Enabling a regional ocean science capacity
The need for indigenous scientific expertise to understand how the ocean is changing and responding to human impact throughout the Indo-Pacific region is increasingly critical, both for sustainable management of natural resources and for realizing benefits from an emerging “ocean economy”.¹
Emerging science communities and marine science institutions can support these efforts, but this is also a region where access to necessary ocean-going research infrastructure such as research vessels and equipment is most severely constrained or nonexistent.² ³ For Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the problem of access to research vessels to document vast ocean territories is especially acute.¹
The ability to adaptively mobilize MARVs within the Indo-Pacific as fully functional research platforms, without the need for regional institutions to expend major capital investments for acquiring and operating dedicated research vessels, is being explored through this project as a new approach to accelerating scientific capacity over the next several years. The MARV HUB: Singapore facility has been established by Global Oceans as a central operational facility for regional ocean science to support this effort.
The approach of the Indo-Pacific Collaborative project is the opposite of so-called “helicopter science” that occasionally results from well-meaning North-South research collaborations, but which accrue primarily to the benefit of Northern partners. Instead, this is an initiative to catalyze and support new networks of regional ocean scientists, research institutions, educators, and government ministries within the Indo-Pacific region that will enable and empower a regional, stakeholder-driven scientific agenda for ocean science and technical development.
North-South collaboration, traditionally a primary avenue for capacity development for scientists in the developing South, is recognized as an imperfect mechanism due to unequal access to funding, resources, knowledge, and expert networks.⁷ This project seeks to leverage new resource capacities, new collaborative strategies, and emerging societal dynamics occurring in the Indo-Pacific to help balance this equation and to accelerate a “critical mass” of regional expertise.
The Indo-Pacific region in this context is defined as the Indian Ocean, the central Pacific Ocean connecting the Pacific and Indian Oceans through Indonesia, and the eastern Pacific Ocean extending from the Marshall Islands through central and southeastern Polynesia.
Context and Challenges
The Indo-Pacific encompasses an oceanic region characterized by high biodiversity and productivity, as well as by high population density, rapid population growth, and heavy reliance on natural resources and essential services from the ocean. Many of the region's coastal nations and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are facing significant challenges arising from environmental degradation, overfishing, and sea level rise resulting from climate change.
Establishing a critical mass of research capacity at a level that can inform and support regional policies for climate risk mitigation and sustainable development requires large scale investments in infrastructure and the institutions to manage them – investments that for many developing nations is currently impossible. ¹ ⁴ ⁶ For ocean science, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) at UNESCO includes in this infrastructure the “instruments, vessels, processes and methodologies required to produce and use knowledge to improve the study and understanding of the nature and resources of the ocean and coastal areas.” ⁵
A long history of research collaborations between scientists and institutions in the global North and South have worked to support ocean science capacity development and research participation. However, persistent challenges embedded in the dynamics of North-South collaboration as a mechanism for scientific capacity development are well documented, and reflect unequal access to resources.⁷
Global imbalances and asymmetric relationships between local and global power structures that have always existed are now deepening, stemming in part from the recent rise of populist and nationalist movements and governments around the world that place diminishing importance on traditional alliances and global cooperation. The Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to accelerating these dynamics, not only by constraining scientific collaboration and field work from travel lockdowns but also as justification for exclusivist populist policies.⁸ These challenges are complex and not easily solved.
Despite these challenges the necessity of, and potential for realizing benefits from, North-South collaboration by scientists and institutions in the developing South will likely continue. However, economical models for local resource mobilization such as MARVs, together with new frameworks for facilitating collaboration that are now emerging will provide new avenues for achieving a more regionally-driven scientific agenda for technical development and education.
New Opportunities, New Solutions
The growth of academic institutions and research communities throughout the Indo-Pacific region, along with emerging societal dynamics, will help to facilitate these opportunities. For example, there is increasing South-South research collaboration among institutions that seek to have a greater influence on global policy.⁸ A new generation of government officials, ministers, university chancellors and vice chancellors in these nations who have interest in developing science and technology capacity aspire for a more active role in setting the regional and international agenda on the use of the ocean, and they tend to be more open to innovative approaches and ideas for collaboration and resource mobilization.¹ Additionally, a growing number of post-doctoral students are returning to their home countries in developing regions leading to increased research capacity and an ability to supervise new PhD students.⁷
The ability to organize and regionally deploy MARVs by Global Oceans represents a new opportunity to enable wider access to Global Class science vessels and instrumentation in developing regions where institutions and communities of scientists otherwise lack full access to coastal and deep-sea research infrastructure. The Indo-Pacific Collaborative project will provide access to such infrastructure that is functionally-equivalent to a standing fleet of research vessels, but without the high capital cost and fixed expense of acquiring, owning, and operating dedicated vessels.
To enable resource sharing and collaboration, the Indo-Pacific Collaborative Project is proposing two initial organizational frameworks that will be explored with regional scientists, institutions, and government ministries. The frameworks are designed to facilitate planning, funding, and integrating MARV platforms on a flexible, needs-driven, cost-sharing basis.
These initial frameworks include an “institutional consortia” approach and an “opt-in” or subscription-based model. See the Project Highlights section in Regional Consortia: Frameworks for Collaboration here for more information.
Global Oceans is exploring these ideas and opportunities for regional partnerships and collaboration through participation in the Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS) Resources Forum (IRF), the 2nd International Indian Ocean Expedition (IIOE-2), and other regional initiatives. This project will also seek to support regional expeditions and education activities over the upcoming UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). See the section on Contributions to the UN Decade of Ocean Science here for more information.
Global Oceans is currently assembling a Science Advisory Council of regional experts and stakeholders for this project and will be adding them to our website soon.
Ittekkot, Venugopalan. "Oceans, seas and sustainable development: Preparedness of developing countries." Environmental Development 13 (2015):46-49.
Bax, Nicholas J., et al. "Linking capacity development to GOOS monitoring networks to achieve sustained ocean observation." Frontiers in Marine Science 5 (2018): 346.
IOC-UNESCO 2017. Global Ocean Science Report – The current status of ocean science around the world. L. Valdes et al. (eds). Paris, UNESCO Publishing.
“Catalyzing Ocean Finance, Vol. I, Transforming Markets to Restore and Protect the Global Ocean”, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), September 2012
IOC Advisory Board of Experts of the Law of the Sea, 2005. IOC Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology (CGTMT). UNESCO, Paris.
“Building Scientific Capacity: A TWAS Perspective: Report of the Third World Academy of Sciences”, TWAS, 2004
Carbonnier, Gilles, and Tina Kontinen. "North-South research partnership: academia meets development." Bonn: EADI (EADI Policy Paper Series), June 3 (2014): 149-62.
Sören Jeppesen & Jason Miklian (2020) Introduction: Research in the Time of Covid-19, Forum for Development Studies, 47:2, 207-217, DOI: 10.1080/08039410.2020.1780714.