Article Index


Ocean Literacy for all, 8 March 2024

What a nice start with an impromptu performance of stand up comedians appropriately calling their compagnie 'Improbably Performance'. They acted out the often absurd and contradictory 'arguments' and opinions one may find on some social media channels as if they wanted to ask the audience: 'are you well prepared and informed or at risk to fall for some cleverly presented humbug?' Most importantly, their seemingly light-hearted stunts also invited to have some fun and not become depressed by the increasingly dramatic reports about the state of the marine environment and the drivers and effects of climate change. Humor, after all, is a good protection against defeatism and a good laugh gives us all energy to find new answers to the challenges.

Charlina Vitcheva, Director General of DG MARE, then spoke with a panel discussion with young ocean advocate women: Rada Pandeva of the Thalassophile Project, Stavrina Neokleus of Surfrider Europe and Leitizia Artioli of the Venice Climate Change Pavilion. Unfortunately all panelists delivered some too well rehearsed statements, which would have had greater power with a little more spontaneousness. That did not reduce the pertinence of the messages, however.

Session 1 on Ocean Literacy as a precondition for a sustainable blue economy asked questions about key conditions that can help deliver a sustainable blue economy, building on experience in strengthening ocean literacy and blue skills. The blue economy is, of course, a much used and abused term sometimes highjacket to justify infrastructures that destroy more nature than they are helpful to protect or even restore. To set the scene, Evelyn Paredes Coral of Ghent University presented key results from a study about skills and attitudes in maritime professions. Knowledge matters to land a job. In the interviews the researchers had explored attitudes towards ocean sustainability, what would be considered legitimate use of the ocean, and practice of ocean-friendly behaviours possibly based on personal interest in the ocean. The study results clearly showed that knowledge about the ocean was not sufficient to trigger positive attitudes. This was echoed by other panelists, who also showed that companies need to promote soft skills together with hard skills in their employees, that 'green' skills and capacity to cooperate needed to be actively sought. Farhat-Un-Nisá Bajwa, Centro de Investigação Marinha e Ambiental, also highlighted that cooperation across sectors, not only within narrow technical bounds was nessary. Ruben Eiras, Secretary-General of Fórum Oceano, believed that especially small-scale fishers already had to have a lot of interdisciplinary knowledge and should therefore play an important role in shaping the future.


The next session focused on bringing the ocean to the classroom. Francesca Santoro of IOC/UNESCO was particularly eloquent in arguing in favour of promoting not only ocean knowledge but also emotions, humanist values, positive attitudes, civic engagement and leadership skills. Others agreed and added that it was important to work with municipalities often in charge of primary schools and to support teachers. All agreed that teaching across classical subject matters would be desirable for best results. It could also at least begin to address the most common challenges, such as lack of time and funding and other constraints related to the structure of the curriculum. Melita Mokos, Assistant Professor of the University Zadar also reminded the audience that while a lot of teaching aids were available in English this was not at all the case in many other languages and that teachers often lacked practical training in such other languages.

The two afternoon sessions gave room to a discussion among artists, media, and influencers on how to best engage citizens and young people in ocean literacy. They rolled out a number of examples to illustrate what made an engaging story. Key ingredients would mostly be good facts well told so that a human fate would get a face and not disappear in cold statistical numbers.

Civil society movements in the streets, in social media, on the ground, such as the campaign to stop the trade in shark fins with more than one million signatures endorsing the petition. The campaign against deep sea mining had contributed to the vote in the European Parliament for a moratorium. The combined efforts of many nature conservation organisations disseminating the latest research on the harmfulness of bottom trawling for the marine environment and the climate had certainly influenced the recent decision to forbid bottom trawling in marine protected areas under the EU Habitat Directive.

The other panel session was more forward-looking bringing together the ideas of children, young people, citizens and the audience, wishes/pledges from #MakeEUBlue net, outcomes of other European Ocean Days events as well as the visions of the EU Mission Ocean & Waters and the UN Decade of Ocean Science. There is no shortage of ideas, conventional and non. The emphasis needs to shift to living out more of these ideas in daily lives, in schools, art events, public and private institutions, in laboratories and in the streets.

The ocean literacy islands in the first floor offered many more examples of good initiatives to emulate and collaborate with (see photos to the right). This was a day to charge the batteries and continue working with fresh energy.

All photos of Mundus maris asbl unless indicated otherwise. If you want more photos and the recordings of the panels of the day, click here.