Case Study: Teleconnected SARgassum Risks Across the Atlantic Building Capacity for TRansformational Adaptation in the Caribbean and West Africa (SARTRAC)

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“Sargassum represents both a threat and an opportunity for Caribbean states. Entrepreneurs are developing innovative products from Sargassum, such as fertilisers, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. The scientists on the SARTRAC teams are assisting this process by investigating and advancing processes for monitoring and forecasting, and by exploring novel ways for transformative adaptation of Sargassum to empower communities whose livelihoods have been affected by this ecological risk, to turn it into an opportunity.”

Dr Janice Cumberbatch, country and project lead for University of West Indies, Cave Hill campus (Barbados).

“Sargassum is a major threat to vulnerable coastal communities in Ghana. It is impacting negatively on the small-scale fishing industry, which is a major source of livelihood in poor communities. SARTRAC will enable the poorest of the poor in vulnerable communities to discover the economic potentials of Sargassum to enhance their adaptive capacity.”

Prof. Kwasi Appeaning Addo, Director for the Institute for Environment and Sanitation Studies, University of Ghana.


The stranding of floating seaweed (Sargassum) rafts is a recent regular phenomenon affecting Atlantic coastal nations of the Caribbean, Central America and tropical West Africa. While the reasons for this unusual landfall are not yet fully understood, affected communities must find ways to deal with the seaweed, which can smother beaches, block harbours and become toxic to humans and wildlife as it decomposes, with adverse effects on vital fishing and tourism activities. Its effects are felt most strongly by vulnerable small island developing states.

The SARTRAC project is an initiative to confront this problem on many levels: by improving the observation of oceanographic conditions to better forecast stranding events; by developing options to utilise or benefit from the stranded seaweed; and by enabling the sharing of information among affected communities to better manage a coordinated response.

The project was launched shortly before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic; however, a determined and resourceful management team has maximised the potential of alternative working practices to deliver significant early progress that will bear fruit on the ground in affected nations as soon as pandemic restrictions allow. Such progress includes the creation of an online presence, building the skillset of its team to accommodate remote working, convening virtual capacity-building workshops on both sides of the Atlantic and publishing early findings from scientific efforts to better detect floating Sargassum rafts and their movement using remotely observed data.

Challenges other than pandemic restrictions have included overcoming delays associated with changes in political leadership in some partner countries, as well as ensuring an adequate provision of technical capacity for coordinated remote working across the partnership.

The issue

Since 2011, Sargassum, a type of seaweed, has been forming extensive floating mats that drift with the wind and currents across the 5,500 longitudinal miles of the tropical Atlantic Ocean. Prior to 2011, large accumulations of the seaweed were commonly only found in the sub-tropical northern Atlantic Ocean (The Sargasso Sea), where it is considered a floating forest, providing food, home and temporary shelter to numerous marine species.

Anomalous weather events, strong winds and currents, together with increased nutrient availability and a warmer ocean, have led to the proliferation of large rafts of Sargassum, including a previously rare species variant, washing up on coastlines across the Atlantic tropics in staggering quantities and being blown ashore. In 2018, some rafts grew in size to more than 1.3 million square meters (approximately the size of 250 football pitches). The Sargassum mass stranding phenomenon affects North, South and Central America’s eastern shores, the Caribbean islands and the coast of West Africa, impacting coastal communities in over 30 countries. Decomposing stranded Sargassum can have damaging effects on human health, beach access, fishing, tourism and nearshore marine communities. The sudden influx of Sargassum on vulnerable coastlines has been difficult to predict, as such extraordinary strandings can vary seasonally, annually and spatially across its range. Improving the predictability of Sargassum strandings, and developing ways to create benefits from the seaweed when it does strand, is the impetus for the SARTRAC project.

The response

The Sargassum seaweed influxes mainly affect developing countries, with the exception of the United States and
a few Caribbean islands. In most cases, the lives and livelihoods of coastal communities are directly affected, as are the key sectors that rely on coastal access and healthy seas, notably fisheries and tourism. The SARTRAC project explores how Sargassum seaweed can be used to reduce poverty. Specifically, the project has three goals:

  1. to identify how to minimise the negative impacts of Sargassum on the poorest;
  2. to identify whether Sargassum can be used to build adaptive capacity to natural hazards;
  3. to assess whether Sargassum can improve the economic opportunities of the poorest affected groups.

Four main areas of research are being pursued to deliver these goals. The first is an assessment of the atmospheric and oceanographic drivers of Sargassum across the tropical Atlantic Ocean. This information is used to develop long-term (6-9 month) forecasts of Sargassum movement across the Atlantic and will be available for country governments to download and access for use in their Sargassum seasonal planning. The second area is to develop a near real-time early warning system for vulnerable coastal communities to predict where, when and how Sargassum will reach land. Satellite imagery, combined with drone monitoring, enables locally sensitive prediction of events in the days prior to landing. The third area involves identifying the most vulnerable communities as well as their potential adaptation strategies to deal with stranded Sargassum, both of which are key elements of the project. Biochemical analysis of the seaweed, together with local experimentation, is essential to ascertain its utility. Three options being explored are:

  1. the role of Sargassum as compost for mangrove seedlings, to support mangrove regrowth to protect against storm surges;
  2. small scale biogas production from the controlled decomposition of Sargassum;
  3. opportunities for using Sargassum as a fertiliser for growing tomatoes and corn.

The capacity and adaptability of affected communities to analyse and make best use of the stranded Sargassum is assisted by a centralised knowledge hub, through which they submit findings and can share experiences of success or failure as well as forge collaborative partnerships.

Teleconnected SARgassum Risks Across the Atlantic: Building Capacity for TRansformational Adaptation in the Caribbean and West Africa (SARTRAC) – Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Ghana (ongoing)
Sargassum detection algorithm using remote and direct observation data.

The fourth area of research is to explore how improved management of Sargassum can increase the opportunities that are available to the poorest communities. Together, these four areas are generating tools (e.g., a long-range forecast system is in development), resources (e.g., a severity index has been developed that can be applied in other areas) and knowledge to support pathways out of poverty for those affected.

