Marine science through the eyes of sci-fi to save our oceans


Together with our colleagues at Stockholm Resilience Centre we continue to focus on oceans and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 ahead of the UN Oceans Conference. This time it’s about the challenge to find effective ways to communicate and to reach relevant target groups to make a real impact for a sustainable future.

Andrew Merrie, a sustainability scientist at the Stockholm University’s Resilience Centre working with communications, commissioned conceptual artist Simon Stålenhag to bring a set of narrative scenarios about the future oceans to life. Andrew thinks science fiction can succeed in attracting attention where scientific papers have failed.

Stålenhag came up with four eerie and thought-provoking images. Two of the scenarios represent utopian futures, the other two are more dystopian. They are written as speculative fiction in different, engaging narrative styles: a travel magazine article, an obituary, the transcript of a “TED”-like talk, and a series of recovered journal entries. The physical versions of the artworks will be exhibited during the UN Oceans Conference in New York 5-9 June.

“Fish Inc” shows the logical extreme of ideas around “the blue economy” and “farming the seas”. The ocean has become a place for factories; a large tank is filled with jellyfish being turned into nutrient pastes.

“Oceans Back from the Brink” by Simon Stålenhag. This image shows healthy oceans back from the brink of disaster, with healthy ecosystems and well-managed fisheries. This scenario even has robots working to clean up the ocean and restore coral reef ecosystems. A coming together of human ingenuity and ecologically literate technology.

Merrie recognizes the need to not only understand what’s happening in terms of climate change and marine ecosystems, but also look at how these projected changes will impact human societies and the global fishing industry.

“While they are fictional scenarios they draw on ecological, technological, socio-economic and governance trends and are built on a rich and deep scientific evidence base,” says Merry

The collaboration with Stålenhag is part of an ongoing science-communications project called ‘Radical Ocean Futures.’ It is also part of Merrie’s PhD dissertation – “Global Ocean Futures: Governance of marine fisheries in the Anthropocene.”

The project was financed through a science communications grant from The Swedish Research Council Formas and featured on WIRED.

Read more about Radical Ocean Futures at Stockholm Resilience Centre webpage

Listen to a short radio piece with Andrew Merrie for P1 on Sveriges Radio

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