Occupying more than two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, the oceans play a crucial role in regulating processes essential to the planet, like producing oxygen and storing carbon. They also contain huge living and non-living resources, many of which are still little known or characterised. The importance of protecting the oceans and the sustainable exploitation of their resources is widely acknowledged and the subject of numerous global initiatives. These include the UN Ocean Conference, which is currently taking place in Lisbon and whose mission is to take steps to implement measures that contribute to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”, the 14th of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
In national terms, the importance of ocean resources and the blue economy is clear. Although one could say that much more could have been done, it is undeniable that Portugal has taken decisive steps in positioning itself as a relevant actor in certain ocean-related sectors. One example was the effort made to submit the request for the extension of the continental shelf to the United Nations. Once granted, this request will add a vast area of ocean floor, in the triangle between the Azores, Madeira and the mainland, to the national territory. Another example is the offshore wind farm installed off Viana do Castelo, whose technology had been previously validated, also on the Portuguese sea. In said cases, as in others, the knowledge already accrued is by itself relevant, but it leads to many different challenges and opportunities.
In general, in order to exploit the oceans sustainably, we need to expand our knowledge and to carry out a greater and better characterisation of their resources, while reaching a better understanding of their internal processes and interactions. There will be an increasing need to collect significant amounts of data, along the water column and on the ocean floor, at great depths and in remote regions. It will also be necessary to use this data to feed models that allow predicting developments, analysing alternative scenarios, allowing for the most informed decision-making processes. The identified needs lead to research and technological development challenges, which, due to their essentially applied nature, are intrinsically multidisciplinary.
Although sea technologies are not one of the areas in which INESC TEC initially established itself, our national position as a major institution in this area is undeniable today, due to the impact of the work developed in-house. At the international level, recognition is also increasing, as evidenced by several partnerships established.
We have reached this point thanks to the efforts of many and the leadership of some, but also thanks to the framework provided by the institution’s operational model – which is constantly evolving and enhanced the synergies necessary for all this evolution.
But more important than the point we’ve reached, is what we’ll do in the future. There are numerous opportunities, the human capital is excellent, and the support infrastructures are unique in the country, with relevance abroad. We must do more, and we must do it better. In this sense, we must be selective in the challenges we choose to address, bold in what we propose to do, thorough in the work we do, united in the way we work and resilient in the face of difficulties. Essentially, we must keep being INESC TEC!
Aníbal Matos (Member of the Board of Directors)