The UCSB Marine Science Institute (MSI) and the World Economic Forum (WEF) plan to improve ocean research

Oliver Zuniga / Daily Nexus

Scientists and global leaders are onboard to preserve oceans this year, with the UCSB Marine Science Institute and the World Economic Forum partnering to bring marine health science to the international stage.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is an international organization that focuses on global issues such as water, clean energy and global health. This year, the organization is encouraging political and business global leaders to connect with scientists and brainstorm how to improve ocean health.

The Marine Science Institute (MSI) was selected to provide a scientific component to the global dialogue about ocean health. The Benioff Ocean Initiative, a program within MSI, will work directly with the WEF to present an ocean health plan at the United Nations Ocean Conference in June.

“With a campus surrounded by the ocean on three sides, the health of our marine environments is something that is very personal for UCSB,” Pierre Wiltzius, the Susan & Bruce Worster dean of science and executive dean of the College of Letters and Science, said in an email.

“We also have a reputation as one of the leading institutions for marine research, and we are very proud to continue to foster an interdisciplinary environment that encourages collaboration around vital issues like ocean health,” he said.

Douglas McCauley, the director of the Benioff Ocean Initiative and an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, said the WEF is hoping to increase ocean research and health. He said UCSB will be their “guide from the science community.”

“It’s not just about whales anymore,” McCauley said, emphasizing the ocean’s modern role in economic, social and political issues.

Wiltzius emphasized the importance of a dialogue between scientists and global leaders to preserve the marine environments for the future and said he believes the MSI’s leading research will help the “crusade to save our oceans.”

“I believe that this will elevate the conversation about ocean health to a global level, which is crucial, because oceans affect the entire planet on a global scale,” Wiltzius said in an email. “We need the support of world leaders as we translate our marine science research into action.”

McCauley recently went to the WEF meeting in Davos, Switzerland, where he presented marine life extinction rates and the importance of improving the state of the ocean. According to McCauley, the WEF was receptive to his information and he is “optimistic” about the ocean’s future.

“It’s really exciting to see a room full of people that really care and want to learn,” he said. “I think in the science community, people have done a really good job translating what is happening in the oceans into currencies that help global leaders understand that it matters.”

The ocean’s economic value is $24 trillion, making its wellbeing more than an environmental issue — it’s a global commodity. Additionally, overfishing is a crucial problem affecting the oceans and can have current and future impacts on nutrition and food insecurity, as well as increase international conflicts over fish.

McCauley said the MSI and WEF will focus their efforts on decreasing overfishing, particularly in the harvesting of tuna fish, and present their plan to the United Nations Ocean Conference this summer.

“Historically, we thought that oceans couldn’t be overfished … but we figured out we were wrong,” McCauley said. “About one-third of all our global fish docks are overfished.”

The plan will include combining transparency with sustainability, as well as offering ways to make sustainability more affordable. Some retailers are unwilling to change their consumer habits toward an environmental approach because of the expense of sustainable fishing.

However, McCauley said many retailers are already joining the environmental effort and he hopes more will join the dialogue by the June meeting in New York.

The WEF and the United Nations Oceans Conference will be making large steps in their address of global environmental concerns. McCauley expressed worry about the Trump administration’s quiet stance on ocean health, but he said the MSI and WEF’s partnership will allow for global leaders and scientists to address the environment as something more than a national topic.

“The nice thing about the ocean is that [it] is truly a global commodity, and the future can be decided as an international conversation,” McCauley said.

McCauley said he is hopeful the MSI and WEF partnership will be able to begin dedicated work for global oceans and make a lasting difference for future generations.

“We view it as a legacy thing. I have kids, and I have to learn how to pass the ocean in a slightly better state to [them],” he said. “In many ways, this is a great time because everyone in the international community is realizing we need to work together.”

A version of this story appeared on p. 3 of the Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 edition of the Daily Nexus.