Ocean science | Why do we need the Ocean?

UNESCO Courier | 09 01, 2023





  Ocean science | Why do we need the Ocean?

The ocean is at the origin of all life on Earth and affects each of our lives. Today, many nations and many people depend on the ocean and turn to it as a source of solutions.

Despite its tremendous value for both the planet and society, the Ocean and its resources have been seriously and unceasingly degraded by human activities, including overfishing, pollution and global warming.


For a long time, UNESCO has actively contributed to raising awareness about the significance of the Ocean and the different ways people can help protect it. Previous issues of the UNESCO Courier have explained, from multiple perspectives, the crucial role the Ocean plays for human beings.


  Humanity’s great unused food resource

Although nearly all nations have shores touching the sea, most of the human race has never seen the ocean and few know it well. Yet it is humanity’s great unused resource, and moreover, a truly international one.


This incredibly vast storehouse of mineral and food resources has hardly been tapped to meet man’s needs. […] Most of the sea plants are microscopic and simply serve to feed the fishes. But they are already recognized as potential food both for men and for domestic animals. Much more needs to be learned about their varieties, the conditions under which they grow best, and their nutritional value; methods must be invented for cultivating and harvesting them.


But the major practical objective of oceanographic research will be an increase in the availability of fish for human food. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that the world’s total annual production of fish and all sea foods, excluding whales, is about twenty-six million metric tons per year. The amount of fish caught and consumed could be increased many times if fishing were no longer an essentially primitive method of finding food, much as hunting was for our ancestors who roamed the woods in search of gaine.


As early as November 1953, Unesco participated in the studies on the development of oceanographic research in the Indo-Pacific region and last September at meetings of marine biology scientists in the Latin American region. Two months later, a programme of aid to oceanographic research on a worldwide scale, prepared in accord with F.A.O. was approved by Unesco’s General Conference in Montevideo, Uruguay.


The rich resources of the sea will not be truly mastered until oceanography develops as a co-ordinated group of sciences as reliable as the other exact sciences. This is a vital need for the future with a world population of 4,000 million persons foreseen by the end of the present century—well within the lifetime of our own children.


  —— "Editorial“

  via Exploring the oceans with science (Number 5)

  The Ocean: underestimated mineral resources

This quest through the past has its relevance in present-day investigations of how changes in the earth’s climate appear. There are immediate economic applications as well. Dr. John G. Sclater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, observed that it is easier to look for oil off the shores of Africa if one knows exactly how that coast was once joined to the Americas where petroleum-bearing formations heave been extensively charted.


Dr. K. O. Emery of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution talked of some of these economic implications. Virtually all the oceanic resources now being exploited are on the continental shelf. Oil and gas lead with a value in 1975 of $44,000 million, followed by fishing with $15,000 million; sand and gravel for construction purposes $ 400 million and mining of placer deposits, mainly tin, titanium and zircon, and magnetite $ 40 million. The future might see more attention paid to deeper waters on the continental margin.


Dr. Emery spoke of that process by which new sea floor is formed, rising from the earth’s mantle through the mid-ocean ridges. Seawater infiltrating this molten material is bound to pick up heavy metals and eject them, an event that had apparently occurred in the middle of the Red Sea where mineral bearing sediments estimated to be worth billions of dollars have been found.


Famous, the survey of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge conducted by French and American oceanographers was able to pick up a geological sample only two metres from the vent of such a hydrothermal source.

  —— “The new wave in oceanography“

  viaWho owns the oceans ? (Jan. 1977)

“The Ocean is in danger”

What must be borne in mind is that the highly diversified plant and animal life of the seas and oceans is accustomed to a very low concentration of radio-active substances. It is precisely from this quarter that a grave danger has arisen.


It has not yet been established what doses of radio-activity are innocuous for marine plants and animals. It is only known that fishes concentrate phosphorus and zinc in their bodies, while molluscs and crustaceans concentrate calcium, strontium and a number of other elements included in radio-active fission products.


Two days after atomic bomb tests at Bikini atoll, the radio-activity of the upper layer of water increased a million times over the normal. Four months later the radio-activity of the water 1,500 miles away was three times greater than the normal. In thirteen months the contaminated water had spread over an area of over one million square miles. The artificially caused radio-activity had decreased by this time until it was only one-fifth higher than the normal but it could easily be detected 2,500 miles away from the source.


The oceans and seas are joined to form an indivisible whole the World Ocean. No open part can be considered isolated and cannot belong to any one country. Radio-active substances introduced into the ocean at any spot will be dispersed for thousands of miles and will contaminate an area of millions of square miles. For that reason, all questions concerning the contamination of the ocean by radio-active substances, irrespective of their origin or purpose, just as investigations into the effect of radio-active substances on marine life, acquire international significance and should be solved through friendly, concerted international scientific co-operation.


The rate at which the atomic industry is developing shows that it is necessary to set about the study of this problem immediately. Uncontrolled contamination of the oceans and seas can lead to irreparable catastrophe within ten to twenty years. The Ocean, that great and inexhaustible source of food for man must be protected. The Ocean is in danger.

  —— “Is the ocean in danger?“

  viaMiracle at Rotterdam (Jul. - Aug. 1959)


Proclaimed by the United Nations on 5 December 2017, the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) will be the opportunity of a lifetime to make ocean science into the leading tool for sustainable development, and to unlock innovative solutions for a healthier, more resilient and sustainable ocean.


The General Assembly of the United Nations has mandated UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC-UNESCO) with the overall coordination of this groundbreaking initiative. Tasked with the responsibility of bringing all concerned actors to the Decade table, the IOC is currently consulting with leading global experts in the field of ocean science, countries, regional organizations, civil society and businesses to ensure that, together, we can deliver the ocean we need for the future we want.




  中国人民大学 陈佳音 程秋实 译 王雨桐 校

  中国石油大学(北京)徐梦瑶 译 徐方富 校

  中央民族大学 宋怡蒙 译


  Resources related

  Exploring the oceans with science (Number 5 1955)


  Who owns the oceans ? (Jan. 1977)


  Miracle at Rotterdam (Jul. - Aug. 1959)



  部分图片来自 Shutterstock



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