The CNRS and the Ocean

The CNRS's researchers come from all disciplines which means it is in a unique position to coordinate and facilitate all dimensions of ocean research. It also provides decision-makers with the right scientific knowledge they need for important policy choices. The single objective of this work is to better understand the world's oceans and preserve them in a sustainable way.

« The Ocean needs science - all the sciences in fact. By its very nature this is an interdisciplinary subject and the CNRS encourages people to think of this as a crucial sustainability issue to ensure the long-term preservation of the Man-ocean system. »
Antoine Petit, the CNRS Chairman and CEO
+ 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity to provide for their needs
France has the 2nd largest maritime territory in the world, with almost 11 million km2
The CNRS has over 1000 scientists and around 50 laboratories that study all aspects of the ocean

The world’s oceans cover three quarters of the Earth's surface and contain 97% of our planet's water. Over three billion people are dependent on marine and coastal biodiversity in today’s world but the human footprint on the oceans is becoming an increasing menace for the marine environment and the ecosystem services it provides like fishing resources. This menace derives from multiple forms of man-made pollution such as plastics, wastewater, pesticides and hydrocarbons combined with the negative effects of overfishing, ever-increasing maritime traffic, the development of the blue economy, the impacts of climate change with melting ice and increasingly regular extreme climate events. Preserving the oceans is therefore an issue of major importance including for France, of course. France is the second largest country in the world just behind the United States in terms of maritime territory with nearly 11 million km2 - four times the size of the Mediterranean Sea - spread over all the oceans. 

However the ocean is a complex environment. The whole subject requires coordination that goes far beyond marine science alone to ensure and enhance the oceans' chances of preservation. This involves coordinating research and other activities in areas ranging from the continents to the deep sea, from the molecule right up to the global system, from ecosystems to human societies and their many uses of the ocean to sharing knowledge with decision-makers, professionals and the general public. 

The CNRS is one of the world's leading research organisations and has over 1000 scientists studying the ocean in all its dimensions in around fifty laboratories. These research forces mean the organisation is capable of forging alliances to work on the subject between a wide range of disciplines including oceanography, physics, sociology, biology, ecology, geology, mathematics, chemistry, economics and even philosophy.

The CNRS's designated Ocean advisor, Joachim Claudet, has developed a scientific strategy in collaboration with the CNRS Institutes to support the research organisation and cooperation on this subject. This strategy's aim is to carry out interdisciplinary research and provide effective responses to the questions asked about the oceans by society and decision-makers. More specifically it is based in particular on an Ocean task force that brings together the 10 CNRS Institutes and also on the Omer Research Network coordinated by Fabrizio D'Ortenzio that features a wide range of interdisciplinary and multi-organisation scientific expertise.

Joachim Claudet and Fabrizio D'Ortenzio


CNRS initiatives and commitments for the ocean 

The CNRS is steering or co-steering 37 national programmes (PPRs and PEPRs ) with several devoted to the oceans. These involve targeted thematic and geographical research that aims to provide society with tangible responses. The CNRS also works with national, European and international decision-making bodies to provide them with the right scientific knowledge and help inform political choices involving the sustainability of the ocean.

National programmes piloted or co-piloted by the CNRS

The 'Océan Climat' Priority Research Programme (PPR) co-steered by the CNRS and the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (Ifremer). 

Six Priority Research Programmes and Equipments (PEPRs):

  • Deep Seabeds,
  • Atlasea, a first atlas of marine genomes,
  • Traccs anticipating climate risks,
  • Bridges, biodiversity conservation and climate resilience in Indian Ocean fisheries,
  • Irima, risk management,
  • Solu-BioD, finding a nature-based solution.

At the CNRS, different scientific fields work together to preserve the ocean

The work of all the sciences present at the CNRS on the ocean reveal an infinite number of stories about our planet and the living beings that live there. CNRS scientists also explain how human societies preserve close links with and even depend on the world's oceans but also conversely how they threaten them.

Let's take a look at some of the discoveries made in the Earth's 72.8% of salt water:


Once upon a time, the ocean…

Every dive into this mysterious universe brings up a new unique story to tell. The countless riches brought back from underwater expeditions open up new pages of knowledge about the deep oceans - unknown species, harmful traces of human activity and so on. Researchers then work fast to analyse this information to find out more about the mechanics of the oceans and how to preserve them more effectively.


How was the ocean formed?


The disappearing oceans


Underwater volcanoes


Underwater laboratories


Space instrumentation


The thousand and one lives of the ocean

Life was born in the ocean with the appearance of the first photosynthetic organisms and animals appeared. Researchers' work teaches us about the mechanisms that link these species together by quantifying their diversity and warning about changes caused by external attacks.


A largely unknown biodiversity


The mysterious ocean depths


Living in the dark without oxygen


When dinosaurs populated the seas


Using the oceans' resources without damaging or polluting them

The Earth's habitability is determined by the health of its oceans which produce half the planet's oxygen while feeding us and helping treat our ills. Things can only improve if we balance the conservation of marine ecosystems with the sustainable exploitation of ocean resources. Geographers, legal specialists, political scientists and archaeologists can guide us regarding how forms of governance need to be adapted, the best ways to regulate equitable access to resources and the adaptation of coastal and island populations.

Solutions from the humanities and social sciences


Stopping radioactive pollution


Coastal zones caught between Man and the Ocean


Fishing in this era of climate change


Restoring the environment


Albatrosses as indicators of illegal fishing


Protected marine areas when politicians get involved


Protecting French Guiana's marine resources



Preserving the ocean as a reservoir of life

Living in harmony with the ocean depends on our ability to preserve and restore it. To keep it safe from the global upheavals we are undergoing, scientists are working to identify the threats, gauge their impact and put forward solutions.


The climate is changing - and C02 too


Unloved invasive species


Ocean currents modify the climate


The sea is rising


Shellfish, the Sentinels of the Ocean


Arctic biodiversity in the climate change era


Cold-water corals are warming up


Helping corals to survive


Marine protected areas combating climate change


What kind of ocean do we want?


The prodigious ocean

The ocean is an infinite source of innovation - from pharmaceutical research to cosmetics, marine renewable energies, biomimicry and biofuels. The ocean's depths provide us with precious resources and also promising solutions.


The ocean microbiome's genetic code and its biotechnological applications


Marine bacteria are pioneers for the degradation of macroalgae


Using 'sea lettuces' for food and cosmetics


Cultivating seaweed




Communicating underwater


Sea surges – making equations with waves


The toxicity of cosmetics for our oceans