From drones to the DNA in a shrimp's gut, our capacity to observe the ocean seems to be limited only by our imagination. All this accumulating data is potential evidence in support of sustainable management of the marine environment. But is evidence enough? Weak governance and corruption enable illegal fishing, such as that perpetrated by Chinese, Russian, and European vessels in West Africa, and trade such as the global trade in shark fins.
In this edition we present reports and updates from the front line of ocean observation. From the shallow seas to the deepest ocean, we hear how scientists are examining ecosystems using traditional ecological methods and by working with the communities that depend on them, but also through the use of remotely operated vehicles, drones and environmental DNA.
In our cover story Professor Alex Rogers shares his love for the features and creatures of the deep sea, and highlights a major initiative that aims to fill the knowledge gaps that hinder protection of these remote but vital ecosystems. An unlikely but defendable segue takes us to deepest Didcot in southern England where the ocean of one of Saturn's moons is being simulated to probe its potential to harbour life.
Research into highly productive coastal ecosystems that are not coral reefs is under-resourced. Kelps are large, brown, canopy-forming seaweeds that are distributed across around a quarter of the world’s coastlines. Seagrass meadows are accessible sources of food for millions of people, especially in the tropics. Both underpin critical ecological processes and provide habitat for commercially important species. Large-scale losses of kelp forests and seagrass beds are taking place and I hope the articles in this edition help spread appreciation of the vital services these ecosystems provide, beyond those who study them or depend on them for a livelihood.
In a recent paper in Marine Policy Richard Stafford questions the current focus on ocean plastics while more critical threats to the ocean exist. Plastic is visible and connected to our daily lives (see the article on microfibres on page 26). With so many competing issues vying for our attention, the current media interest in ocean plastics is raising awareness of human impacts on the ocean. This may lead us to reflect more widely on how our behaviours and choices impact the natural environment. However, plastics are not the primary threat to the ocean, and, as Stafford argues, such singleissue focus distracts us from the profound and systemic changes needed to stay within 1.5° C of warming as urged by the IPCC report. The challenge for our community is to weave a coherent narrative about ocean issues that puts the topic of the day in context.