UW EarthLab and The Nippon Foundation launch Ocean Nexus Center

The University of Washington and The Nippon Foundation today announced the Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center, an interdisciplinary research group at the UW that studies changes, responses and solutions to societal issues that emerge in relationship with the oceans. The Center will bring uncompromised, critical voices to policy and public conversations to enable research and studies equaling $32.5 million spread over 10 years.

“The sustenance of humanity depends on our mother ocean,” said Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of The Nippon Foundation. “And so today, I am happy to announce this new partnership with the University of Washington to embark on a long-term commitment to ensure our ocean’s health, 10,000 years into the future. As an NGO that brings together diverse stakeholders to address the complex challenges facing our oceans, we felt that partnering with the University of Washington, a world leader in not only the ocean and environment, but in multidisciplinary collaboration and research, was a perfect fit. I am excited that the next generation of thought leaders will be emerging from this center to share their research findings to guide the world toward ocean sustainability.”

Based on the philosophy of passing on sustainable oceans to future generations, The Nippon Foundation of Tokyo has been working for over three decades with governments, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations and research institutions to foster 1,430 ocean professionals from 150 countries. The Ocean Nexus Center will be housed in UW EarthLab, an institute established in 2015 to connect UW research with community partners to discover equitable solutions to our most complex environmental challenges.

“Ocean Nexus exists to bridge the gap between decision makers, policy makers and the communities most affected and dependent on the oceans,” said Yoshitaka Ota, the Center’s director and a research assistant professor in UW School of Marine and Environmental Affairs. “This is a chance to do something bold and really push the boundaries of understanding our relationship with oceans, and that’s what I’m excited to do.”

The Center aims to build the next generation of ocean thought leadership by offering opportunities, networks and training for early-career interdisciplinary scholars. The research is global and seeks to embrace cultural diversity and community sovereignty. Current UW partners include the School of Public Health, the Information School and the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy & Governance.

“Without EarthLab we couldn’t have done this,” Ota said. “This is a very complex operation. We’re taking a quite unorthodox approach to environmental issues. But that’s why this is a perfect fit for EarthLab, because they’re lightning-focused on collaborations that can lead to equitable change.”

“We know that the world’s oceans are in trouble and that the communities that rely on oceans the most for life and livelihood are more likely to suffer and need to be engaged,” said Ben Packard, EarthLab’s executive director. “We are thrilled to partner with The Nippon Foundation to support the Ocean Nexus Center to build capacity for transdisciplinary research and bring an equity and justice lens to ocean governance.”

Researchers already know that environmental changes, such as pollution and ocean acidification, can cause health and economic impacts on communities. But scientists and decision-makers still do not have all of the information to implement solutions that take into account those most in need.

The Center will leverage the natural-science-oriented network created through the Nippon Foundation Nereus Program, an international initiative comprising an interdisciplinary team of 20 institutes. To date, researchers from 13 other universities from around the world, in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Malaysia and more, have already signed on to new interdisciplinary projects with Ocean Nexus. Topics cover a range of issues including ocean acidification adaptation, sustainable development of oceans, equitable allocation of transboundary fisheries, and gender in ocean governance.

As policy director of the Nereus Program, Ota brings more than a decade of experience exploring ways to take a human-centered approach to resolving ocean issues. Unfortunately, class and power determine who benefits from the ocean and who does not, he said.

“What’s the gap?” he asked. “With the right evidence and policies, we can bridge that gap equitably and create shared and classless oceans for all.”

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