Partnerships and support

The SARTRAC partnership comprises an interdisciplinary team of six research collaborators from four countries, led by the University of Southampton (United
Kingdom), and includes the University of Ghana, the Mona Geoinformatics Institute at the University of the West Indies (Jamaica campus), the Centre for Marine Studies at the University of the West Indies (Jamaica campus), the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies at the University of the West Indies (Barbados campus), and the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products at the University of York (United Kingdom).

All the partners are involved in the design, implementation and budgeting of the project. Specific project goals are delivered by subgroups of the consortium, with the Centre for Marine Studies, in collaboration with the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products, leading the collation and analysis of potential uses for Sargassum; the Mona Geoinformatics Institute leading the mapping of the impacts of Sargassum on the Jamaican coast; and the Centre for Resource Management & Environmental Studies leading the stakeholder engagement programme and exploration of governance models, whilst collaborating with the University of Ghana and the University of Southampton on developing Sargassum tracking models. Overall, SARTRAC is a truly collaborative programme, with all partners contributing, generating and gaining knowledge in equal measure.

The project is funded by the UK Research and Innovation Fund and the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund under an Economic and Social Research Council grant. As of March 2021, a further two externally funded grant applications to develop capacity-building resources have been won by the consortium. The project is scheduled to run from November 2019 to October 2022.

Teleconnected SARgassum Risks Across the Atlantic: Building Capacity for TRansformational Adaptation in the Caribbean and West Africa (SARTRAC) – Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Ghana (ongoing)

Framework for the development of an early warning system for Sargassum strandings in the Caribbean and Ghana.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

Despite restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, progress has been made and remote meetings via virtual platforms have been possible.

The project has forged ahead with building its online profile, developing a dedicated website and social media presence and furnishing both with recorded interviews of key partners detailing their main findings to date and their plans. The programme of capacity-building has been delayed due to travel restrictions; however, online work has started to bring all partners’ skillsets and technical capacity to the same level.

Three capacity-building workshops have been held virtually with stakeholders to develop the mapping and social science skills necessary to deliver progress on all the project’s work elements. Field work, further in-person stakeholder engagement and training events as well as data analysis and dissemination events remain to be carried out once global travel restrictions are lifted.

Progress on the scientific front so far includes:

  1. Development of a prototype long-term (up to 180 days hence) seaweed forecast system SARTRAC- EFS (EFS = Ensemble Forecast System). The EFS predicts a high level of Sargassum will affect Jamaica in the summer of 2021. This prediction is currently being analysed and validated with ground-truth data from Jamaica and satellite observations. The consortium is planning to work with stakeholders to better understand how this information can be shared with them.
  2. Three geomorphological characteristics appear important in determining where Sargassum will beach with the greatest severity. In Jamaica, these places are: coves, open coast and narrow shelf areas with steep bathymetry near shore, with coastal areas with mangroves appearing the least severely affected. A severity index is being created that is transferable to other locations.
  3. To support the growth of red mangrove seedlings, composts containing different proportions of Sargassum have been investigated. After 31 weeks, the compost with 75 per cent Sargassum was the best, whereas 100 per cent Sargassum showed the poorest health and loss of succulence. Research is ongoing to assess the best ways to use Sargassum for agricultural purposes.
  4. National level strategies to manage an increased frequency of Sargassum strandings are well developed. However, regional and international coordination is hampered by size-related capacity constraints in small island developing states that also suffer disproportionately from major stranding events. Alternative governance frameworks and strategies are being explored.

Results from remote sensing, tracking and forecasting of Sargassum movements have been published in the scientific literature, while an evaluation of several satellite-based Sargassum detection algorithms to select the most suitable has been performed. Experiments on the chemical stability of stranded Sargassum and its utility for various applications has started, with useful preliminary results. Maps of past stranding events have been created for Jamaica to show where the worse impacted areas are located. Theoretical frameworks to assess adaptation potential and future cooperative governance scenarios for Sargassum have been developed.


As well as challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, others have emerged during the course of the project thus far that have had to be overcome.

Between the project’s inception and the granting of its funding, significant progress was made on the topic of Sargassum and its coordinated management – e.g., the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Sargassum Working Group – that overlapped with some intended project deliverables and had to be accommodated retrospectively into the project’s plans. Challenges were also encountered during the lead-up to the launch of the project by the holding of national elections in Ghana and the United Kingdom; these events reduced momentum, attention, visibility by potential stakeholders and the certainty of political backing over the intended lifetime of the project. Recruitment of staff for key posts in partner institutions could not proceed until the project contract was signed, resulting in a delay between the project launch and the commencement of new staff. Concurrent financial and corporate restructuring in UK partner institutions also had knock-on effects on the stability of key roles.

Stakeholder engagement has been difficult under pandemic restrictions and only successful with those having stable internet connectivity; as a result, those most able to engage have been national government departments, large multi-national organisations (UNEP) and international Sargassum researchers. Engagement with target communities has not yet been possible. Alternative plans are in development to enable the use of app-based data-recording instruments that can be accessed via mobile/cell phones.

Key lessons learnt

Initial assessment has revealed that regional environmental governance structures in the Caribbean are well placed to support adaptation strategies for an increased frequency of Sargassum strandings. However, the cost of coordination of such cooperative and polycentric environmental governance frameworks is relatively high for many small island developing states in the region, which can suffer disproportionately from major stranding events. Alternative governance frameworks and strategies are being explored. To advance project findings, more localised monitoring data are needed to allow countries to more accurately assess the severity of Sargassum landing events. These should be collected over the coming year.

