A global point of reference for responsible ocean management
The UN's Atlas of the Oceans provides a big-picture look at the world's marine resources
15 June 2004, Rome -- FAO, six other UN agencies and a group of leading international scientific organizations are today marking the second anniversary of the release of the UN Atlas of the Oceans.
Thousands of people every month have been using the Atlas, an encyclopaedic online resource containing news updates, data on the state of marine resources, analysis of policy issues, environmental studies, access to real-time maps, and more.
"Previously, this information was spread out and as challenging to navigate as the oceans themselves," said Ichiro Nomura, FAO Assistant Director-General and head of the agency's Fisheries Department.
"But by tapping a global network of agencies and individuals to build and maintain the Atlas, we've been able to create a comprehensive one-stop shop for ocean-related information -- much of which is available no place else, and certainly not in such a comprehensive, organized array."
The basic idea behind the initiative: to pool knowledge and expertise from around the globe in one easy-to-use tool that can deepen our understanding of marine environments and help promote a shared, coherent vision for ocean management.
Two years after coming online, the UN Atlas of the Oceans is being accessed by thousands of people each month from all sectors of society and all corners of the globe, according to Serge Garcia, Director of FAO's Fishery Resources Division and coordinator of the Atlas project.
"We can see that the Atlas is being used by everybody we hoped it would be, from schoolchildren, educators and the general public to policy makers, scientists, the media, non-governmental organizations and resource managers needing access to comprehensive knowledge bases," he said.
"But the Atlas is not only filling information gaps and promoting better understanding across disciplines and among stakeholders," said Garcia. "It is also helping to build consensus about the kinds of policies and strategies we need to pursue in order to conserve our ocean resources for tomorrow."
An international network of partners
According to project manager John Everett, who is based at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States, the task of building a globally relevant and comprehensive resource demanded a decentralized, collaborative approach.
In addition to FAO and NOAA, six UN agencies and five non-UN organizations make up the formal Atlas partnership, and twelve other UN and non-UN organizations also collaborate, said Everett.
"Currently we have 30 different institutional editors based at partner organizations who are in charge of maintaining and building up information on 1,060 different topics, adding different kinds of resources -- from links to real-time maps to scientific papers to photographs -- as need be," he added.
The UN agencies involved in the Atlas project include FAO, the International Atomic Energy Agency, International Maritime Organization, the UN Environment Programme and its World Conservation Monitoring Centre, the World Meteorological Organization, the Secretariat of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.
The UN's Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea and Department of Economic and Social Affairs also participate.
A number of organizations from the public, private and non-profit sectors play an active role in the Atlas project as well. These include Russia's Head Department of Navigation and Oceanography, the National Geographic Society, New York's South Street Seaport Museum, the international Census of Marine Life network and the non-profit World Resources Institute.
Information Officer, FAO
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