The Oxford Martin Programme on

Sustainable Oceans

The Sustainable Oceans programme ran from 2018 - 2023. The following page is an archived resource.

The Challenge

The largest ecosystem on earth, the global ocean, is on a path of serious decline, driven by collective mismanagement and the impact of climate change. The decline poses serious threats to humanity, from food security through health issues, to loss of fisheries, environmental regulation and economic growth.

Although many marine species are severely depleted, as yet there have been few extinctions. This could soon change. Over-exploitation of marine resources, the negative effects of climate change on the oceans and other human impacts on marine habitats all mean that the window of opportunity to change course is shrinking.

We are at a significant junction: the system is not yet in runaway decay; recovery is possible. The coming few years will be critical in finding solutions to the multiple problems facing the global oceans.

One of the greatest challenges is that governance is outdated, largely sectoral, fragmented, and not equally well covered by conventions, which prevents integrated management of human activities and conservation of marine biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides. Moving the oceans from decline to recovery is a hugely complex problem involving a host of intersecting factors, including socioeconomic drivers, climate change, geopolitical and legal issues, and inadequacies of policy and enforcement.

One key research question sits at the heart of this project: ‘How can we best manage the global oceans?’

Our approach is to harness a variety of disciplines in order to achieve breakthroughs in managing the global oceans, drawing on new technologies including Earth observation, deep-submergence vehicles, advances in computer modelling and machine learning. It uses these to resolve knowledge gaps and to develop new approaches to marine management, surveillance of human activities and regulatory enforcement.

A significant element of the project will work to resolve barriers to progress in sustainable ocean management, and includes key areas of fisheries management, seabed extraction, the mapping and protection of biodiversity and ecosystem services, technological solutions to regulatory enforcement, and the associated changes required in governance and legal frameworks necessary to enable effective regulation, particularly in areas beyond national jurisdiction. This work will feed into discussions relating to a new implementing agreement for the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which is likely to run through 2017, 2018 and beyond.

This five year project aims to guide the management of marine resources toward sustainable and economically beneficial exploitation, where biodiversity and the associated ecosystem services are maintained for future generations.

The Oxford Martin Programme on Sustainable Oceans is supremely positioned to contribute to the process of rebalancing humanity's relationship with the oceans, by developing new tools for management and by equipping policy makers with the knowledge necessary for improved the governance of the oceans.

featured publication

Satellite surveillance of fishing vessel activity in the Ascension Island

Designation of large expanses of the ocean as Marine Protected Area (MPA) is increasingly advocated and realised. In collaboration with OceanMind and the Ascension Island Government researchers trialled the use of satellite monitoring technologies to support patrol vessel operations. They worked to target on-the-ground investigation on suspicious activity and understand the levels of legal and illegal fishing activity in the licenced fishing grounds to the north of the island and the fully-closed areas to the south.

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