Innovating solutions for changing oceans

Award Period
Award Amount
Agency Name
Environmental Defense Fund
Award Number
PI First Name
PI Last Name
Area/s of Research
Climate Change Science
Marine Conservation, Policy and Education

We are already seeing countless ways in which climate change is reshaping marine ecosystems worldwide. As our oceans continue to warm, there will be growing changes in our oceans, including the provisioning of different ecosystem services, productivity of global fisheries, and shifts in species’ current geographic ranges, that vary greatly and inequitably across the globe. All of these climate change impacts will have serious implications for the stability and well-being of communities around the world that rely on the ocean for their livelihoods and food supply. The global community recognizes the severity of climate change threats, but current policies and programs are generally ill-equipped to act boldly or quickly enough to drive solutions on timescales that matter.

We propose to take a step back from current policy and programmatic landscape to think big and outside the box at what are the most urgent challenges our oceans face and what innovations are needed to develop, strategically target, and sustain new solutions.

To meet these challenges, we propose a convening of innovative thinkers to identify new, high impact solutions, to issues such as:

  • How will solutions sets vary geographically as a result of shifting species distributions toward the poles? Species persistence will depend upon successful movement, but such shifts will leave tropical waters losing species, temperate waters experiencing stark transitions as many species leave and other species enter, and polar waters experiencing dramatic species growth. How should proactive policies to manage shifting stocks differ geographically to address these contrasting challenges?
    • For example, in the tropics what will successful management of fishery resources look like and could that combine with other approaches including sustainable aquaculture, blue carbon, ecotourism, etc to ensure ecological and community resilience
    • For example, in the temperate zones, what instruments can be used to ensure sustainability and community benefit as species distributions shift
    • For example, in the polar regions where there is currently limited fishing, are there approaches that should be implemented on the front end to retain ecosystem function in a dynamically changing environment?
  • As species and ecosystems shift on a global scale – generally from the tropics to the poles – what are the global equity implications, especially considering many tropical countries and communities are generally more vulnerable (in terms of poverty, hunger, etc.)? Are there solutions or instruments that can be deployed to share the benefits of sustainable fish stocks across borders, even as those stocks move? Are there lessons from finance, insurance or other industries that we can learn from?
  • How are the damages from climate change on fisheries and ecosystems distributed globally (i.e. what is the social cost of carbon for the oceans and how is it distributed?) Which ecosystems in which places are going to be most affected - coral reefs, kelp forests, etc. and how can we improve targeting of interventions, policies, or resources based on this new information?
  • How will human interactions with the ocean be differentially compromised/benefitted by these ecosystem changes? How can we leverage the explosion of satellite data to quantify the costs of anthropogenic activities in the ocean and develop revenue sources for either climate mitigation or adaptation?
  • How will ecosystem service provision change over time under climate change and how do we prioritize which resources to protect to maximize or protect ecosystem services?

We want to convene big thinkers - not just ocean experts, but creative thinkers in transferable interdisciplinary fields like machine learning, remote sensing or climate economics, to brainstorm a range of research priorities and solutions. We will hold a 1-2 day working session with this small group of experts with the objective of identifying new, exciting research areas tackling the climate crisis in our oceans. We will then present these ideas to our partners at the Environmental Defense Fund and collectively select 2-3 project to pursue. We will pull from the breadth of talent at the Environmental Markets Lab (emLab) and UCSB to put together a research team to conduct the analyses required to address the selected research question. The final deliverables that we envision include a report highlighting our top-level findings, a presentation to our EDF partners, and a draft manuscript for submission to a high impact academic journal.