Research supported by FAPESP extends knowledge of the oceans | AGÊNCIA FAPESP

Research supported by FAPESP extends knowledge of the oceans Low tide at Praia da Fortaleza, Ubatuba, São Paulo state: most oceanographic research focuses on coastal areas (photo: Mariana Cabral de Oliveira/USP)

Research supported by FAPESP extends knowledge of the oceans

January 04, 2023

By André Julião  |  Agência FAPESP – The oceans are still less known than the Moon, but scientists have been exploring them more intensely in recent decades. Much of the research has been conducted with FAPESP’s support, as shown by a review of the literature produced by researchers at the University of São Paulo (USP), the Federal University of the ABC (FABC) and São Paulo State University (UNESP), and published in the journal Biota Neotropica. The article is part of a special issue dedicated to FAPESP’s sixtieth anniversary, which was commemorated in 2022. 

The authors analyzed 300 projects completed since 1972, of which 46 were supported under the auspices of the FAPESP Research Program for Biodiversity Characterization, Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use (BIOTA-FAPESP). Launched in 1999, BIOTA has significantly increased the number of ocean exploration research projects. The increase has been particularly strong since 2010, thanks to a 2009 call for proposals in this area.  

Another important contribution has come from 13 projects funded by the FAPESP Research Program on Global Climate Change (RPGCC), launched in 2008. 

“We can’t claim to have reviewed the state of the art in Brazilian ocean research. We focused on a specific angle. We didn’t analyze all the oceanographic studies conducted in Brazil, or even in São Paulo state, because we didn’t include projects funded by CNPq [the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, an agency of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, MCTI] or by other funding agencies. On the other hand, to some extent the review does reflect all the work done in São Paulo and the rest of Brazil,” said Mariana Cabral de Oliveira, last author of the article. Oliveira is a professor at USP’s Institute of Biosciences and a former member of BIOTA’s steering committee (2009-18). 

As the oldest university in the state, USP already existed when FAPESP was set up, in 1962. It still accounts for a majority of the oceanographic projects funded by FAPESP: 66%, followed by UNESP and the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), with 9% each; and the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP), with 6%.

Until the 1980s, however, the differences were greater, with USP accounting for 82% of the total. The increase in the share of other institutions was partly due to the creation of new centers, such as UNESP’s São Paulo State Coast Campus (CLP) at São Vicente, established in 2002; UFABC, established in 2005; and UNIFESP’s Institute of Marine Sciences (IMAR), established in 2007. Historically, 47 public and private institutions have had marine research projects funded by FAPESP. 

Future challenges 

For the authors, FAPESP’s importance to oceanographic research reflects its strength in all research areas in São Paulo state and its influence on science nationally and globally, thanks to its commitment to multidisciplinary and cross-border collaboration, provision of research infrastructure, and relatively stable levels of funding. 

“The launch of a funding line for Thematic Projects in 1990 was important because it provided support for long-term projects involving larger networks of researchers who seek answers to questions that can’t be addressed by regular projects, which last two years,” Oliveira said.  

This vision, which was also reflected by the Genome Project (1997-2008), BIOTA, and RPGCC, together with bilateral cooperation agreements with foreign institutions, helped change the incremental approach prevalent hitherto by fostering an approach that was more ambitious both theoretically and in terms of being oriented to problem-solving. The most noteworthy feature of BIOTA, for example, is its integrated view of biodiversity as connecting biological and cultural elements.

For the future, the authors identify deep-sea research as a gap to be filled. Brazil has one of the world’s largest marine economic exclusive zones, mostly in waters deeper than 1,000 meters, and urgently needs a comprehensive program to support research projects targeting this enormous and complex ecosystem in all its dimensions. Most ongoing research projects focus on coastal waters. 

Although FAPESP has funded two oceanographic research vessels (the Alpha Crucis and Alpha Delphini), they are used less than they should be owing to high running costs. The problem could be solved by more collaboration among researchers from different institutions to share the expenses and train more people to do oceanographic research.  

Besides Oliveira (20/09406-3), the authors of the article are Antonio C. Marques (IB-USP), Alvaro Migotto and Marcelo V. Kitahara, (Center for Marine Biology, CEBIMAR-USP) (21/06866-6); Gustavo Muniz Dias (Center for Natural and Human Sciences CCNH-UFABC) (19/15628-1); and Tânia Marcia Costa (Institute of Biosciences, CLP-UNESP) (20/03171-4).  

The article “Marine and coastal biodiversity studies, 60 years of research funding from FAPESP, what we have learned and future challenges” is at:  




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