This year’s Ocean Sciences Meeting opened with a stirring journey across space and seas by Nainoa Thompson, and concluded with a look ahead to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development from Margaret Leinen. In between we heard and saw presentations covering everything underwater: biology, ecology, chemistry, geology and physics all under one roof at the San Diego Convention Centre. This is the real privilege of working in oceanography, the chance to wander next door into a talk in an entirely different discipline, yet always with the possibility that talk may change the course of your own research.
For me one of the highlights of the week was the town hall meeting about the IPCC Special Report on Oceans and the Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. Once again I was amazed at the scale of ambition represented in this report: to review in one document the latest research in an entire field of science and then to pare this down to a summary accepted line-by-line by governments across the world. Perhaps also we should remember that the real task is to convince the public as a whole. The speed with which single-use plastics have become taboo in the UK (unfortunately not yet in California) is evidence of the sheer power of a step-change in public opinion – a change which has dragged policy makers along in its wake.
The convention centre faces the island of Coronado island across San Diego Bay, a waterway once busy with tuna fishing fleets. These days many of the boats on the Bay have dropped anchor permanently as museums, with remaining traffic dominated by warships and pleasure boats. All along the Californian coast economies and ecosystems are still recovering from the 20th century boom and bust of fisheries. In 2020 you can drink some good beer on Cannery Row in Monterey, but you won’t find much in the way of canneries. Right now the oceans are “having a moment” to quote from Leinen’s closing remarks. Our ability to protect them – and our desire to do so – grows in proportion to the knowledge generated across the ocean sciences community.