its leaders aware of the enormous contribution IOC can continue to make in oceanography and related sciences and services.

In conjunction with its Anniversary, the IOC has coordinated preparation and publication of a major review of ocean governance: 'Troubled Waters: Ocean Science and Governance', eds. Geoff Holland and David Pugh, Cambridge University Press, 320 pp.

For more information on the IOC, its programmes and the 50th Anniversary celebrations, visit: http://www.unesco.org/en/ioc-50anniversary


The Bureau's continuing support for the IOC

Australia was a founding Member State of the IOC. Its initial involvement was through the CSIRO Division of Fisheries and Oceanography. The Division's chief, Dr George Humphrey, was Chair of the IOC from 1973-77.

CSIRO Division Chief
Image credit: CSIRO
Since the early 1980s the Bureau has largely assumed the lead role. Australia, through the Bureau, is currently a member of the Executive Council, with Dr Neville Smith being a vice-Chair of the Commission from 2005-09. Australia also currently co-chairs two of the IOC's major subsidiary bodies. The Bureau hosts and supports regional offices of the IOC in its Perth Regional Office, and is engaged in IOC activities in the Indian Ocean and the South-West Pacific.
IOC Exexutive Council
Image credit: Bureau of Meteorology