New Paper: An Ocean Science-Policy Interface Standing the Test of Time

Since its establishment in 1969 by the United Nations, the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) has been “providing authoritative, independent, interdisciplinary scientific advice to organisations and governments to support the protection and sustainable use of the marine environment.” GESAMP’s “first major task was to provide the main input on the marine environment” to the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in June 1972. For over 50 years GESAMP has turned out over 50 in-depth reports on the health of the ocean involving more than 500 scientists globally.

EIUI undertook its first study of the publication output of this international organization in 2002 (Cordes, 2004; MacDonald, et al., 2004). Over the past year, EIUI team member Peter Wells, former member of GESAMP (1988-2002) and Chair of GESAMP (1998-2000), reengaged with GESAMP to undertake a new assessment of the organization’s publications and its global impact. Along with Dr. Wendy Watson-Wright, GESAMP Vice-Chair, and other key members of the GESAMP, a paper was prepared that highlights the half-century work of this organization and its importance as a source of information for scientists around the world and especially for policy and decision makers.

In early 2023, Peter Wells began work for the paper by conducting an informal search for primary and grey literature that cited GESAMP reports and studies, and papers emanating from those reports. The main objective of this project was to show that scientific information published as grey literature should be used more effectively to protect the ocean, not simply be published and then forgotten! His initial search inspired GESAMP members, under the leadership of Dr. Watson-Wright, to pursue the project over several months in 2023. The paper has now been published in Marine Pollution Bulletin (Watson-Wright, et al., 2004).

Abstract: Addressing the wide range of marine pollution problems facing the global ocean requires a continual transfer of credible, relevant and timely scientific information to policy and decision makers in coastal and ocean management. The United Nations GESAMP (Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection) is a long-standing scientific advisory group providing such information on a wide range of marine topics and emerging issues of concern to ten UN Sponsoring Organizations. This paper presents an overview of GESAMP’s operation and examples of its current work. The group’s scientific output is often cited by national governments, inter-governmental groups, and a range of non-governmental groups. Given the growing concerns about ocean health and the impacts of many stressors in an era of climate change, the development of timely and effective ocean policy and decision making would benefit from wider recognition and application of GESAMP’s work.

The effort to prepare this paper has prompted further study. One is based on a comprehensive expert survey of the literature for citations to GESAMP publications (both reports and primary papers) in research papers, policy documents, and social media, which is being undertaken by Dr. Philippe Mongeon and associates of the Dalhousie University Department of Information Science and EIUI. A second paper is being prepared by core GESAMP scientists, covering the major findings of the science-based reports of the members.

The 2024 paper with GESAMP members continues and extends our EIUI research interest in the work of this United Nations body and other similar UN groups (e.g., FAO, see Castillo et al., 2023; Soomai, 2017). This paper highlights an important theme of EIUI’s ongoing studies, namely, ensuring that research results published in grey marine scientific literature is noted, cited, and used in management and policy decisions to mitigate and reverse deteriorating ocean conditions. This outcome can bring about a healthy ocean, for people and marine biodiversity, for the future.



Castillo, D. J., Vicary, T., Kalentsits, M., Soomai, S. S., & MacDonald, B. H. (2023). Ensuring equitable access to ocean and coastal information to advance knowledge and inform decision-making: The global Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts. Ocean & Coastal Management, 231, 106399.

Cordes, R. E. (2004). Is grey literature ever used? Using citation analysis to measure the impact of GESAMP, an international marine scientific advisory body. Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, 28(1), 49-69.

MacDonald, B. H., Cordes, R. E., & Wells, P. G. (2004). Grey literature in the life of GESAMP, an international marine scientific advisory body. Publishing Research Quarterly, 20(1), 25-41.

Soomai, S. S. (2017). Understanding the science-policy interface: Case studies on the role of information in fisheries management. Environmental Science & Policy, 72, 65-75.

Watson-Wright, W. M., Wells, P. G., Duce, R. A., Gilardi, K. V., Girvan, A. S. T., Huber, M. E., Kershaw, P. J., Linders, J. B. H. J., Luit, R. J., Vivian, C. M. G., & Vousden, D. H. (2024). The UN Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP)—An ocean science-policy interface standing the test of time. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 199, 115917. [February 2024].


Author: Peter G. Wells

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