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In my opinion

Change is needed if we want Canada to remain a leader in ocean science

A new report by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) affirms Canada’s historical strength in ocean science.


Oceans control weather and environment, and provide a wealth of goods and services upon which humanity depends. Canada is shaped by the ocean, with three major ocean basins and the longest coastline in the world. Oceans have a significant impact on our communities and our livelihood. So it is both in the national interest and part of Canada’s responsibility to the world that we be leaders in the science, management and responsible use of our oceans.

Canada has invested significantly over the years to build world-class ocean science clusters from coast to coast. Research under way is leading innovation in practices and policies from fisheries to marine transportation to offshore safety.

A new report by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) affirms Canada’s historical strength in ocean science, but warns that our leadership position is at risk without greater collaboration, alignment of research strategies and coordinated use of large-scale infrastructure investments. The simple conclusion is that coordination across jurisdictions and disciplines is important and necessary for continued leadership.

A challenge is that oceans and ocean science know no boundaries. For one thing, ocean science is multi-jurisdictional. There are at least seven federal government departments involved, not to mention a number of provincial departments across the country. Universities make up a significant part of the ocean research enterprise, with infrastructure deployed around the country. Private industry, too, is engaged in ocean research, particularly in areas of resource extraction and in the development of observing and monitoring equipment.

Moreover, ocean science crosses many disciplines, university departments, faculties and institutions, ranging in expertise from oceanography and biology to mathematics, physics, geology, engineering, law, management, sociology and other social sciences. This makes identifying nation-wide capacity very difficult to properly assess and coordination across the partners more challenging.

Canada’s top ocean research universities have come together in an effort to catalyze a new level of alignment. Rather than solely competing for limited research funding, the aim of the new Consortium of Canadian Ocean Research Universities (CCORU) is to help ensure Canada is getting the most from its investments in ocean science, and to ensure we maintain our global leadership.

For example, we need to find a way to share and store compatible data, and we need to further integrate ourselves to achieve greater value from today’s important government investments in ocean science. We have a responsibility to coordinate and use these investments in the best possible and most well-aligned manner.

CCORU is already creating synergy amongst Canada’s ocean scientists, leading to potential future collaborations and an increased understanding regarding research priorities and needs. Recent successes are highlighted in the CCA report of new structures, networks and partnerships – nationally and internationally, with industry, governments and universities working together to better coordinate our activities and share our resources in a focused, coordinated and well-aligned manner. These must be the focus of the future for all involved.

We are at a turning point, where emerging opportunities in marine and Arctic environments, in resource development, in mitigating risks and in a better understanding of how the ocean affects our lives demand that we bring excellent ocean science together to support better ocean management and ocean use. CCORU will act as a catalyst to improve information sharing, long-term planning, allocation of resources, and sharing infrastructure and research findings across platforms. As a group of universities with researchers working on the vast extent of Canada’s ocean, CCORU intends to address gaps and assess how we can better leverage the Canadian government’s investments in ocean science.

The CCA report is a valuable first step in the direction of developing a way forward for ocean science in Canada. It is now up to all the parties to promote better partnerships, and move ahead together. More and better coordinated world-class science in the public’s interest will result.

Dr. Crago is vice-president, research at Dalhousie University and founder and chair of the Canadian Consortium of Ocean Research Universities.

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