Given the need for most staff to work from home during various lockdown regimes across countries, developing an inventory of skills and technical capacity within the SARTRAC consortium was an unforeseen yet necessary and ultimately valuable step to enable the effective coordination of activities. The setting up of a well-functioning website has been crucial to share content, news and updates among the partners. Various capacity-building activities have been undertaken virtually to support access across the consortium. For example, to create a sense of team cohesiveness, and to learn more about each other, the project lead (Tompkins) interviewed all team members and asked them what the most interesting thing they had learned about Sargassum was and what areas of research they were most looking forward to collaborating on. The interviews were uploaded to the SARTRAC website (podcast section) and remain the most accessed part of the website by project partners and external parties. In addition, elements of the research that are central to project delivery (theory of change and transformational adaptation) were discussed collaboratively, and those sessions have been uploaded to the project website for easy access (blogs section).

The enforced limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the value of lateral thinking, flexibility of approach, alternative operational pathways, technological advances in group communication and determination to deliver results regardless of the challenges.

Lead contact

Emma Tompkins, University of Southampton, Project Lead

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Case study: Coastal Risk Information Service (C-RISe) – Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa (historic)

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“Knowing real-time meteorological parameters and having access to suitable information has given us the opportunity to understand and improve maritime analyses in terms of maritime incidents.”

– Captain Franck Razafindraibe, Director of the National Maritime Information Fusion Centre (NMIFC), Madagascar


Coastal communities are exposed to an increase in the frequency and intensity of weather-related phenomena, such as sea surges, cyclones and flooding, due to climate change. The predictability of such events can be improved with knowledge gained from the acquisition and analysis of satellite-derived data on oceanic and atmospheric variables. However, the skills to perform such analyses and to harness their potential to benefit on-the-ground scenarios and mitigate risks are not widespread.

The C-RISe project has sought to improve this situation by offering training opportunities to coastal management practitioners in southern Africa through courses on how to acquire necessary open-access datasets (hosted by South Africa) and licence-free analytical software. Further training on how to apply such datasets and analytical skills to resolving specific challenges locally was delivered via the choice of 27 real-world cases from coastal settings in Mozambique and Madagascar.

Coverage of C-Rise programme
Coverage of the C-RISe programme. The area within the light blue box gives the overall coverage of the programme, red lines represent ground tracks for Jason-series Earth Observation satellites, and yellow pins are tide gauge locations against which satellite data can be validated.

Applications covered a broad spectrum of topics linked to environmental protection, ecosystems management, fisheries management, health and safety at sea, as well as ongoing development and disaster prevention initiatives. Nine of these cases have been identified as having an impact, and findings from this work have been shared regionally, fostering further collaboration with Mauritius.

The challenges encountered during this project have largely pivoted on the age and computational capacity of available hardware in the region, as well as on the diversity of software versions still in use. Upgrading computational capacity to a common useable standard whilst also being limited by slow and intermittent connectivity to the internet – hampering access to data and training materials – has been a significant challenge.

The issue

The coastal populations of Southwest Indian Ocean nations are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather events brought about by climate change. In particular, there are climate-sensitive, economically important coastal resources, such as port and aquaculture infrastructures, as well as ecologically important habitats that are exposed to the sea surges associated with evermore frequent and forceful cyclones.

Access to regional data on coastal risk factors (i.e., sea level change and wave and wind extremes) can support plans to protect coastal communities and safeguard economic activity. This information can also contribute to improving industrial and commercial competitiveness in the maritime sector (e.g., by improving maritime navigation security, or by monitoring seawater quality, pollution or toxic algal blooms in relation to coastal fisheries).

Training workshop participants in Madagascar Training workshop participants in Mozambique
Training workshop participants in Madagascar and Mozambique

However, access and use of such data are hampered by limited technical capacity locally, with knock-on effects on the region’s ability to provide support for scientific decision-making regarding strategy development, governance and management of coastal areas and building resilience to coastal hazards.

The development of local capacity to access and use available data alongside other information sources is necessary to ensure a viable long-term service to manage coastal risks, mitigate potential losses and improve self-sufficiency.

The response

The Coastal Risk Information Service (C-RISe) was created – in partnership with Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique and South Africa – to facilitate access to satellite-derived data on sea levels, wind speeds and wave heights and to build local capacity for data analysis and application.

The goal was to enable stakeholders to improve socioeconomic resilience to coastal hazards associated with sea level changes such as floods, storm damage, wetland loss, habitat change, coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion.

C-RISe was funded by the UK Space Agency (UKSA) under the International Partnership Programme, whose aim is to deliver a sustainable, economic or societal benefit to developing countries and economies by identifying space solutions to solve their specific development challenges and so increase their capacity.

C-RISe’s objectives were threefold:

  • Deliver a coastal risk information service, providing satellite-derived information about sea levels, winds and waves to support coastal vulnerability assessment and hazard management efforts.
  • Apply and evaluate the C-RISe service through the application of its products to selected real-world scenarios that address local priorities.
  • Build local capacity to use satellite data to provide scientific decision support for strategy development, governance and management of coastal areas to increase resilience to coastal hazards.

The C-RISe programme ran from 2016 to 2019, although its success generated further interest and additional funding from UKSA during its legacy period (March 2020-March 2021), enabling the acquisition and inclusion of higher resolution spatial data. A bid to expand the extent of the project was not successful; this option continues to be explored.

Partnerships and support

The C-RISe partnership comprised three contributors from the United Kingdom (Satellite Oceanographic Consultants Ltd, the National Oceanography Centre and Bilko Development Ltd) and ten international contributors from southern Africa: the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa; the Mozambique Hydrographic Office; Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, Mozambique; the Madagascar Meteorological Office; the National Oceanographic Research Centre, Madagascar; the Institute of Fisheries and Marine Science within the University of Toliara, Madagascar; the National Maritime Information Fusion Centre, Madagascar; the University of Mauritius; WWF Madagascar Country Office; and Conservation International.

Support for the partnership came from the UKSA’s International Partnership Programme funded by the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund, which supports challenge-led interdisciplinary research while strengthening capability for research, innovation and knowledge exchange.

