São Paulo School of Advanced Science on Ocean Interdisciplinary Research and Governance

Written by: Jack Daly, TBTI Masters student


Group picture of participants at the University of São Paulo


This past month I was fortunate to be one of over 100 graduate students from around the world attending the University of São Paulo School of Advanced Science on Ocean Interdisciplinary Research and Governance (SPSAS), in São Paulo, Brazil. This educational experience spanned two weeks, including courses lead by researchers from many disciplines around the world, as well as a fieldtrip to a coastal community and the largest port in Latin America.

This experience allowed for a sharing of knowledge between oceanographers, biologists, ecologists, climatologists, and a variety of social scientists and policy makers. As all of the attendees to this school were early career researchers, networking also took place, allowing for the possibility of future international collaboration, and at the very least, a better understanding of problems facing coastal communities and marine ecosystems globally.

I greatly benefited from a re-immersion into the sciences that study the many biophysical and geochemical dynamics

Trip to Santos. Fishing boat pictured centered, with high-rise multi-million dollars condo buildings in the background

of the ocean, disciplines that I have not had much exposure too since my undergraduate degree. I was fortunate to have a tutoring session with Dr. Jake Rice of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, who advised me on my project, using his decades of experience working for the government.


Major themes that came out of the conference were the need for more transdisciplinary science, increasing our understanding of climate change impacts on social-ecological systems, and a need to pursue our work and advance our various disciplines with more urgency. Dr. Rice mentioned that he has spent the better part of 50 years working to deal with the impacts of fisheries on the marine environment, and that the global community is not so fortunate to have as much time to deal with the impacts of ocean acidification for example.

Although much of the school was filled with stark findings of how quickly our global marine environment is changing, from the slowing down of the ocean’s heat redistribution currents to the loss in marine biodiversity and the resulting impacts on marine-dependent coastal communities, there were agreements on ways to move forward by the students and speakers.

Positive occurrences in ocean sciences include increased international collaboration, formation of global observation networks, and greater motivation for increasing transdisciplinary studies, integrating both social and ecological data for more robust findings. Looking back at the many achievements achieved by the international community in the past 40 years, as told to us by the speakers, showed a template for how more international collaboration can take place to tackle the pressing issues of today. 

Presenting work to other students

The greatest benefits that I took away from this school were the critiques and suggestions for my project. Each student presented their work in assigned poster sessions where other students and speakers could offer feedback. Presenting my project to experienced researchers as well as future natural scientists, social scientists, and oceanographers forced me to be able to detail my project at different levels of depth for whom I was speaking with.

The practical exercise for the school was a trip to the coastal city of Santos in the Baixada Santista region of Brazil. There we visited Latin America’s largest port, and toured the coastal area which was composed of multi-million dollar residences as well as coastal slums, showcasing immense inequality and climate change impacts. The day after our trip to the city we were broken into groups with the task to address one of the myriad of problems facing the area. My group was assigne

Practical activity group presentation. Students in my group were from Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, United States, Austria, and Belize.

d with how to develop a plan to address marine debris in the port. Using a decision-making framework, we showed the positive and negative aspects of different ways to address the problem, after having time to research it within our group. Although marine litter is not an area I study, this exercise with nine other graduate students from a variety of disciplines was a great way to practice analyzing a specific problem, coming up with solutions to address the problem, and then choosing a solution that would be most cost effective and practical.

This experience allowed me to engage with other early career researchers and become knowledgeable about their projects and the complications and challenges they face in other parts of the world. I am very fortunate to have participated in this school which allowed me to take a step back from my research for a couple of weeks with increased motivation and new ideas to incorporate as I begin writing my thesis.