Although the great navigators and conquerors provided us with precise knowledge of the scale of the world’s oceans, their conquest of the seas is still far from complete. Discoveries about the area covered by the seas must be succeeded by discoveries about how they function and the life forms they support. Exploration of the marine environment, from surface to sea floor, so as to develop our use of its resources in a sustainable manner, is the principal challenge facing marine science.
However, access to the sea can still be a difficult endeavour. Appropriate equipment and facilities are needed to explore, discover and monitor the oceans. The sea has unique physics and strong hydrodynamics that control its chemical, biogeochemical and biological cycles. Its dynamics have shown it to be complex, heterogeneous, deep and stratified, while in perpetual movement - to such an extent that well-adapted sampling strategies are needed to obtain an unbiased view of reality.
The ocean remains a unique geological environment, with active ocean ridges responsible for the geological formation of continents. Deep-sea ecosystems are where life on earth, both that in the sea and on land, began. But the countless species living in the sea are made particularly difficult to study by their dynamics and migratory behaviours, over both time and space. The marine environment, therefore, needs to be studied at every scale, from local to global, using a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach. Such an approach will enable us to fill the gaps in our knowledge, which are so much greater for these marine environments than for those on land.
Both on the worldwide scale and in Europe, the ocean will be the centre of everyone's attention in numerous research fields, including those studying predictions of climate change and its impacts, operational oceanography, observation and monitoring of ecosystems, invasive species, combined anthropogenic impacts in the coastal zone, spatial planning tools for management - especially for the continental shelf and protected marine areas - and the development of indicators, methods and models to ensure high quality, integrated advice.
These are the challenges that 21st century man must overcome in order to favour the path of progress, whose promises and rewards reflect the overall concept of "quality of life".
It is to face these challenges that Ifremer, the French research institute for exploitation of the sea, has designed its strategic plan "Contribution to a national strategy for marine sciences for 2020". Ifremer is one of the most integrated marine research institutes with the broadest range of skills and expertise worldwide. Underwater technologies, biodiversity, fisheries science and aquaculture, coastal environments, mineral resources, biotechnologies and operational oceanography are all part of its research missions and its areas of skill and excellence.