A Vision for the All-Atlantic Mission – Nuno Lourenco

In the fourth in our series of All-Atlantic Conversations, Joanne Sweeney speaks to Nuno Lourenco, Director of the +Atlantic CoLAB, a not-for-profit institution comprising universities and industry.


Talk to us a little bit about what your vision is for the All Atlantic mission. I’ve been having other conversations with other subject matter experts over the past number of weeks, and the challenges are vast, but where does your new project and institution put its focus?

So we all know that the Atlantic Ocean is facing significant impacts due to climate change. So this is at the coastal levels or across the Atlantic with problems such as coastal erosion and sea-level rise. There are problems with the habitat and biodiversity laws, marine litter, illegal fisheries, and we could go on and on forever. It’s true that no country knows, no coastal state can single-handedly sort out and gather knowledge and resolve this problem. So, for me, and I’ve been following the European scene, so in the Northern countries, then anchor promoting cooperation in the South, and all these. All- Atlantic, I think, is of paramount importance to really tackle and create synergies and proximity between the communities to help sort out some of these problems hopefully.

In our case, because we deal with the earth observation data, we’ve been assisting one network, the concentrated network of countries called AIR, Atlantic International Research Centre, developing an approach for all the Atlantic satellite, micro satellite constellation. And of course, on its own, this does not solve anything, but it would be a way to increase complimentary to the Sentinel satellites, to increase revisit times, get more situational awareness of what’s happening in the ocean, and hopefully bring better and more close to proximity data to tackle and attack problems as they occur.

Do you think that a shared vision will promote better collaboration? Because we know that data and modeling of that data is hugely important to getting a better understanding of the ocean and how it’s changing the opportunities, the gaps, the threats. But collaboration is one of the massive themes coming up with the All-Atlantic 2021 Conference. And it has been the foundation of the Galway and the Belém Statements. Do you think that stakeholders are naturally inclined to share and to collaborate?

In our name, the +ATLANTIC, we are a collaborative laboratory. So my tendency is to say, yes, surely of course we should do it. And we do that even at national level with our different partners and associates, and we’re trying to promote through air and through the different European programs, that collaboration.

I would say that the way is there, you still have to pave the way. So there are things that still have to be worked out, mechanisms, instruments, but the will is there. And that’s the best thing about these challenges, is that from our context with different partners and colleagues, there’s a strong will to share data scientific objectives, infrastructure technologies, because, as you know, the capacity is not symmetrical across the Atlantic, North, South and East, West. So there’s a pretty good geographic asymmetry in the way we can approach problems.

And so having more cooperation means that we can be more effective everywhere across the basin. So to put things in perspective, yes, there’s a path to be followed, but the initiatives that we have brought up so far are being effective. I think. So I’m pretty positive of what’s to come in the near future.

And as a nonprofit organization, and then working in collaboration with industry who are for profit, do you think that that relationship can have a healthy outcome and kind of have a healthy trajectory towards a common goal, which is the protection of the All-Atlantic?

I’m pretty sure. I would like to do a strong statement on that. Marine operators, industries, the blue economy, actors are not part of the problem. They have to be part of the solution. I’m pretty convinced of that. They are all the time in the oceans, and when they do their jobs, when they go about their jobs, they collect significant amounts of data. And so they can be a truly a part of the solution and contribute effectively to the research effort.

At the same time, we all know that there are always misconceptions and there are all mistrust. They have to be more transparent. And there’s a lot of initiatives, I would mention, for instance, the UN Global Compact, the Ocean Business Platform, they are really fighting to really create good practices, more transparent ways of doing things, being agriculture energy, or whatever, what would say you, and this is also a part that is not completed or shipping.

It’s not completed, but I think everybody’s more aware that these are not two different worlds. These are the same worlds because it’s the same space and the same problems. And they face those problems too. So I would believe yes, that there’s a much more willingness and openness of the industries to collaborate on this collaborative effort.

