Four concepts surfaced again and again throughout the week at OSM

By Monica LeFlore

Every two years, the oceans community gathers at the Ocean Sciences Meeting (OSM) to connect scientists from around the world, share current research, and collaborate on priorities for the ocean sciences sector. This year, OSM was held in New Orleans, Louisiana from February 18-22. OST was able to send myself and two other staff, Science Officer Kevin Travis and Senior Science Officer Dr. Lauren Linsmayer, to track recent work across several of our project priorities and connect with our ocean science community.

It feels impossible to convey the breadth of topics addressed by the variety of panel sessions, town halls, workshops, and conversations I took part in this week. Instead, I’ll share four concepts that surfaced over and over again throughout the week that I’ll be bringing back to the Ocean Science Trust team for discussion about how these concepts apply to our role as dot-connecters in the science-policy space.

Without further ado, here are four takeaways I can’t stop thinking about since attending OSM:

  1. Collaborating beyond traditional partnerships creates opportunities for increased diversity and community-level involvement, which supports project outcomes and benefits all involved.
    OST’s collaborative approach to project development and implementation lends itself well to this model, but we can learn from other successful projects. For example, a presentation from Kevin Mukai, co-founder and Chief Operations Officer at Hohonu, about blending indigenous knowledge and emergent coastal observing technologies to accelerate restoration of traditional coastal Hawaiian fish ponds recommends three categories of collaborators: locally-based and -run community engagement organizations, funders and oversight agencies, and technology providers. A boundary-spanning organization such as OST is well positioned to play a dot-connecting role between entities like these. Ready examples in which this model may be leveraged include the emerging topics of marine carbon dioxide removal, offshore wind energy development, and aquaculture along the California coast.
  2. Data standardization and coordination systems will be critical for emerging ocean technologies such as offshore wind energy and marine carbon dioxide removal.
    To establish and implement standard data collection and management practices, consensus among industry representatives, government agencies, nonprofit groups, and scientists alike seems to be that emerging technologies present important opportunities for having data-led conversations before those technologies are scaled. There is significant interest in early collaboration to establish data standardization practices about what data needs to be collected to inform adaptive management and regulatory systems, and how data should be managed and shared. Although I heard this conversation primarily in relation to offshore wind energy monitoring, I’ve heard from my colleagues involved in conversations about marine carbon dioxide removal that similar enthusiasm exists in that sector for standardized data collection, management, and access.
  3. Ocean scientists want to be involved in real-world applications of their work.
    Across nearly all of the sessions I attended at OSM, a crosscutting theme that was not always specifically mentioned, but was at minimum always alluded to, was actionable science. From sessions on data governance, to ocean acidification, to offshore wind energy, it was clear that scientists are interested in taking action to ensure that their work contributes to ocean management. Interest in moving beyond science for science’s sake was made evident by the overflowing rooms that hosted conversations for scientists exploring careers in ocean policy and presentations on connecting and communicating with policymakers. While many scientists are hesitant to engage in traditional advocacy due to valid concerns about scientific integrity, it was clear that many scientists are simultaneously eager to help deliver their science at meaningful points in policy- and decision-making processes.
  4. The future of ocean sciences will require the ocean science community to engage with federal appropriations processes, now.
    A thought-provoking panel session featuring leaders at several well-known ocean institutes focused on the need for a united voice across the ocean science community. Panelists began by describing the need for increased federal recognition of the importance of ocean science in the form of greater federal financial support. While ocean sciences have received increased visibility over the last few years through release of the federal Ocean Action Plan, the inaugural Ocean Pavilion at COP 2023 last year, and the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, the panelists stressed that without adequate support, the initiatives included in these efforts will remain aspirational. Working backwards, the panelists proposed that the first step in securing federal appropriations to support this sector is co-developing a cross-cutting set of priorities for ocean sciences. By identifying discrete priorities across the ocean science space, the ocean science community including scientists, nonprofits, industry representatives, and others, can communicate a unified message regarding priorities when given the opportunity. Several audience members also pointed out the need for training in policy advocacy and navigating the federal appropriations process so that the ocean science community can take an active approach to elevating funding priorities for congressional and federal agency audiences.

The Ocean Sciences Meeting 2024 was co-sponsored by the American Geophysical Union, the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO), and The Oceanography Society (TOS).

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