Whilst funding for the initial three-year C-RISe programme ended in 2019, programme leaders have continued to investigate a range of potential funding options that centre on opportunities for C-RISe to work with other organisations, initiatives and donors in southern Africa, West Africa and the Caribbean. As of April 2021, a joint bid to continue work with partners in Madagascar is awaiting a final decision.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

Following five introductory and training workshops using C-RISe data, African coastal and marine scientists selected 27 applications (16 in Madagascar, 9 in Mozambique, 2 in Mauritius) with which to embed the skills they learnt into their organisations for the long term. Applications covered a broad spectrum of topics linked to environmental protection, ecosystems management, fisheries management, better understanding of sea state and safety at sea. Specific examples include:

  • Sea state information for improving maritime navigation security and safety for Madagascar
  • Marine protected area management (Nosy Hara and Ambodivahibe) in Madagascar
  • Impact of coastal climate change on mangroves on Madagascar’s west coast
  • Pollution from rare earth metal mining in Madagascar
  • Wave climatology for the Mozambique channel
  • Analysis of regional variability in sea-level change in Mozambique’s coastal seas
  • Effects of climate variability on semi-industrial shrimp catches in Maputo Bay, Mozambique

Results from all 27 cases were shared at regional workshops and conferences in Madagascar, Mauritius and Mozambique, allowing attendees to understand how data can be used whilst also fostering local cross-organisational partnerships. Nine applications have already been identified as having achieved significant impact by enhancing local capabilities, strengthening resilience towards natural hazards and improving management of protected areas, and all of them are available publicly via the C-RISe website.

The impact from these applications has included:

  • Enabling law enforcement in cases of drug trafficking and illegal migration;
  • Improved management of mangroves and reefs;
  • Improved management of Marine Protected Areas, leading to their expansion.

A set of comprehensive training resources has also been made available online, which includes introductory materials, examples of applications for earth observation data, software installation instructions and capacity development tools.

WWF Madagascar Use Case
Results of the WWF Madagascar Use Case to analyse vulnerability of mangrove forest at Ambaro Bay.


A major limitation to the implementation of the programme and the pace of work was intermittent and slow internet connectivity. This can severely compromise access to and acquisition of satellite data resources as well as access to the free, open-source analytical software on which the programme depends. Hand-to-hand sharing of datasets via portable disk drives helped overcome this issue, but this temporary solution is not compatible with the long-term sustainability and legacy of the programme. The age and computational capacity of available hardware, as well as the lack of up-to-date software versions, were also limiting.

In-country training was limited to the duration of visits by. implementing partners using training datasets. This did not always allow for in-depth road-testing of acquired skills with real data and adequate support. Necessarily remote and protracted training sessions in 2020, however, allowed participants time to apply their training between sessions while still being supervised.

When governments change, the leadership of key government partner agencies can also change. Building strong relationships with managers at lower levels within partner organisations was vital to re-establishing contacts with leadership following any restructuring.

Key lessons learnt

  • The need for reliable data and the skills with which to use them is well recognised throughout the region, although the breadth of potential for the application of such data is underestimated. The creation of compelling narratives and the connection of earth observation data to clearly defined, policy-relevant questions can only help emphasise the value and benefits of existing data resources as well as promote the acquisition of valuable skills locally to harness those benefits. Showing how C-RISe data can complement data from other sources to resolve policy challenges can enhance their potential for impact.
  • Engaging actors with knowledge of policy issues to ensure maximum impact is also paramount. Policy briefs are being compiled to further engage managers and politicians to expose and promote the range of issues that can be addressed by initiatives such as C-RISe, especially with the availability of data and improved local capacity to use them.
  • Improved connectivity, communication and prolonged skill and information sharing within and between countries in the Southwest Indian Ocean offer significant benefits to the region’s overall prosperity and collective ability to address impending challenges.

Lead contacts

David Cotton, Satellite Oceanographic Consultants Ltd
(SatOC), Project Lead: [email protected]

Amani Becker, National Oceanography Centre, Project Lead: [email protected]

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Case study: The Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS)

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 “The Indian monsoon and its vagaries are tightly linked to the changing environmental conditions in the Indian Ocean. Hence high-resolution ocean observations can help improve our monsoon forecasts. In terms of cyclones, forecasting has improved a lot. The India Meteorological Department can now predict the genesis, track and landfall of cyclones with greater accuracy, so that we are able to save many lives, from tens of thousands of casualties in the 1990s to tens of hundreds by 2020.” 

– Roxy Mathew Koll, Co-chair of CLIVAR/IOC-GOOS Indian Ocean Region Panel 


The Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS), established in 2006, is a network of interdependent and complementary instruments deployed in the Indian Ocean for measuring seawater temperature, salinity, ocean currents, atmospheric humidity and wind. Originally set up to better understand and forecast the onset of the seasonal monsoon, it now serves to enable the modelling of future climate scenarios under climate change and to predict extreme weather events – such as floods, droughts and cyclones – at a regional scale. Such predictions can help prepare for and mitigate the worst effects of extreme weather on vulnerable communities across the Indian Ocean and beyond. Continued financial support for maintaining the existing network of instruments and to expand its reach into new areas to improve the system’s prediction ability is necessary and would be enhanced by the establishment of more partnerships in the region as well as political will to allow observational access to the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of coastal states. Training of personnel at a local level to deploy and maintain the instruments, as well as to analyse the measurements, is also addressed by IndOOS. Improved coordination of all activities that utilise the recorded observations, as well as the continuing development of data recording, calibration and management standards, should improve the system’s capacity to inform science and be of use to Indian Ocean communities into the future. 

Illustration of the Indian Ocean Observing System

The Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS) (from Beal et al., 2019).

The issue 

The Indian Ocean basin is surrounded by 22 countries – home to almost one third of humankind – many of which are vulnerable to extreme weather events and climate change. These countries rely heavily on fisheries and rain-dependent agriculture, both tightly linked to the monsoon, which is itself driven by dynamic temperature gradients across the Indian Ocean. Variations in ocean surface temperature have been shown to influence monsoon rains across the basin, flooding in East Africa, droughts and wildfires in Australia and Indonesia, changes in upwelling intensity and even sea level rise. Associated shifts in water oxygenation, salinity and nutrient levels also influence marine productivity and ecosystem stability as a whole. Disruption of ecosystem stability on this scale is predicted to increase the number of undernourished people in the region by 50 per cent by 2030. 

