A new report, Ocean Science Roadmap for UNESCO Marine World Heritage, reveals that three quarters of marine World Heritage sites are unprepared for the impacts of climate change, because of a lack of scientific knowledge. The roadmap identifies critical science gaps that impede the sustainable protection of marine World Heritage sites in an uncertain future and calls for vastly increased investment through the United Nations Ocean Decade.
Climate change is happening at many marine World Heritage sites and is the biggest management challenge in a rapidly changing ocean. Some 70% of marine World Heritage sites are currently under threat from climate change according to the 2020 IUCN World Heritage Outlook. While the world seeks to limit warming to 1.5°C, it is vital that we take steps now to protect Earth’s most exceptional ocean places.
The roadmap, which was launched on 17 November 2021 at a high-level event during the 41st session of UNESCO’s General Conference, highlights key gaps in research capacity and infrastructure, explores the technology and capacity required for science-based decision making and the sustainable finance and resources needed to support the necessary research. It outlines what information sites need in order to assess climate vulnerability and use targeted science to underpin conservation and management efforts.
“UNESCO Marine World Heritage sites serve as sentinels and observers of change on the front lines of our climate emergency.“
— H.E. Ambassador Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean
The roadmap reports that 88% of marine World Heritage sites collect baseline ocean observations, 70% use satellite observation and imaging, or physical sensors and 43% of sites have a dedicated research station. Yet, 63% lack the necessary equipment to monitor how climate change is impacting sites’ Outstanding Universal Value: their exceptional, unique cultural and/or natural significance that should be preserved for future generations. Over 60% lack knowledge of how climate change will shift geographical distribution of species, which species are most at risk, or have insufficient capacity to undertake climate projections for their site under different emission scenarios.
It highlights that only one in five marine World Heritage sites in Africa and SIDS receive private or philanthropic support for ocean research while they are at a disproportionately higher risk from climate change compared to sites located elsewhere.
The roadmap is the result of a UNESCO-led science assessment survey on the current status of ocean science and knowledge at marine World Heritage sites among local management teams, and a one-day conference with over 100 leading scientists, managers and philanthropists to investigate gaps and priorities.
The roadmap launches at the start of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (Ocean Decade; 2021-2030) which offers the unique opportunity to harness the science to sustainably manage the ocean. The roadmap calls upon the international science community to drastically step up science investment across marine world Heritage sites in an effort to co-design and co-deliver the science we need for the ocean we want.
The 50 marine sites on the World Heritage List hold over 20% of the world’s blue carbon ecosystems and represent some of the last refuge areas for IUCN’s red listed vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered species. They have impacts far outside of their site boundaries and actions taken now to preserve these sites will reap rewards across the ocean and for years to come.
The Ocean Science Roadmap for UNESCO marine World Heritage is a joint collaboration between UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the Culture Sector’s World Heritage Marine Programme. It was developed in the context of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). The initiative received the support of the government of Flanders (Kingdom of Belgium), the Principality of Monaco and the French Biodiversity Agency.
About the Ocean Decade
Proclaimed in 2017 by the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) (‘the Ocean Decade’) seeks to stimulate ocean science and knowledge generation to reverse the decline of the state of the ocean system and catalyse new opportunities for sustainable development of this massive marine ecosystem. The vision of the Ocean Decade is ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’. The Ocean Decade provides a convening framework for scientists and stakeholders from diverse sectors to develop the scientific knowledge and the partnerships needed to accelerate and harness advances in ocean science to achieve a better understanding of the ocean system, and deliver science-based solutions to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The UN General Assembly mandated UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) to coordinate the preparations and implementation of the Decade. https://oceandecade.org
About the IOC-UNESCO
The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO) promotes international cooperation in marine sciences to improve management of the ocean, coasts and marine resources. The IOC enables its 150 Member States to work together by coordinating programmes in capacity development, ocean observations and services, ocean science and tsunami warning. The work of the IOC contributes to the mission of UNESCO to promote the advancement of science and its applications to develop knowledge and capacity, key to economic and social progress, the basis of peace and sustainable development. http://ioc.unesco.org
About the UNESCO World Heritage Marine Programme
Launched in 2005, the mission of the World Heritage Marine Programme is to establish effective conservation of existing and potential marine areas of Outstanding Universal Value to make sure they will be maintained and thrive for generations to come. https://whc.unesco.org/en/marine-programme/