Ministers, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good afternoon. I am extremely happy to be back in Portugal for this excellent event today. In July I hosted a conference on "Blue Enlightenment", also on the topic of the importance of oceans. So 2017 really is the year of the Oceans.

This morning we paid tribute to Professor Mário Ruivo. He truly was a pioneer of oceanography. A defender of the ocean. And I want to personally pay tribute to him this afternoon. Just before he passed away this year, he delivered a striking speech when he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Algarve. At the time, he spoke about how his love and fascination for the ocean came about.

He said: 

O Mar, o Oceano. Tantas designações para um espaço tão misterioso e hostil ao bicho Homem e que, desde sempre, tanta curiosidade, inconsciente e conscientemente, despertou ao longo de séculos e séculos. [The Sea, the Ocean. So many names for a space so mysterious and hostile for the animal called Man, and that has always awoken – century after century - so much conscious and unconscious curiosity.] 

His words and his sentiment were beautiful. And I think it sets the scene perfectly for what we are discussing today. In particular this curiosity. This curiosity is what inspired a young organic chemist by the name of Werner Bergmann to explore the waters off the coast of Southern Florida.

And among the marine organisms that he scooped up in Florida was a new species of sponge. It piqued his interest. And when he tested it back in his lab, he made a fascinating discovery: the sponge contained a new compound unknown to science.

You need to remember that Bergmann did not set out to work on health research. He was an organic chemist. He was fascinated with compounds, not with human health. Nonetheless, his discovery is part of almost all chemotherapy treatments that we use today.  

What's amazing about this story is that Bergmann travelled to Florida in 1945.

So think about how little we still don't know about the oceans. Something my predecessor often said was that we know more about the surface of the moon than about the depths of the oceans!

But when I read Bergmann's story, two things occurred to me.

The first is that great scientists are not afraid of going into the unknown. People like Bergmann, literally, do not fear exploring unchartered waters. This is where the most thrilling, the most surprising, and the most astounding science can happen.

The second thing that occurred to me is how much untapped potential there is in the oceans. Bergmann discoveries were over seventy years ago.

Despite our great advances in technology since then, the ocean is still a place where we have so much to do. So many discoveries still to be made, like Bergmann's, that have the potential to completely revolutionise human health.

The ocean is the most promising new frontier for innovation of our health. And today I want to briefly discuss two things.

  1. First, The Oceans as catalysts of interdisciplinarity
  2. Second, open data as a necessary condition for interdisciplinarity.

First, oceans and health research is an excellent example of interdisciplinarity. I've said it before many times: the most exciting breakthroughs in innovation happen at the intersections of disciplines. Just think back to Bergmann's discoveries in Florida. He was not a biologist, he was not an oceanographer. He was a chemist exploring the frontiers of science.  

This domain not only provides us with an opportunity to explore interdisciplinary research. It needs it.

  • Can compounds derived from the sea produce medications with fewer side-effects?
  • Is the ocean hiding an undiscovered cure for Alzheimer's Disease?
  • Are there minerals in the water that can better fight bacterial infections?

These questions won't be answered by doctors alone.

They will be answered by oceanographers, chemists, biologists, psychologists, social scientists and others.

We need to embrace the new meta-discipline of ocean and health research.

And we need to encourage scientists in all fields to contribute.  

Second, we need to ensure the open access to and interoperability of data collected. If we are to truly reap the benefits of interdisciplinarity, scientists from all disciplines need access to available data.

I meet a lot of researchers as part of my job. And what I hear time and time again is the needless duplication of research. If I am a scientist, I do not want to duplicate data that already exists. I want to find out quickly what is already available. So I can build on it. And I want to know if there is useful data from a completely different scientific field.

Until recently, there was no one-stop-shop for researchers. No overall architecture that allows scientists from different disciplines to connect, share and build on each other's work. In June we launched the European Open Science Cloud to change this. A place where scientists from all disciplines working on publicly funded research can come together and benefit from each other's research. This tool is exactly the kind of valuable resource needed for researchers in this area.

Implementation of the Open Science Cloud will begin from Spring 2018. And my dream is that it will be fully up and running by 2020.

Finally, let me tell you about a project that I came across not long ago and shows how oceans are an amazing source for health projects.

The project is called NOMORFILM. And it deals with a very common problem among patients with prostheses

You may know that it is very common to get infections after prosthetic surgery. Imagine after already going through the trauma of the surgery, a patient could then be faced with continued suffering. Not only is this very uncomfortable for the patient, but it is also quite dangerous. Infections can also mean that patients need to replace prostheses at a later stage, starting the cycle all over again.

So a team of scientists had the idea that a solution could be found in the Oceans.

They are micro-algae that can be used as new raw materials to create prosthetic implants. One's that are resistant to infection.

This has the potential to entirely transform the experience of the patient.

  • It means we can reduce the risk to their health following surgery.
  • And it means we can improve their quality of life while recovering.

Projects like NOMORFILM are exactly what I'm talking about. Ones that are interdisciplinary. And ones that exploit the potential of the ocean in a way that we have not before.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is clear we have a lot to do in this area. That we have only scratched the surface of the potential of the ocean for human health. At the same time, the water surrounding us is a shared resource. Exploring it is a shared endeavour. If we are to gain the most we can from it, we need to collaborate, across countries, across disciplines to inspire scientific excellence in this area. If we are successful in supporting an open and interdisciplinary research environment, who knows what rewards human health can reap.

We must also keep in mind that the ocean is not a new place. As humans, we have created a conceptual distance: we live on land, therefore we are only for the land. This is a false understanding of our relationship with the ocean. Two thirds of our planet is covered in water. We are intrinsically linked to it. We derive food from it. We gain energy from it. So why not also our health?

And so, instead of subscribing to an idea of the ocean as a new place to explore, I am calling on you all to see the ocean as a place where we are all from, and a place to which we should all return.

This idea is nowhere more perfectly articulated than in one of the most famous stories set in the water, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In it, Jules Verne wrote:

The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides. The sea is only the embodiment of a supernatural and wonderful existence. It is nothing but love and emotion; it is the Living Infinite.

Thank you.