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Mapping The Oceans: Developing Blue Economies Across The Globe

Kerrie Howard Hydrographic programme manager at the UK Hydrographic Office says "there is still much to understand about the maritime environment" (Alamy)

3 min read

We live on a blue planet. The surface of the Earth is 71 per cent water and yet, as our reliance on the seas continues to grow, there is still much to understand about the maritime environment, the benefits it can offer and how marine resources can be used in a safe and sustainable manner – the blue economy.

A key enabler for realising the full potential of any blue economy while protecting the marine environment is detailed mapping of the seabed – the discipline known as hydrography. The United Kingdom marine estate, which includes our Overseas Territories and Crown dependencies, is huge – the fifth largest on the planet. 

Our network of islands, plus many Commonwealth nations, are surrounded by considerable natural maritime resources that offer huge potential for economic growth. However, due to their remoteness, small populations and land masses, these nations are often vulnerable to environmental and economic challenges, with many lacking the resource to invest in the seabed mapping required. As a result, much of their waters have never been systematically surveyed, or haven’t been surveyed in decades.

The UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) is responsible for supporting safe and efficient navigation within the UK estate as well as 64 nations across the globe under its obligations as Primary Charting Authority. Working with partners, the UKHO has been using its world-renowned expertise and capabilities to support UK global interests while helping these nations unlock the potential of their blue economies through a range of programmes.

The Overseas Territories Seabed Mapping Programme is funded by the UK government’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund. The programme exists to enable safe navigation through hydrography and developing hydrographic capability. Activity under this programme will increase compliance with international maritime obligations and support the blue economy.

The UKHO produces navigational products for 64 nations and has established the Primary Charting Authority (PCA) Programme to reduce the risk of contingent liability across the UKHO’s portfolio of products. The 64 nations that make up the PCA are worldwide; many of the coastal states in scope lack the capacity or resources to meet their requirements for hydrography.

The Civil Hydrography Programme (CHP) is helping the UK to meet maritime obligations around the British Isles. It is managed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency with significant support from UKHO. The CHP exists to ensure that hydrographic information is gathered for updating the UK’s nautical products, thus ensuring the safe and efficient navigation of our waters. 

The UKHO played a leading role in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s Commonwealth Marine Economies (CME) Programme, in partnership with other UK agencies, aiming to unlock over £2bn return for the economies of 17 Commonwealth Small Island Developing States through a range of blue economy developmental work – from hydrographic surveying to providing training and capacity building. This programme ended in 2022.

The UK Centre for Seabed Mapping (CSM) is working to increase the coverage, quality and access of seabed mapping data through collaboration and has been established by UKHO to support a seabed mapping community which coordinates the collection, management, and access of publicly funded data.

Hydrography has been identified within the Integrated Review and the National Strategy for Maritime Security across several themes worldwide to support a secure and resilient ocean by providing accurate geospatial information. Whether used for supporting maritime navigation, disaster management and economic growth, or emerging sectors such as renewable energy and sustainable deep-sea mining, the availability of accurate location-based information will remain essential. As our marine environments continue to evolve and the global blue economy develops, the UKHO will continue to work to support UK interests and protect our oceans, helping to deliver safer and more sustainable marine economies, delivering a strong return on investment.

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