I’ve been thinking as I’m working on this project and having all of these conversations, that there are so many people working towards a single vision of a shared Atlantic and ocean, and protecting and preserving it, but it made me wonder about the UN Ocean Decade from the UN, and that 10 year period where we’re going to focus. Is there a single goal, where do you want to be in 10 years? Is there a place that, if we were having this conversation, that in 10 years’ time, what would be successful? What would it look like?

So many different educators being at the beach and not seeing one single piece of plastic, for instance, or being at sea and seeing a vibrancy. And I’ve been working at sea almost all my professional life. So it’s a funny question. I think that the societal outcomes from the decade are instrumental, are fundamental. The healthier, more knowledgeable, more predictable, all of that, we operate in some of these, of these outcomes. It’s pretty ambitious. I don’t know if at the end of the day, we’ll be there, but we will be closer to a better ocean. So to say to you, I would say that I would like to be discussing this at the beach with you, with a vibrant coastal ecosystem, clean waters, and feeling good about ourselves. It would be a good outcome for the decade, personally.

And we could be on a beach in Galway.

No, not in Galway, here in Portugal, if you don’t mind.

Well, Portugal is where I spend my summer holidays so that I definitely wouldn’t mind, of course. Let’s talk about the All-Atlantic 2021 Conference, which is upcoming. And what space will you guys take up there? And who are you hoping to meet and what conversations are you hoping to have?

Well, we will be engaging in some side events. Me personally, I’ll be involved, I think it’s going to be confirmed about sea floor seabed mapping, where probably we’ll be doing a short talk and we didn’t speak about it, but it’s not about only the essential climate variables of the ocean climate pair or the essential ocean variables also to measure climate change. I think it’s pretty critical that we know the sea floor. This means knowing the bathymetry, knowing the shape of the sea floor, because this impacts ocean circulation, this impacts the way we can occupy with our uses or to measure the impacts of our uses in the ocean. So I think it’s critical. And this again comes from the effort of AORA, for the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance, that study a couple of years ago, the need that we have to really map the ocean floor. So I will be involved in that side event. And let’s see, there are many things rolling. I cannot say that we’ll be in all of them, but we are fully committed with the event.

So if Google can map the air in our streets, can you guys map the seafloor?

Definitely. It’s a matter of resource, not a matter of technology, fortunately. So of course, we have problems between the deep ocean floor, which is easier to map, although it has a wider aerial extent, and it goes with the techniques we use. It’s more of an effort to map shallow waters because the systems are less efficient, because of these, basically a cone of sound, and as you go up, the cone gets narrower. So the corridor that you image is narrow, but definitely there was already a perspective, an idea of what will be the effort and the money that would cost to map the deep ocean floor. And I think it’s pretty doable, provided there’s commitment from the different states. We’re not there yet, but let’s see if it goes through, it would be a nice thing. We still have errors of 700 meters in some of the reliefs that you think they are at 2000 meters and they are not. They’re shallower or deeper. So there are still a couple of things to do on there, on that field.

Okay. Finally, Nuno, let’s try and inspire and get more people to attend the All-Atlantic 2021 from the second to the fourth of June, a hybrid event. And a lot of the sessions been happening online. So it doesn’t really matter where in the world you are, you can join and have a very important, and part of the conversations that are happening. What’s your call to arms, to people who are watching this, who haven’t yet registered?

No, we are doing a tremendous effort here to outreach, to get to people, to spread the word. And I think we are all neighbors in what concerns the Atlantic. If we put the Atlantic as the centrality, we are all neighbors. And so, for those of you listening to us that are committed to research or the blue economy, or you are simply curious about the oceans, which I recall do not stop at the beach, go well beyond and deeper, please join. And this especially if you are young because you are the ones needed for the future of these All-Atlantic.

Yeah. And we’ll have the All-Atlantic Ocean youth ambassadors,

I know. Flying the flag and creating a path for their colleagues. But an absolute pleasure to speak to you, and I really hope that I can get back to the beaches in Portugal very soon.

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