The Indian Ocean’s influence extends beyond its boundaries, redistributing heat across the planet and modulating the climate in the Pacific, North Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. 

Regular observations of different ocean attributes over the entire Indian Ocean are the key to informing and improving our understanding of how the climate works and varies over time. Mathematical models that use data from such observations to simulate future climate conditions can be used to forecast the timing and intensity of the monsoon or extreme weather events, which in turn can help mitigate any potential damage to crops and livelihoods. 

The response 

The goal of the Indian Ocean Observing System (IndOOS) is to provide sustained, high quality oceanographic and marine meteorological measurements to support knowledge-based decision-making through improved scientific understanding, weather and climate forecasts and environmental assessments for the benefit of society. Its objectives are to foster agreements and partnerships among Indian Ocean countries and beyond, creating opportunities for them to enhance long-term monitoring and forecasting capacity. 

The framework for IndOOS comprises five observing networks: 

  1. Research Moored Array for African-Asian-Australian Monsoon Analysis and Prediction (RAMA)
  2. Profiling floats (part of the global Argo array)
  3. Surface drifters (Global Drifter Program, GDP)
  4. Repeat temperature lines (eXpendable Bathy Thermograph (XBT) network)
  5. Tide gauges 

Augmenting and cross-calibrating these networks are remotely sensed (via satellite) observations of surface wind, sea level, surface temperature and salinity, rainfall and ocean colour, as well as a coarse network of decadal hydrographic survey lines (The Global Ocean Ship-Based Hydrographic Investigations Program, GO-SHIP).

Partnerships and support 

IndOOS emerged from discussions among scientists at the First International Conference on the Ocean Observing System for Climate (OceanObs) in 1999, a time of new and advancing observing technologies, such as profiling floats (Argo), satellite missions and surface meteorological buoys. Based on scientific and societal needs, an implementation plan for IndOOS was put together by the Indian Ocean Panel (now the Indian Ocean Regional Panel) in 2006, established under the Climate and Ocean Variability, Predictability, and Change (CLIVAR) and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission – Global Ocean Observing System (IOC-GOOS) programmes. 

Since its inception, the CLIVAR/IOC-GOOS Indian Ocean Region Panel has provided scientific and technical oversight for implementation of IndOOS and coordinated research on the role of the Indian Ocean in the climate system. Members of the Panel currently include representatives of research institutions from Australia, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Mozambique, Norway, Republic of Korea, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. 

Funding for the development and continuation of IndOOS is the responsibility of the Indian Ocean Resources Forum (IRF), following the business plan devised by the Panel at its inception. The IRF works year-round to facilitate and coordinate the provision of the resources required for the implementation of IndOOS, promoting contributions from international aid and development agencies as well as from institutions in participating countries. The IRF also monitors and critiques the rationale for implementation of IndOOS as articulated by the Panel and other relevant expert bodies. 

A Roadmap to Sustained Observations of the Indian Ocean for 2020-2030

IndOOS-2: A Roadmap to Sustained Observations of the Indian Ocean for 2020-2030 (from Beal et al., 2020).

Results, accomplishments and outcomes 

To date, IndOOS has provided unprecedented measurements of weather, ocean and climate phenomena. These observations have, for instance: 

  • supported the study and forecast of tropical cyclones and marine heatwaves; 
  • improved our understanding of the variables driving tropical seasonal variability and their influence on sub-seasonal variations of the global climate; 
  • mapped equatorial and monsoon circulations and captured variability of the Indonesian throughflow (an ocean current with importance for the global climate); and 
  • revealed year-to-year climate variations in the tropical Indian Ocean and their relationship to tropical Pacific climate variations (i.e., the El Niño Southern Oscillation). 

In addition, approximately 20 capacity development workshops have been held across the region to ensure broad understanding of the social and economic applications and benefits of IndOOS, as well as technological training in the sustainment of these vital meteorological and oceanic observations. 

Examples of capacity development programmes include: 

  • Partnerships for New GEOSS (Global Earth Observing System of Systems) Applications (PANGEA), which has delivered in-country training (e.g., in South Africa and United Republic of Tanzania) on the applications of ocean data (for understanding and predicting regional weather, ocean and climate and their impact on fisheries, coastal zone management, natural disasters, water resource management, human health and others), and fostered partnerships between developed and developing countries (including Comoros, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania and the United States) to realise the socioeconomic benefits of ocean observing systems. 
  • Provision – through the Second International Indian Ocean Expedition 2015-2025 (IIOE-2) – of berths on research vessels and opportunities for young and emerging scientists and practitioners from India. 

A review of IndOOS’s performance was completed in 2019, addressing the way societal and scientific priorities and measurement technologies have evolved, especially considering the accelerating pace of climatic and oceanic change. The review has provided a roadmap to sustained observations of the Indian Ocean up to 2030. 


Aside from logistical challenges presented by maintaining unattended equipment at sea (e.g., piracy, vandalism, ship time for servicing), a major challenge of the IndOOS programme has been to gain authorisation from coastal states to extend the observation network into their EEZs. Access to these waters would enable the study of important coastal, shelf and slope systems that are integral to sustaining fisheries and to understanding the entire basin. Installing and testing new observing platforms within EEZs, together with building trust, national capacity and resource sharing across state boundaries, may help address this challenge. 

Ensuring the quality, accuracy and compatibility of data across all ocean observation programmes is an ongoing universal challenge, addressed by the creation of best practices for instrument calibration, data recording, integration, reporting and quality control, as well as regular provision of national and regional training workshops. 

Another significant challenge is the flat or declining levels of national funding for sustained ocean observation networks. Ongoing commitment to IndOOS by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the World Meteorological Organization and the International Science Council through their support of the World Climate Research Program is essential. Importantly, improvements and enhancements to the system require increased participation by countries and institutions willing to provide resources. 

