Scientists and politicians have gathered in the Indonesian city of Manado for the World Ocean Conference. They are discussing the role of oceans in mitigating climate change and how climate change affects the world's seas, but their efforts are hampered by a lack of knowledge about the oceans.

The Manado conference is a first of its kind, and Jacqueline Adler, from the United Nations body for the environment, UNEP, says it is long due.

"This represents a milestone for me; the governments, hopefully, will make a commitment to insuring that what we should've been doing for the last 20 years, start to be taking seriously and invested in," said Adler.

Because of their currents, oceans are the prime maker of climate. Life below the sea absorbs a quarter of all the carbon man releases in the atmosphere. However, Richard Spinard, a scientist from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says that little is known about the oceans, because the technology to study it is relatively new.

"It's only in the last couple of years that we've had the same sort of density of observations of even things like temperature at the surface of the oceans as we've had on land for many, many decades," said Spinard. "You can't diagnose the patient unless you make the observation of the fundamental life parameters: pulse, blood oxygen, that's the same kind of thing for the oceans."

Scientists are sure of one thing: pollution makes it more difficult for the oceans to fulfill their role in regulating climate. Tony Haymet, a scientist from the University of California San Diego, says that keeping them healthy is a first step to take, and must be done quickly.

"We know enough to know we have to stop putting CO2 into the atmosphere and therefore have it dissolve in the oceans," he said. "Do we know enough to know how much time we have before the situation becomes critical? I think the answer is no. So there are important things about the oceans that we don't understand. But that's not a reason for delay, it's a reason for taking action."

By learning more about how the oceans work, scientists around the world hope to help reduce global warming and to ease its effects. Warmer global temperatures are thought to be linked to emissions of green-house gases, such as carbon dioxide. One of the biggest sources of those gases is the burning of oil and coal. 

The conference participants are looking forward to another event - the United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen next December. The delegates to that meeting hope to lay the foundation for an agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol on reducing carbon emissions and coping with climate change. Manado is seen as a first step toward taking oceans into account in the fight against climate change.