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Table of Contents


  • An Ocean Account is a structured compilation—of consistent and comparable information: maps, data, statistics and indicators—concerning marine and coastal environments, including related social circumstances and economic activity. The general purpose of such accounts is to inform and enable public policy decision-making about oceans, and related analysis and research. The function of these accounts is to provide coherent structures for standardizing often-fragmented data to produce reliable integrated indicators of interest to policy. Dissemination of these indicators can be accomplished through national reports, nationally managed websites, or interactive “dashboards” which allow user querying. Ocean Accounts are distinguishable from other compilations of ocean-related information on the basis that they are:

  • Ocean Accounts are designed to support coherent and holistic reporting and assessment of the wide range of social, economic, and environmental conditions related to oceans. This broad perspective is intended to be consistent with the practical information requirements of decision-making to achieve sustainable development — which is defined for the present purposes in general terms as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

  • The Ocean Accounts Framework is distinct from related initiatives, largely due to its comprehensive scope and statistical foundations. It can bring coherence, an environmental perspective, and a policy context to the many interpretations of the “ocean economy” and “blue economy” that centres on sustainability and inclusivity. It can provide a coherent, agreed information base for strategic and spatial planning of the ocean and coasts, regulation of ocean-based economic activities and sectors, adaptive management to keep pace with policy cycles, and associated investment decisions. It can also provide impartial evidence to monitor and evaluate ocean-related policies and be used to develop a statistical foundation for monitoring of progress towards international commitments such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Convention on Biological Diversity,and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development including the SDGs. Further, it can be used to identify gaps in our knowledge and help focus research on filling those gaps.


  • Ocean Accounts are fundamentally a collection of accounts (or modules) that are organised in terms of a conceptual framework. These accounts may be implemented selectively depending on national priorities, data availability and technical capacity. Overall, the framework describes:

    • interactions between the economy and the environment,

    • the stocks (flows) and changes in stocks of environmental assets (natural capital) that provide benefits to people, and

    • social and governance factors affecting and affected by the status and condition of environmental assets and associated benefits.

  • The general structure and groups of component tables of the Ocean Accounts Framework are illustrated in Figure 1 below, and can be summarised as follows:

  • Ocean assets (natural capital): recording the physical status and condition, and monetary value, of marine and coastal environmental assets (natural capital) including minerals and energy, land and soil, coastal timber, aquatic resources, other biological resources, water, and ecosystems including biodiversity.

  • Flows to economy (supply and use of ocean services, including goods[1]): recording inputs from marine and coastal environmental assets to the economy, including ocean-related materials (abiotic and biotic), energy, water, and ecosystem services. These inputs can be recorded in terms of physical quantities and monetary value.

  • Flows to environment (residuals including ecosystem impacts): recording in physical units the outputs from the economy to the ocean environment including: solid waste, air emissions, water emissions, and impacts on ecosystems.

    • The ocean economy as a contribution to the national economy: recording the monetary value of production, consumption, accumulation, imports, and exports in economic sectors deemed relevant to the ocean, as well as non-market services in comparison to the economy of a nation. The economy is reflected in the Ocean Accounts as users of ocean services and suppliers of residuals (pollutants) and activities that affect the ocean.

    • Governance: recording a range of information (physical status, monetary value, and/or qualitative status) concerning collective decision-making about oceans, and the wider social and governance context in which such decisions are made. Information recorded in governance tables includes the status and/or value of: protection and management of ocean environment; the “environmental” goods and services sector of the ocean economy; relevant taxes and subsidies; applicable laws and regulations; health, poverty and social inclusion; risk and resilience; and ocean-related technologies. Inclusion of health, poverty, and risk management may require a separately identified social account to address inclusivity within the overall account framework.

    • Combined presentation: recording a “report card” of summary information (physical quantities, monetary value, and/or qualitative status) and indicators concerning the flows of benefits and costs (the latter broadly defined as maintenance and restorations costs, disservices and externalities[2]) between the ocean environment and the economy. This information includes but is not limited to: the share of Gross Value Added / Gross Domestic Product attributable to the ocean economy; ocean resource rents; depletion, degradation and adjusted net savings relevant to oceans; contributions of oceans to human well-being (employment, sense of place) that are not recorded in the SNA; and relevant information concerning health, poverty and social inclusion.

    • National Wealth: recording summary information (in terms of physical quantities, and/or monetary value) concerning a country’s (or other region’s) stock of ocean wealth, including relevant stocks of environmental assets recorded on a SEEA balance sheet; economic/financial assets recorded on an SNA balance sheet; a subset of environmental assets that are defined as “critical” according to agreed criteria; the resource life of environmental assets; and relevant societal assets such as education and health systems.


[1] Ecosystem services, in the past were referred to as “ecosystem goods and services”. For simplicity, the term has been shortened and this convention is maintained in this Guidance. That is “Ocean services” includes “goods”.

[2] These costs are included in the framework in theory, but not dealt with in detail in the current Guidance pending further discussion.


  • Humans have studied the ocean realm for centuries. Recent advances in ocean research technologies have centred on Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and are changing how ocean science collects and analyses data. Improvements in scientific research methodologies are being unlocked through new ocean robotics, remote sensing, big data, analytics and modelling, automated image analysis, genomics, machine learning and automated analytic technologies.

  • Given the multiple interacting systems of the ocean and its complex interconnections, integrated assessment has gained increasing traction over the past several decades. These assessments generally gather information on a set of indicators (of both the natural and human systems), their real and/or projected changes, and may also include an evaluation of the drivers of changes of the indicators (using a DPSIR framework). Below are some examples of assessment approaches that included the ocean system.

