Global ocean mapping

Sheila Cáceres from Seabed 2030 reflects on the importance of strong collaborations to get to know the ocean better

Growing up in the Dominican Republic, I have always loved the ocean. Why wouldn’t I? There are many things to love: how the sun rays reflect on the water, the beautiful tones
of blue, the sound of the waves crashing on a peaceful sunny day, the smell of sea salt. Even with all these wonders, however, we must remember that the ocean is also vast, powerful, and most importantly: still unknown.

As of right now, just under a quarter of the global ocean has been mapped in high resolution. The Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project has been working to unite stakeholders around the world to change this. By inspiring the complete mapping of the world’s ocean by 2030 and compiling all available bathymetric data into the freely available GEBCO world ocean map, Seabed 2030 is operationalising the concept of “stronger together”. Since its inception, it has been clear that this ambitious mission can only be achieved through strong collaborations rooted in good communication and understanding between stakeholders around the world.

I am a member of the Seabed 2030 Regional Center that focuses on the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Our region is vast and surrounded by many countries with diverse cultures, needs and capabilities.

Across the sciences, beneficial collaborative relationships with many of these countries have traditionally been slow to grow. As a native Spanish speaker, I’m proud of being able to engage and communicate with some of these stakeholders to establish strong foundations upon which mutually beneficial collaborations can be built. It is a privilege for me to help build connections, highlight their needs and challenges, and to pave the way for a better future with them joining our growing global movement.

I was fortunate enough to recently spend three weeks at sea on board the Ecuadorian Navy vessel BAE Orión, contributing to bathymetric data collection and processing. The opportunity to immerse myself within their team and culture, to exchange knowledge with members of the Oceanographic and Antarctic Institute of the Ecuadorian Navy (INOCAR), and to strengthen relationships with regional stakeholders was priceless.

Through this experience, I was able to understand more than ever how little we know about the ocean and how much more work needs to be done. Being at sea is a very raw experience, and not everyone gets that type of exposure. Yet, as professionals within this field, we have the responsibility to make it known how important the ocean is and how much it needs to be explored, understood, and respected.

The ocean presents limitless benefits to the global community but revealing its secrets comes with great responsibility. Seabed 2030’s mission to empower the world to make policy decisions, use the ocean sustainably, and undertake scientific research that is informed by a detailed understanding of the global ocean floor recognises this. Bathymetric data is essential to ocean science and ocean stewardship, neither of which can thrive until we discover our entire ocean floor and make all bathymetric data available to the global community.

Back home there is a phrase that I think about a lot on a daily basis since being part of the Seabed 2030 Project: “La unión hace la fuerza” which, in essence, means “Stronger together.” Partnerships are not only defined by two parties coming together in pursuit of a common goal, strong and effective partnerships also involve maintaining constant communication, genuinely listening to each other, discussing different perspectives and reaching a middle ground that benefits all parties. This, combined with the drive to confront obstacles together is the main reason why the Seabed 2030 project has been so successful, and hopefully will continue to be for the years to come.