Connecting to the oceans: supporting ocean literacy and public engagement

By SalM on March 16, 2021 in News Articles

Improved public understanding of the ocean and the importance of sustainable ocean use, or ocean literacy, is essential for achieving global commitments to sustainable development by 2030 and beyond. However, growing human populations (particularly in mega-cities), urbanisation and socio-economic disparity threaten opportunities for people to engage and connect directly with ocean environments. Thus, a major challenge in engaging the whole of society in achieving ocean sustainability by 2030 is to develop strategies to improve societal connections to the ocean. The concept of ocean literacy reflects public understanding of the ocean, but is also an indication of connections to, and attitudes and behaviours towards, the ocean. Improving and progressing global ocean literacy has potential to catalyse the behaviour changes necessary for achieving a sustainable future. Using examples from the literature, we outline the potential for positive change towards a sustainable future based on knowledge that already exists. We focus on four drivers that can influence and improve ocean literacy and societal connections to the ocean:  education,  cultural connections,  technological developments, and  knowledge exchange and science-policy interconnections. We explore how each driver plays a role in improving perceptions of the ocean to engender more widespread societal support for effective ocean management and conservation. In doing so, we develop an ocean literacy toolkit, a practical resource for enhancing ocean connections across a broad range of contexts worldwide.

To date, the ocean literacy movement has primarily been driven by scientists and educators whose work is associated with marine science . However, as outlined above, ocean literacy is a challenge and opportunity for all parts of society, including educators, children and adults, wider community groups, scientists, consumers and policy/decision-makers , and there is a resulting need for more inclusive approaches to marine science and decision-making. Ocean literacy is founded upon knowledge sharing and learning and thus, relies on the communication of accessible and up-to-date marine science information ). It is no longer enough to ‘simply do the science and publish an academic paper’ , and the science communication efforts and initiatives that many authors of this collaborative paper have contributed to  exemplify the need and possibility of developing and sharing research further to achieve community and policy impact outside of ‘the Ivory Tower’. Scientists can also communicate research in indirect ways, such as supporting citizen science projects that increase community trust in science and conservation, engaging with remote learners in ocean-focused massive open online courses (MOOCs) , or by collaborating with ‘ocean champions’, community leaders or celebrities who can deliver marine science messages to wider audiences.