New IPSO Report – Protecting a Rapidly Changing Ocean

Evolving the narrative for protecting a rapidly changing ocean, post COVID-19 was published in the peer review Journal Aquatic Conservation in November 2020.

Authors: Laffoley, D. , Baxter, J.M. , Amon, D.J. , Claudet, J ., Hall-Spencer, J.M. , Grorud-Colvert, K. , Levin, L.A. , Reid, P.C. , Rogers, A.D. , Taylor, M.L. , Woodall, L.C. and Andersen, N.F.

A new IPSO paper by an international team of marine scientists in the peer review journal Aquatic Conservation calls for an urgent change in the way we think about the ocean in order to improve understanding and action in its defence.

Although the health of the ocean is deteriorating swiftly and to the detriment of humankind, very little is done to address the situation. The authors point to the absence of consideration of the ocean in most discussions about a post COVID world and believe that the global-scale policy change needed will not be forthcoming without an improved understanding about the role of the ocean in our lives. “Words, and how we express our connection to the ocean, clearly matter now more than ever before,” they write.

“Evolving the narrative for protecting a rapidly changing ocean, post COVID-19,” is for decision makers; scientists and NGOs in the ocean and climate fields and breaks ground in recognising how an effective use of language can change the trajectory of ocean decline. It makes six, scientifically informed points which everyone should understand and act on:

  • All life is dependent on the ocean.
  • By harming the ocean, we harm ourselves.
  • By protecting the ocean, we protect ourselves.
  • Humans, the ocean, biodiversity, and climate are inextricably linked.
  • Ocean and climate action must be undertaken together.
  • Reversing ocean change needs action now.

Lead Author of the report, Professor Dan Laffoley says: “These may seem simple, but decision makers do not act as if they were true. Humanity cannot survive without a healthy ocean performing the services that make our planet habitable and allow us to live. We have to understand that the one ocean of our planet is vital to our existence so let’s start talking about it in those terms.”

The authors hope that improving knowledge about the role of the ocean in our lives – something, for example, which is not featured in many school curricula – will increase the attention paid to the ocean and the urgency with which action is taken. Professor Alex Rogers, a co-author and Scientific Director of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean which convened the scientists, said: “We have to speak with one, accurate voice and speak loudly. The science must be heard but it must be understood in the context of achieving humanity’s full potential or we will not see the scale of action needed.”

The first, most basic step that the scientists point to is for the ocean to be recognized as a single entity. There is only one ocean, it has different areas with different habitats and names, but it is all connected and works as a whole to make all life on Earth possible. As such, it should only ever be referred to in the singular. Dan Laffoley: “These kind of steps are important because they change the way people understand the ocean and, for example, the fact that damage in one part of the ocean can circulate and bring harm to another part – it’s all connected.”

The report includes a synthesis of key ocean functions and the changes tracked by science and is emphatic that action must be taken now in response to the scale and accelerating nature of the change and argue that we need a joined- up, whole ocean response to climate and biodiversity.

The authors say that we need a ‘plan B for ocean recovery’ as downward step-changes in ocean health dramatically impact humanity. They call for a new ‘Marshall-style’ plan for the ocean, akin to the ambition and drive used to rebuild societies after World War 2.


The paper is published in Aquatic Conservation on November 25th and will also be available on the IPSO website

The report was supported by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch)

A range of assets are available to assist groups with implementing the narratives recommended in the paper.