Pacific Islands Workshop calls for a regional strategy to optimise future ocean sensor deployments and support more national ocean stakeholder engagement activities.

Representatives from 14 Pacific island country meteorological services and other ocean observing agencies met last week on the occasion of a 4-day Pacific Islands Workshop on Ocean Observations and Data Applications.

This workshop which was the fifth in a series that started in early 2015 was hosted by the Pacific Community (SPC) in collaboration with the Data Buoy Cooperation Panel, a joint initiative of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO.

Following the event, two important calls were formulated by the participants: a call for a regional strategy to optimise future ocean sensor deployments and a request to support more national ocean stakeholder engagement activities.

Ocean data blind spots

In the Pacific, ocean observations provide critical information to a wide range of key economic sectors such as fisheries, pearl farming and aquaculture, maritime transport and tourism, as well as coastal early warning systems. In an online poll, however, the majority of workshop participants indicated that existing national ocean monitoring programmes were not sufficient to match their needs.

“We’ve seen examples where lack of observations from Papua New Guinea reduces the accuracy of forecasts in Europe. This illustrates just how interconnected we are,” said WMO Director, Lars Peter Riishojgaard, at the workshop opening. “Weather and climate models are run at a global level and our models are only as good as the data we feed them with.”

Numerous opportunities to increase in-situ observations were identified during the meeting, including deployment of more buoys across the region and engaging with the maritime sector to collect shipboard observations. A coordinated approach, informed by a wide range of regional partners and international experts was strongly called for.

Building Pacific capacity

Photo: SPC

Global Ocean Observing System Director, Albert Fischer, noted that while COVID-19 posed many challenges to ocean observations, long-term data losses have been less severe than anticipated, thanks to the use of autonomous instruments and a strong effort by the observation community to maintain systems. However, in remote areas like the Pacific islands, these data gaps can be more pronounced.

“A lesson of the pandemic has been the importance of having local capacity to deploy, troubleshoot, and maintain ocean observation systems, and where that may not be possible, having strong networks to call upon for remote guidance,” said SPC’s Deputy Director-General, Cameron Diver.  

“We’ve been steadily building our capacity in ocean observation and services over the years,” reported Tavau Vaaia Simeona, Scientific Officer at Tuvalu Met Service. “Workshops like this one help us stay updated with the latest developments globally and share experiences with our colleagues across the region. It’s great when the content is tailored to our needs here in the Pacific.”

While it focused on Pacific case studies and needs, the workshop was also well-attended by representatives from other countries and ocean observing organisations around the world. More than 100 participants tuned in over the course of the four days.

A number of success stories emerged from the meeting. The Kiribati Met Service shared how they collaborated with the fisheries department to deploy their first ever wave buoy in late May 2021. Colleagues in the Solomon Islands highlighted plans to install marine weather instruments on local ferries and shipping vessels. And Fiji shared ongoing developments in their ocean products and services, including an ocean outlook video.

An Ocean Decade of opportunity

The workshop was organized just at the start of the UN Decade of Ocean Science, which was formally launched on 01 June 2021.

Ocean Decade executive planning group member and SPC Deputy Director Oceans and Maritime, Jens Kruger challenged the workshop participants to consider “What if the ocean is the solution?”

“We’re very good at diagnosing the problems with our ocean. Ocean warming, ocean acidification, marine pollution, etc,” Kruger said in the closing session. “But there is enormous potential of the ocean to be the solution we need to fulfill our development needs. And for that we need the best of science.”

Coming together in this virtual format has helped countries and partners to prioritise what science and next steps are needed to achieve the ocean we need for the future we want.

SPC support for this workshop was made possible by the Australian-funded Climate and Oceans Support Program in the Pacific (COSPPac) and the Pacific Community Centre for Ocean Science (PCCOS).

This story was published at SPC on 22 June 2021 by Merana Kitione, reposted via PACNEWS.

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