Key lessons learnt 

  • Despite the significant efforts invested in IndOOS and the unprecedented amount of information it has generated, with tangible benefits in capacity building and harm prevention, its inherent limitations mean it still falls short of meeting many of society’s demands for climate forecasting and prediction. The relatively low prediction skill of forecasts is a result of a lack of sufficient information, which can only be addressed by more sustained observations. Enhanced vertical (at depth) and temporal resolution of upper-ocean measurements, in addition to those from existing and expanded measurement platforms, would improve the situation. 
  • Increased engagement and partnerships among Indian Ocean countries are needed, fomented by recognition of the national benefits that arise from participating in such international initiatives. Much of the expansion of IndOOS into coastal regions is reliant on increased involvement and cooperation of regional countries and agencies, along with their commitment to building and supporting national capacity and observing best practices, and on data sharing and dissemination. 
  • More ought to be done to connect Indian Ocean countries and institutions with the benefits, principles and tools of IndOOS to encourage engagement, collaboration, resource sharing and capacity development. Enhanced multilateral partnerships – fostered and supported by the Indian Ocean Region Panel, Indian Ocean Global Ocean Observing System and IRF – can help ensure that international resources are optimised, national cases for funding are strengthened, capacity building is conducted in priority areas and data are shared. 

Lead contacts 

Juliet Hermes (South Africa, [email protected]) and Roxy Mathew Koll (India, [email protected]), Co-chairs of CLIVAR/IOC-GOOS Indian Ocean Region Panel, 

YouTube presentation on IndOOS-2

Supporting documentation: 

Synthesis of the IndOOS-2 Report: Beal, LM, J Vialard, MK Roxy and co-authors (2020) ‘A Roadmap to IndOOS-2: Better Observations of the Rapidly-Warming Indian Ocean’. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 101(11): E1891–E1913, doi:10.1175/ BAMS-D-19-0209.1

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Case study: Katy Soapi – A Leader in Ocean Science and Conservation in Fiji and the Solomon Islands

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is highlighting case studies from the Commonwealth and beyond, as part of a series to spotlight best practice successes and experiences. Share your own case study with us.

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“We need to start changing what our young people think of when they think of a scientist. My hope is that I see more Pacific Islanders, and women, taking up leadership roles, being successful in their career and thriving.”

– Katy Soapi


Katy Soapi is the Coordinator for the Pacific Community Centre for Ocean Science at the Pacific Community in Fiji, a position she took up in January 2021. Before that, Soapi was the Manager of the Pacific Natural Products Research Centre at the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Fiji. Soapi grew up on the island of Rendova, part of the Solomon Islands, in the Pacific.

She completed her bachelor’s degree at the USP, a master’s at the University of Sydney in Australia and a PhD at the UK’s University of East Anglia. Soapi then returned to the Pacific, taking up a position at the USP as a lecturer and eventually becoming the Manager of the Pacific Natural Products Research Centre, housed at the USP.

Katy Soapi conducting seawater carbon chemistry analysis in the lab. Photo credit: The Ocean Foundation

In the Solomon Islands, Soapi is a founding member and board member of the Tetepare Descendants’ Association, which is dedicated to conserving the largest uninhabited island in the Southern Hemisphere. As part of that work, she supports a seagrass monitoring programme that is led and conducted by women. For the past ten years, the programme has been gathering annual data on seagrass coverage, diversity and health, all of which are ecosystem health indicators for the island’s lagoons.

Soapi is also part of the advisory team to the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner (OPOC) supporting Pacific Island Countries on the marine genetic resources component of the UN Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) negotiations (an international instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the BBNJ, once finalised, will address the management of marine biological diversity of ocean areas beyond countries’ ocean borders).

Soapi attributes her success to good mentors and seeking out and pursuing opportunities. Having grown up in a matrilineal culture, Soapi has always felt her voice is important in her community. Even away from her coastal village, she says that a sense of empowerment has stayed with her.

Women conducting seagrass monitoring for the Tetepare Descendants Association. Photo credit: Katy Soapi

What is your background and the path that led you to where you are today?

I grew up on a small island called Rendova. My village was right by the sea, so I grew up by the sea. My primary education was on that island in the village. Later, I went to boarding school on another island for high school.

After completing high school, I went to the USP to do a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. I decided upon further studies at the University of Sydney in Australia on chemistry. I wanted to investigate the natural products from medicinal plants, such as plants that were used traditionally in my village, that I grew up using as a child. I wanted to look at the links between traditional medicine and bioactive natural products isolated from the medicinal plants.

However, when I got to the University of Sydney, it was hard to get the plants that I wanted to work on from the Solomons, so I changed my course and studied synthetic chemistry instead. My study involved working towards the synthesis of a natural product called Phomopsin which has anticancer properties. I continued my research in synthetic chemistry studies, enrolling in a PhD program at the University of East Anglia, when my family moved to the UK. I was successful in receiving a scholarship to study nitrogen-containing biologically active compounds.

At the end of my PhD, I returned to Fiji with my husband who had found a job there. I went to visit some of my old professors at USP. One of them, the late Professor Aalbersberg, who I had worked with previously as an undergraduate encouraged me to apply for a position as a research fellow in a project on marine natural products in Fiji and the Solomon Islands. I applied and got the position.

After about a year, I got a job as a lecturer in chemistry, and eventually as Manager of the Pacific Natural Products Research Centre. I was at the USP for almost 13 years teaching and later, leading the research efforts of the Centre investigating antibacterial, antifungal and anti-cancer properties of marine natural products from marine invertebrates, algae, soft corals and bacteria in sediments.

In January 2021, I joined The Pacific Community (SPC) as Coordinator for PCCOS. It’s a new role and I am really excited about this new challenge and the opportunity to work for and with our members states within the ocean space.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

What has been your impact on gender equity in your field and region?

At the community level, I am engaged with one of our conservation projects, the Tetepare Descendants’ Association, which has been on-going for almost 14 years. It is a project where we’ve conserved one of our islands and tried to sustainably use and manage our island’s resources through monitoring efforts to inform decisions. We have set aside the seagrass monitoring especially for the women.