  • In the early 2000s, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment convened experts from around the globe to evaluate the status and trends of ecosystems, including coastal and marine, and the implications for human well-being. Findings from the synthesis report included: rapid and extensive change of ecosystems by people; substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth; substantial net gains in human well-being and economic development, but at the growing cost through degradation of many ecosystem services; and increased risk of non-linear changes, and the exacerbation of poverty for some groups of people. These problems, unless addressed, will substantially diminish the benefits that future generations obtain from ecosystems—especially coastal and marine ecosystems.

  • The UN convened a group of experts to conduct the first World Ocean Assessment; the final report was released in 2015. Key findings from the assessment include the substantial threat from climate change for oceans (e.g., increased deoxygenation, increased acidification), the determination that the exploitation of living marine resources is not sustainable in many locations, and increasing pressures on biodiversity, particularly in places where biodiversity hot spots and humans intersect. The report also found that there is increasing demand and potential conflict in the use of ocean space and that the increasing population and use of agriculture is increasing the waste flows into the coastal and ocean environment. The report (Chapter 9) highlighted the potential of the SEEA to harmonize data and to link ocean science to economic decision making.

  • In 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published an assessment[7] of the status of global biodiversity and ecosystem services. Their key findings indicated that direct exploitation, mainly through fishing, had the largest relative impact on nature in marine systems and that climate change is “exacerbating the impact of other drivers on nature and well-being”. They also highlighted the intersection of loss of nature and its benefits with the incidence of poverty. The International Oceanographic Commission of the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (IOC-UNESCO) coordinates programmes in ocean-related research, services, and capacity building. This role includes coordinating the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). Among its programmes are the coordination of the Global Ocean Observation System (GOOS) and several other scientific workstreams including blue carbon, acidification, the effects of climate change and deoxygenation. Data and information are facilitated though two specialized bodies: The Joint WMO-IOC Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM; currently in the process of update for UN decade needs) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange (IODE). Of particular interest to ocean accounting, IODE maintains several relevant databases and other tools including: the World Ocean Database (WOD), the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), the Ocean Data Information System (ODIS) as well as an inventory of ocean experts and publications. The General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO) operates under joint supervision of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and IOC-UNESCO. GEBCO conducts several mapping projects regionally and globally, including Seabed 2030, a joint operation with the Nippon Foundation to map 100% of the ocean floor by 2030.

  • Many localized integrated ecosystem assessments have also been conducted, such as those conducted by NOAA on the California Current system, the Gulf of Mexico, the Northeast Shelf, and the Alaska Complex, by UN Environment for the Mediterranean, Canada for its marine coasts and Australia for the Great Barrier Reef. A common thread among these assessments is that the rate of change is increasing, and that research is required to fill data and knowledge gaps.

  • The above synopsis identifies that the ocean is changing, human use of the ocean is changing and the way we measure the ocean is changing. Tracking these changes and linking them to societal value systems provides an important understanding if of the impacts of these changes on ocean assets and the resultant flows of goods and services from such assets. There are a number of different ocean “health” indices by which the condition of systems can be assessed, including for example the Ocean Health Index, and the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems. These along with NOAA - developed indicators targeted aimed at tracking of ocean asset changes can assist in informing important condition indicators for ocean asset accounts.

  • Looking to the future, the IPCC recently released an assessment of the “Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate,” which used new data to demonstrate the acceleration of ocean warming, sea level rise and acidification and likely future scenarios.

  • More broadly, TEEB’s (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) planned initiative for Oceans and Coasts “will seek to draw attention to the economic benefits of ocean and coastal biodiversity and healthy ecosystems and emphasize the unrealized benefits of preserved and enhanced whole ecosystem structures, functions and processes to the well-being of humans and nature”.

  • Australia’s Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program funded by the Australian Government for over 50 million to combine novel approaches in environmental engineering and social and environmental economics to combat climate change on the Great Barrier Reef. This is the first large-scale government-funded interdisciplinary project to simultaneously conduct socio-economic and scientific research on the same ecosystem over adequate spatio-temporal scales to monitor and react to the effects of climate change.


  • The complexity of the interacting systems (and their associated indicators) in the ocean environment creates substantial challenges in dealing with uncertainty, interpreting unexpected trends and relationships, and developing future projections. Advances in coupled ecologic-economic modelling, particularly in fisheries and climate research, will provide guidance in evaluating best practices for modelling data and for dealing with the cumulative effects of uncertainties generated within individual modelled systems. It is hoped that the scientific community will contribute to the development and application of these Ocean Accounts by advising on appropriate classifications and condition indicators, by helping to understand the role of ecosystem processes in providing services and by interpreting the results of the accounts.

  • An additional challenge is to collect the required data with limited financial resources. Global efforts are underway (see Data sources and platforms for Ocean Accounts) to maximize the effectiveness of ocean observing systems for collection of relevant and consistent data sets. Improved technologies that enhance the capabilities of tracking vessels and migratory species may also prove beneficial. ESCAP is addressing the needs for global data selection and integration using the framework by producing an inventory of global data and proposing a global map of ocean ecosystems, consistent with this framework.

  • For many ecosystem types, particularly in the marine environment, there is a lack of consensus in the scientific community on specific environmental indicators which accurately identify ecosystem health and function through time. While efforts to develop indicators of ecosystem health are a focus of research across all marine ecosystem types, progress varies between ecosystems types. Furthermore, the informative power of available metrics will have to be balanced with the feasibility of use, which includes intellectual barriers and the cost of collecting the data at a satisfactory frequency.

  • The need for improved reporting systems and visualization tools for the dissemination of ocean accounts data to the public and policy makers. These will increase the ability of crosstalk between independent governmental agencies which are stakeholders in the overall account building process. These are discussed as “dashboarding” in /wiki/spaces/TRAS/pages/2326948.