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Assessing Our Oceans


The biodiversity, productivity and sustainability of oceans, along with changing climate, could play a pivotal role in regulating future life on Earth.(Photo: R. Quevenco/IAEA)

Much of the scientific research conducted today on marine environmental protection focuses on studies about the condition of the continental shelves.

A workshop recently held at the IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco provided an opportunity for marine experts to discuss recent scientific findings on a range of open ocean pollution topics. Members of the Task Team on Pollution of the Open Ocean, under the aegis of the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Protection (GESAMP), participated in the workshop which was held from 25 to 28 February 2014. Michail Angelidis of the IAEA Marine Environmental Studies Laboratory (MESL) and Harmut Nies of the IAEA Radiometrics Laboratory (RML) also joined the Task Team during the 4-day workshop.

At the workshop, the task team examined environmental assessments, scientific reviews and the wider scientific literature for different categories of contaminants. These included: carbon and ocean acidification; persistent organic pollutants (POPs); nutrients, mercury and other trace metals; radioactivity; marine debris; oil; and noise.

The team also highlighted information gaps and scientific uncertainties that constrain assessments of particular substances and materials, putting particular regard to their significance to human health and for the marine environment of the open ocean.

Rick Boelens, Chairman of the GESAMP Task Team on Pollution of the Open Ocean, highlighted the importance of the workshop, calling it an excellent "opportunity to review conditions in the open oceans."

The open oceanic zones beyond the continental shelves include 65% of all of our oceans, and incorporating them in assessments of our planet's health is paramount. Recent information on the status of contaminants and materials - their sources, input loads, environmental levels and impacts - have been collected to help inform policy makers about issues of special importance for science and management.

One of the GESAMP Task Team's main goal is to update and extend as appropriate, previous overviews of substances and energy introduced to the marine environment that may adversely affect marine ecosystems or resources, present risks to human health or interfere with legitimate uses of the sea. The updated report will be a thematic, initial assessment focusing on data from the last 5 years. It will feed into the Global Environment Facility (GEF)/IOC/UNEP Trans-boundary Waters Assessment. The report is expected to be completed by June 2014.


Internationally coordinated groups like GESAMP work to advise the United Nations and its Member States on the scientific aspects of marine protection, with the goal of insuring the sustainability of our oceans. The multi-disciplinary Task Team was established to update a previous review of open ocean pollution (GESAMP 2009) and to complement other IOC assessments focusing on shelf sea areas.

The team encourages the international community to give wider attention to conditions in the open oceans. The biodiversity, productivity and sustainability of oceans, along with changing climate, could play a pivotal role in regulating future life on Earth.


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