Humans have been attracted to and by seas and oceans from time immemorial. More and more people are moving to coastal areas and trying to make a living there. Almost 65% of the world’s population now live on or near the coast, and people in developing countries in particular are heavily dependent on the sea for their food. Meanwhile, the exponential increase in human activity is placing mounting pressure on natural resources in coastal areas and the deeper seas adjoining them.ob_fig_400x485.shkl

A sensible approach to the sea

Whereas land-based food production can be stepped up, seafood resources are more complicated. We therefore need to think carefully about how we exploit these food sources, preferably within a structured framework based on crossborder agreements. Several multilateral organisations play a key coordinating role in ensuring a sustainable future for our oceans natural resources. UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) is the main mechanism responsible for coordinating the study of seas and oceans. Its remit complements those of other multilateral organisations. UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) focuses mainly on the land, including coastal areas, while the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) oversees the management of natural resources (including fisheries). One of the IOC’s priorities is to encourage and help implement integrated coastal zone management in developing countries. An important element of this is developing an efficient data and information network in consultation with local and regional stakeholders. This is the cornerstone of one of the IOC’s major programmes: International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE). IODE contributes significantly to the spread of global knowledge about the seas and oceans. It also works – in close collaboration with the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) – to develop international standards and protocols, and safeguards free and open access to ocean data and information. Finally, it provides instruments that support data management for regional and large international programmes, enabling member states to access a global network of databases.

FUST support for IOC

The Govenment of Flanders, through FUST, is supporting the following large scale projects (2009-2013):


Flanders supports IODE

Flanders decided to support the IODE programme through FUST (2003-2007 phase, US$ 4.15 million, then equivalent to around €3.32 million), focusing particularly on the Ocean Data and Information Network (ODIN). This package of activities promotes close cooperation between two major IOC programmes: Integrated Coastal Area Management and the operational Global Ocean Observing System. When launching the Ocean Data and Information Networks, the UNESCO/IOC Secretariat secured the necessary commitment from all the member states involved with regard to data centre infrastructure and staff. At the same time, the IOC undertook the required capacity building in member states by organising on-the-job training. Flanders’ input in this respect was crucial, not least because the UNESCO/ IOC Project Office for IODE began operating in Ostend in April 2005. projectoffice_outside_400Since this UNESCO expertise centre was set up, 800 experts from 97 IOC member states have received specialist training. Uniformly trained experts are vital for developing data networks according to international standards. This on-the-job training resulted in the accelerated development and launch of new ODINS around the world, based on the successful pilot network ODINAFRICA and its successor ODINCARSA. In total, six ODIN networks have been developed and are now up and running.

The European SeaDataNet (including the IODE Project Office as a partner), which comprises 49 data centres in 36 countries, works closely with the ODINs. One of IODE’s key tasks is to supply targeted information and products to other IOC programmes. These information and data flows are also streamlined with the activities of other IOC programmes and harmonised with data flows from other organisations such as the WMO and UNEP, resulting in joint activities and products. This can best be illustrated with a few examples.

Obvious benefits

Thanks to structural support from FUST, the IOC was able to develop its first uniform Ocean Data and Information Network at continental level: ODINAFRICA. Within this process, a major priority was establishing and strengthening regional centres for information and data management to support integrated coastal zone management. As a pilot network, ODINAFRICA fulfilled a number of needs and priorities reported to UNESCO by the African member states. Until 1999, there were only four Africansealevel_images operational measuring stations supplying data to the Global Sea-Level Observing System (GLOSS). Today, GLOSS has around 300 stations that monitor changes in sea level at both regional and global level. Thanks to ODINAFRICA, Africa now figures prominently on GLOSS’s world map. A Pan-African coastal observing system has also been developed, based on a network of 30 or so tide gauges. Through ODINAFRICA a GLOSS-Africa web site as also been established.

Another example of ODINAFRICA output is the African Marine Atlas (AMA), an interactive web application allowing several data layers to be viewed in superposition. AMA can provide such layered data at both local and continental level. For example, it shows the location of all measuring points for the Marine Species Database for Eastern Africa: MASDEA was set up with the assistance of the VLIZ and is now a fullyfledged ODINAFRICA activity.

Through this integrated approach, ODINAFRICA is helping to underpin sustainable protection of Africa’s coastal regions and marine environment. It also fulfils some of the ambitions set out in the marine and coastal resources section of the NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) Environment Initiative. Inclusion in NEPAD ensures that all stakeholders have a real say on the marine environment, including the private sector, policymakers and the education sector. With FUST being part of the EWI Science Sharing Programme, Flanders - in collaboration with UNESCO - is making a significant contribution (€1.437 million in 2007) to the development of a sustainable policy for Africa’s coastal regions.

[based upon article "Flanders Supports the "S" in UNESCO", EWI review, No2, October 2007 by Rudy Herman]

Website developed and maintained by Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ)