New Age of Ocean Science Communications

By Monica Allen, Director of Public Affairs, NOAA Research

Communication and ocean technology are revolutionizing ocean science. This comes at a time when we urgently need progress in understanding, protecting, restoring and sustainably using the global ocean. In January 2021, the United Nations launched a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development to bring together all nations to address significant environmental challenges, including the climate crisis, and to forge a path forward to a healthy and resilient ocean that supports sustainable economic development. 

New tools for communication have enabled innovative ways to share stories from the ocean. The internet, social media and high-definition video transmit important messages instantaneously around the world. Cameras on underwater robots reveal images of unknown seascapes and sea creatures from the deepest, darkest corners of a largely unexplored ocean. 

New ocean technologies are being advanced by NOAA and a growing number of our partners, including ocean explorers, philanthropic organizations, research institutes, academia and industry. The technologies, powered by robotics, artificial intelligence and genetic analysis, make it possible and more affordable to scale up exploration, mapping and the characterization of the world’s largest ecosystem. 

When it comes to communicating about the ocean, “basics matter,” said Janet Greenlee, communicator with Vulcan Inc., a private company tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges facing oceans, climate, conservation and communities. “Good ocean communications relies on a good story with a purpose,” Greenlee said. Key ingredients of a good story are often scientists on the front lines who can convey the excitement and societal value of their research. One such scientist is Dr. Jose Martin Hernandez-Ayon, a Mexican scientist who researches ocean acidification and shares his science with the Mexican government and fishing communities. The Ocean Foundation, dedicated to reversing the trend of destruction of ocean environments worldwide, provides scientists such as Hernandez-Ayon with research support. “We also train scientists to help them increase the impact of their research,” said Alexis Valauri-Orton of the Ocean Foundation. 

“Partnerships are key,” said Emily Crum, communicator for the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. “There’s so much to do and explore. No one organization can do it alone.” 

For example, Mattie Rodrigue of OceanX’s team recently collaborated with the Haiti Ocean Project to study sharks in the Caribbean, with a view to long-term shark conservation and sustainable fishing. OceanX combines science with compelling media and storytelling to create an engaged global community of explorers, scientists and storytellers. 

Dr. Carlie Wiener, director of communications for Schmidt Ocean Institute, helped create the Artist-at-Sea Program to turn science into art that can reach new audiences. “The arts are a great way to engage people who might be intimidated by ocean science,” she said. 

NOAA and our partners aim to inspire the next generation of ocean scientists, explorers and workers in the growing blue economy. NOAA offers explorer internships, making an effort to involve young people from underserved communities, communities of color and others who live far from the ocean. 

Unlike the first age of exploration of the 15th century, this new age of ocean discovery is not about competition among nations for new territory; this time, we know we need everyone to work together to sustainably develop, understand, protect and restore our ocean.

This editorial appears in the May 2021 issue of Sea Technology.

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