Reflecting on 10 years of cross-Atlantic ocean research, valuable insights have been gained, but more needs to be done to curb the effects of climate change.
This week marks the 10th anniversary of the Galway Statement, an agreement between the EU, the US and Canada to collaborate on research and sustainability initiatives to understand and protect the Atlantic Ocean.
In the years since the agreement, the EU has invested €300m in more than 40 projects. Altogether, more than 1,000 research teams have engaged in Atlantic Ocean projects since the agreement. These projects have addressed pressing issues in ocean science, including how to restore marine populations, protect coastal communities and make use of marine resources in sustainable ways.
Successes include mapping new areas of the Atlantic seabed, discovering new species and mountains, and a deeper understanding of how currents circulate in the Atlantic and how climate is impacting them.
Reflecting on the statement, the European Commission’s healthy planet director, John Bell, described it as “a visionary choice, an ocean-scale choice, to unitedly advance science and knowledge together, and to better understand and take care of our common Atlantic Ocean”.
Speaking ahead of a celebratory event in Iveagh House, Dublin yesterday (4 July), Tánaiste Micheál Martin, TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence, said the Galway Statement was a “key achievement” of Ireland’s European Council presidency in 2013.
“[The statement] is now a global model for science diplomacy and multilateral cooperation to tackle shared challenges,” said Martin.
Waves of cooperation
More recent international ocean initiatives have built on the Galway Statement. The Belém Statement of 2017 strengthened collaborative commitments between the EU, the Republic of South Africa and Brazil, due to the “mutual benefit that would accrue from linking research activities in the South Atlantic and Southern Ocean with those in the North Atlantic”.
In July 2022, the EU joined the US, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Cabo Verde and Morocco in signing the All-Atlantic Ocean Research and Innovation Alliance (AAORIA) declaration. The alliance “set a common path forward for ocean research cooperation in the Atlantic, from pole to pole, for the next decade”. The EU has described this alliance as “a true success” for international efforts to protect the second largest sea basin in the world.
The original Galway Statement included a plan to “study the interplay of the Atlantic Ocean with the Arctic Ocean, particularly with regards to climate change”.
The last decade of ocean research has been crucial in developing the Horizon Europe mission to Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030. According to the EU, the mission’s “new approach will address the ocean and waters as one and play a key role in achieving climate neutrality and restoring nature”.
This EU mission aligns with the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science (2021-2030) and the landmark global treaty agreed on this year to protect 30pc of the world’s oceans by 2030. As part of that deal, large-scale marine protected areas will be established to tackle environmental degradation, fight climate change and prevent biodiversity loss across the world’s high seas (areas of ocean outside of national boundaries).
“Despite being so essential to life on our planet, [the Atlantic Ocean] is often exposed to unsustainable fishing practices, pollution, over-exploitation of its ecosystems, biodiversity and minerals, in addition to being threatened by global warming and ocean acidification,” said European Commissioner Mariya Gabriel.
Oceans absorb as much as a third of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). As GHGs continue to increase, oceans will continue to heat up. This increases acidification and decreases oxygen, having knock-on effects for marine ecosystems, rainfall, fishing etc.
A recent report from the Marine Institute on Irish waters revealed rising sea levels, higher surface temperatures, greater acidity and a growth in harmful algae species as a result of climate change. Just last month, an “extreme” marine heatwave was declared in the shallow seas around Ireland and UK, with surface water temperatures reaching 4 to 5 degrees Celsius above normal for mid-June.
Tackling the underlying issue of increasing emissions is essential to protecting this “invaluable shared resource”, in combination with research and sustainability initiatives.
The Galway Statement anniversary events continue at the University of Galway today and tomorrow.
10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.