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First Three Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean Submit Marine Sampling Data to the SDG 14 Monitoring Portal


Experts collect samples from a 230-year-old coral core to enable a historical reconstruction of pH and temperature trends. (Photo: L. Aragon Lopez/CEAC-CUBA) 

Marine environment experts in Colombia, Cuba and Mexico have begun submitting marine sampling data to the United Nations’ SDG 14.3.1 Data Portal, a monitoring tool developed by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission for the sharing of ocean acidification data. The Data Portal, created in 2020, acts as a focal point for experts to submit, validate, store and share data related to ocean acidity, both for the purposes of SDG reporting and to establish a historic baseline and persisting trends in marine pH levels.

“Cuba, Colombia and Mexico are the three first countries in the region to have submitted reporting on this particular indicator, SDG 14.3.1,” said Carlos Alonso Hernandez, Acting Section Head at the IAEA Environment Laboratories. “Given the importance of overcoming the challenges posed by ocean acidification, their data represents an encouraging milestone towards increasing understanding of the historical trend in pH in the region through the use of nuclear and isotopic techniques, and the impact of climate change on the oceans acidification.”

The data was gathered from the Regional Observatory on Ocean Acidification, established with the support of the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme in 2020 by 18 Latin America and Caribbean countries. The Observatory is part of REMARCO, the Marine Coastal Stressors Research Network for Latin America and the Caribbean, and consists of 55 permanent coastal stations which measure marine acidity and study carbon absorption in regional waters.

Supporting ocean studies

REMARCO was set up in 2018 under the auspices of a regional IAEA technical cooperation project. The network provides a unique space for Latin American and Caribbean marine scientists to share data and research for peer review, and is supporting the harmonization of monitoring standards and practices in the region. Network members are also engaged in analysing marine and coastal environmental vulnerabilities. These are then shared with decision makers in the region. 

REMARCO’s network of experts are currently highlighting ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms (HABs) and pollution derived from the increasingly-ubiquitous presence of marine plastics as among the most pressing marine environmental concerns facing the region.

“For the region to face these challenges in an effective way, the IAEA and REMARCO experts agree that coordinating action, harmonizing methodologies and sharing data, and comprehensive training and guidance on the use of nuclear and isotopic techniques to address common marine and coastal environment challenges are needed,” explained Magali Zapata Cazier, Programme Management Officer of the regional project.

Building on the long-standing collaboration between the IOC and the IAEA’s Marine Environment Laboratories in Monaco, an e-training course on ocean acidification sampling and analysis was launched under the project and hosted on the IOC’s Ocean Teacher Global Academy Platform (OTGA) in October 2021. Supported by Colombia’s Marine and Coastal Research Institute, INVEMAR, and using a standardized method developed by REMARCO experts, the training course will introduce participants to the tools, procedures and analytical best practices necessary for the development of robust, empirical data on the pH, total alkalinity and dissolved carbon of coastal waters.

“Bringing scientific expertise and national decision makers together is at the heart of this project,” explained Luis Longoria, Director of the Division of Latin America and the Caribbean of the Technical Cooperation Programme. “The ocean acidification e-training course on the OTGA platform is only the first step in further training opportunities that will benefit not only Latin America and the Caribbean, but will also be expanded to share experiences with other regions.”

Understanding the science

As oceans absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere by human activities, the acidity of seawater begins to increase—this process is known as ocean acidification, and it has  emerged as a key global issue in the last decade due to its negative effect on marine life.

Experts use nuclear technology and isotopic techniques to study the calcification of coral reefs, to develop  a historical record of past acidity, and to model possible future trends.

“The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO and the IAEA work hand-in-hand to leverage the science of ocean acidification to support the needs of peoples and governments to mitigate and adapt to this potentially daunting problem,” said the Head of the IOC’s Ocean Science Section, Salvatore Arico. “At the core of such efforts is the need to develop the adequate scientific capacity to study and measure ocean acidification, through an inclusive and open access to training opportunities and data sharing. This is indeed a highly synergistic collaboration, for the benefit of science, knowledge and society.”

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