Tetepare Descendants Association (TDA) women conducting seagrass monitoring

For seagrass monitoring it was easier for the women because they are already involved in artisanal fishing and often spend time on the reef or mudflats to collect shellfish for food. The women were quite keen on being part of the monitoring activities and it was quite an appropriate activity for them, being in shallower areas and sometimes involving their children. I have done it many times dragging along all my kids. I am glad that this activity was set aside for women because being in their own space, they were free to lead the monitoring activities and to participate fully.

How did you support the marine genetic resources component of the BBNJ negotiations?

One of the key elements in the BBNJ instrument is marine genetic resources. When the negotiators from New York came to Fiji, we were able to present our work to them and talk about what is meant by marine genetic resources, the importance of drug discovery and pharmaceuticals. They also visited our labs to see our collection and our testing facilities. We tried to show them the whole process from extraction to testing and purification of bioactive compounds including how and to whom we send our samples. We wanted to ensure that they have a good understanding of the research and development processes involved in biodiscovery and pharmaceutical research to help them with their BBNJ negotiations.

Overcoming barriers

What do women in your region need to become ocean leaders?

In the Pacific, where there is such a strong family network, often it is the female who must drop out to look after a parent or the wife who must drop out to look after the children. We need to raise more awareness that women do not have to do that. I think that more should be done to create an enabling environment for women to continue working and to not have to choose between a career and a family.

I think we are getting more marine science graduates in the Pacific now, but getting a job in marine science is very hard. Most of them end up as teachers or in a non-marine science job. This affects both men and women, but I think it is worse for women. If recruitment for a science job is between a female and a male candidate, often it is the man who gets selected. There is also a lack of funding, for women and men, to participate in ocean science projects and ocean science employment.

One of the barriers is not having enough women scientists to look up to. Sometimes it is hard to imagine where and what you can be when you do not have that image of a woman you want to aspire to. Female role models help overcome those barriers, so you do not have that feeling of being an imposter because there is no one around you who is like you, who is doing the same kind of work that you are doing.

What allowed you to succeed despite the barriers?

I think it was a combination of many things. I was lucky to be given opportunities, but I also had to seek out these opportunities, like scholarships or employment opportunities. I was quite determined as well and from a young age decided that if given an opportunity to study on a scholarship, I would do my best to do justice to the opportunity.

I also had good mentors and a partner who encouraged and believed in me. The late Professor Aalberberg was one of those mentors who gave me a chance. When I was a student at USP, I assisted him on a research project for six months and it was an amazing experience that really opened my eyes to research work which I was so grateful for. When I returned to Fiji after finishing my PhD, I again worked with him and had another opportunity to learn from him.

At the community level, despite the barriers we face as women, I find strength in culture. I grew up in a matrilineal system and heard stories of fierce tribal women who made decisions about the land and settled disputes. I also grew up observing the strong voices of my mother, my aunties and grandmother. Sadly, in our modern society, women’s voices are not as elevated anymore. But I ride on the recognition my culture gives my voice and I find it empowering. I am often consulted on matters relating to our tribal land or our conservation projects back at home and I am grateful for that. Solomon Islands is so diverse culturally, and I am painfully aware that the voices of women are often overlooked or ignored even now in my own community as society, culture and lifestyle change.

My mother has always been my biggest supporter, always encouraging me. She was a school teacher. She said to me, “Go as far as you can.” Even after I finished university, she said, “I’ll leave it to you to decide when you want to stop studying.” She encouraged me to go after what I wanted and supported me as much as possible financially. Having somebody who believed in me and encouraged me has been quite influential in my career.

Advice for the next generation

Do not wait for opportunities, look for them or create them. Seek out opportunities to do an internship or temporary work or scholarships or even volunteer work. Be proactive. I did the same when I left University and this approach has benefited me over the years. I got my PhD scholarship by directly contacting the university and they responded with potential opportunities for scholarship.

The other advice is to not give up easily. Always remember that if it were easy, somebody would have done it already. I was the first in my family to go to university and it was not by luck that I ended up there. It was through hard work and perseverance that I progressed through my studies and my career. STEM is hard for everybody and there were many, many times I wanted to give up, but I kept going. It was all worth it in the end.

Maintain your network

We do have a good number of women scientists but there’s not enough networking. We need to work together to provide a platform for women to learn from each other. For small communities, like those found in the Pacific, it is important for women to maintain their networks. You need these networks as you progress in your career and they can become your support system during tough times or when you need career advice or just to connect and share experiences in a safe space.

You can influence the world, wherever you are along your path. A lot of young people think that they need to be a leader to influence others. It is important to start where you are. You can learn so much and be a positive influence even through volunteer work. My community engagements are all voluntary work. I enjoyed the opportunity to experience conservation work while at the same time participating in community science. The work has kept me grounded and connected to my community even from abroad.

Hopes for the future

I hope to see more Pacific Islanders, if not Pacific women, in positions of leadership. We need role models for the younger generation. We need to learn, hear and see what our Pacific Island women are doing and their contributions to science and development so our young people can see themselves in these leaders. My hope is that we have more Pacific women in leadership whom our young people can look up to.

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Robotic floats give hope for tackling ocean climate change

Close to 4,000 robotic devices deployed in oceans around the world will soon be upgraded to collect a wider range of vital data on ocean health – this will help researchers better understand the impacts of the climate crisis on ocean life and blue economies.

The ocean-monitoring programme, Argo, was highlighted at a webinar co-organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Government of Canada, which champions the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on Ocean Observations.

The event focused on the need for robust ocean observations and scientific data to achieve sustainability goals, providing the basis for accurate weather forecasts, climate change monitoring and sound environmental policies.

Opening the session, Ocean Science National Manager at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Andrew Stewart, said: “Ocean observations are essential to improving our ability to predict and adapt to the increasing pressures facing our oceans, including those that arise from anthropogenic activities.”

