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Sustainable Ocean Summit: Advancing scientific/academic collaboration with ocean industries

By Nicole du Plessis, Project Officer, SAEON Egagasini Node
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The Sustainable Ocean Summit (SOS) organised by the World Ocean Council (WOC) is the only global, multi-sector platform for leadership companies and organisations to advance corporate ocean responsibility and ocean business community leadership and collaboration on sustainable development.

The 4th SOS, which was held in Rotterdam in the Netherlands from 30 November to 2 December 2016, brought together ocean industry leaders from shipping, oil and gas, fisheries, aquaculture, ports, mining, insurance, finance, renewable offshore energy, tourism, shipbuilding, marine technology and other industries. Other stakeholder participants included government regulators, scientists, environmental organisations, as well as military and international organisations.

In accordance with the theme, “Ocean 2030: Sustainable development goals and the ocean business community”, each session was framed around one or more of the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Smart Ocean – Smart Industries

The WOC have for a number of years wanted to facilitate industry collaboration with scientists/academics with regard to data collection and are looking at different models to do this. I was invited to attend the SOS by Mr Paul Holthus (WOC CEO and founder) as the SAMREF (South African Marine Research and Exploration Forum) representative - to discuss how we had approached the oil and gas industry to collaborate with academics.


Speakers at the Smart Ocean – Smart Industries session. From left: Gilles Bessero (IHO), Nicole du Plessis (SAEON), Jan-Bart Calewaert (EMODnet), Scott Johnston (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and Amos Barkai (OLRAC SPS). Picture courtesy of WOC

I presented in the session on Smart Ocean – Smart Industries: Industry data collection and sharing to improve ocean knowledge. The session format consisted of a 10-minute presentation by each presenter, followed by a panel discussion.

The session’s five panellists highlighted the need for, and benefits of cooperation and collaboration with ocean industries. The SDGs the session focused on were:

  • SDG 9: Build Resilient Infrastructure
  • SDG 13: Combat Climate Change
  • SDG 14: Conserve and Sustainably Use the Ocean.

My presentation provided an overview of Operation Phakisa and where SAMREF fits into this, as well as the process we followed and challenges we had experienced. I also explained how SAMREF has changed since the launch of the forum to include other offshore industries.

Notable points from the other presenters included:

  • The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) has the “IHO-IOC GEBCO Seabed 2030 Goal” aimed at ensuring that no ocean feature larger than 100m will be undiscovered by 2030.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a programme to track migrating birds with tracking antennae placed on ships. They have noted that there are a number of birds that migrate to South Africa (SA) and they would be interested in partnering with a South African group to place more tracking towers in SA or on SA ships.
  • SA company OLRAC SPS has developed a marine mammal observer app that includes a step-by-step identification process. It is a cloud-based web system with five dedicated researchers collating the data and conducting data quality processes.

Scientific/academic collaboration with ocean industries

The session highlighted the benefits of scientific/academic collaboration with ocean industries. It was apparent that the presenting organisations each had the same goal of collaborating with the ocean industry - whether on an individual/specific project or through broader platforms looking at overall data collection, such as SAMREF.


South African delegates with World Ocean Council CEO, Paul Holthus (centre). Picture courtesy of WOC

It was mentioned that the WOC could help facilitate introducing minimum specifications for data quality collection across industries as this would be critical to encouraging the continued use of data collected. One of the challenges to getting industry cooperation was that companies would need to see direct benefits from such an initiative in order to invest in it.

One of the benefits of having discussion platforms such as the WOC and SAMREF is that it allows a space for the scientific community and industry to discuss concerns and work towards the best way of making collaborations work.

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