He said the webinar helped to advance the work of the Commonwealth’s action group on ocean observation, including sharing data and knowledge, promoting innovation and making ocean science more inclusive.

webinar speakers

Watch the full webinar

Monitoring ocean climate change

In his presentation, ocean scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Blair Greenan, who leads Canada’s contribution to the Argo programme, outlined the science behind Argo.

Using a fleet of robotic devices that drift with the ocean currents, Argo collects information on temperature and salinity of the upper 2000m of the global ocean. The data is sent through satellites and made publicly available within 24 hours. The free and open-access data has helped to improve weather and ocean forecast systems around the world.

“This has transformed our capability to monitor ocean climate change,” said Dr Greenan.

Building on its 20-year record of conducting ocean observations, supported by more than 30 countries, Argo is now embarking on a new initiative, Biogeochemical (BGC) Argo, to collect additional data on ocean chemistry and biology. This will enable scientists to improve computer models on fisheries and climate, and to monitor and forecast the effects of ocean warming.

Canada’s BGC Argo lead, Dalhousie University professor Katja Fennel said: “Global warming is, first and foremost, ocean warming. Ocean heat has increased at a staggering rate, equivalent to five Hiroshima-class nuclear explosions every second for the past 25 years.”

Together with the uptake of human CO2 emissions by the ocean, this has led to ocean acidification, declining oxygen levels and diminishing plankton, which negatively impact marine ecosystems.

She stressed that sustained measurement programmes of ocean biology, chemistry and physics together are essential to understand these impacts and take action to address them.

Cooperation with small states

Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, added that the Commonwealth Blue Charter action groups serve as valuable platforms to encourage science-backed decision-making by governments and institutions.

The Commonwealth Blue Charter – an agreement amongst all 54 member countries to work actively together to solve ocean challenges – is implemented through 10 action groups, led by 15 champion countries, focusing on a range of ocean priorities.

Dr Hardman-Mountford said: “Importantly, the Commonwealth includes the majority of small island – but large ocean – developing states in the world, which are some of the most risk of ocean climate change.

“Through the Action Group on Ocean Observations, we’d really like to see more of these countries equipped to participate in ocean observing. This way they gain the knowledge and scientific capacity to collect and analyse the data needed to manage their marine estate, develop sustainable blue economies and build climate resilience.”

He added that the Argo programme requires partners to deploy floats in deep ocean sites around the world, providing a “great opportunity” for cooperation with island countries, supported by the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

The webinar is the sixth in a series seeking to showcase innovative solutions and best practices being implemented by the Blue Charter Action Groups and their partners.

PAST EVENT: Argo – A Global Fleet of Robotic Floats to Monitor Ocean Climate Change and Health

Thursday, January 21, 2021 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM GMT

Watch the full webinar

Argo is a key component of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) that collects information from inside the ocean using a fleet of robotic instruments that drift with the ocean currents, and move up and down between the deep ocean and the surface.

Over the past 20 years, Argo has collected more than 2 million temperature and salinity profiles of the upper 2000 m of the global ocean. This has transformed our capability to monitor ocean climate change.

Argo floats provide data through satellites when they are at the ocean surface, and this information is made publicly available within 24 hours. The free and open access to data is a critical element of the Argo program, which has facilitated significant improvements of many weather and ocean forecast systems.

Argo float network design

The Argo program is now embarking on a new initiative, Biogeochemical Argo, which will collect observations of ocean chemistry and biology. This will enable scientists to pursue fundamental questions about ocean ecosystems, observe ecosystem health and productivity, and monitor the elemental cycles of carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen in the ocean through all seasons of the year.

Such essential data are needed to improve computer models of ocean fisheries and climate, and to monitor and forecast the effects of ocean warming.

Join us on January 21 to hear from speakers:

  • Dr. Blair Greenan, Research Scientist, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
  • Prof. Katja Fennel, Killam Professor, Department of Oceanography, Dalhousie University, Canada
  • Dr. Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, Head of Oceans & Natural Resources, Commonwealth Secretariat
  • Moderator – Ms. Kacie Conrad, Science Program and Policy Advisor, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

webinar speakers

New study calls for gender equity in ocean science

A newly released report funded by the Government of Canada has called for better opportunities in ocean science for women and those who identify as non-binary, in order to achieve sustainable ocean governance.

Based on an extensive literature review and expert interviews in 11 countries, the research is part of Canada’s commitment to gender equity, as the Ocean Observation Champion of the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

The study found that women and those who identify as non-binary are under-represented across the world in ocean science, particularly in decision-making positions.

They also face challenges such as unconscious bias, low involvement in work at sea and care responsibilities that limit opportunities for work and promotion.

The findings showed that while efforts are being made to increase opportunities for these groups, they still need better networks, more mentors and stronger communities to succeed.

Tackling these issues would boost innovation and discoveries by ensuring “all the best people come to and stay in ocean science”, as well as help deliver global goals for the ocean.


Spearheaded by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the study outlines six recommendations to support gender equity in ocean science, relevant to all those involved in ocean science.

These include ensuring gender equity in decision-making, creating leadership and mentorship opportunities, building capacity, and collecting gender-disaggregated data in the sector.

National Manager, Ocean Science at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Andrew Stewart said: ‘’Canada recognises the importance of inclusivity and empowering women in the ocean science community.  We must continue the dialogue, but most importantly, we need to take action towards gender equity.’’

Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Nicholas Hardman-Mountford said: “This valuable information can lay the groundwork for discussions around key policy changes and support a shift in culture that engages and retains more women, at all levels, who have the skills and passion to make a difference in this vital field.

“The Commonwealth Blue Charter remains committed to inclusive, sustainable and responsible ocean governance and gender equity is a critical part of this vision.”

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is a commitment by 54 Commonwealth countries to work together to solve ocean-related challenges. Under the Blue Charter, 10 action groups coordinate around key ocean issues, led by “champion countries”.  Canada champions the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on Ocean Observation.


Read the English version of the report (PDF, 10MB)




Read the French version of the report (PDF, 10MB)