• Laura Lyth

From one conference to another, across Europe in the name of Sail Training and Ocean Literacy.

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

Immediately after the Sail Training International conference in Bordeaux, I made my way to Venice (via London, strange route I know!). On the 4 and 5 December 2017 I had the privilege to attend the IOC-UNESCO International Ocean Literacy conference, held at the UNESCO regional bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, Venice, Italy.

Day One: 4 December 2017

After briefly catching up with fellow EMSEA delegates and members I met in October 2017, we settled in the main hall to begin the proceedings for day one.

The early morning session began with two welcome messages.

Ana Luiza Thompson-Flores, Director of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe.

As well as providing a brief history of Venice regarding UN activities, the 1966 flood and how the city is and the ocean are intrinsically connected; it was also highlighted that there is a need for future collaboration to foster an international community. Therefore, increasing society’s knowledge of science and culture to be part of safeguarding the Ocean.

Karolina Skog, Minister of Environment of Sweden.

The video message from Mnst. Skog’s speech highlighted the need for strong relationships with the ocean, however, at present the knowledge of what is under the sea is low. If we can teach children and parents it could innovate the marine education sector. Marine Education has been in place for a long time, but the lack of facilities held back momentum. October 2017 was a critical turning point with events such as the Our Ocean conference. Mnst. Skog reiterated the importance of teaching children about Ocean Literacy, emphasising that this was a central part of the Agenda 2030, encouraging delegates to be leaders of Agenda 2030 – both at home and internationally. It was stated that political momentum needs to be built, bringing difficult aspects together. Mnst. Skog encouraged us all to build our self-confidence, informing our audiences of key issues such as where fish come from, why stocks are depleting, and how to reverse this situation in the future. The closing comments identified that sustainable oceans connect us all, encouraging individuals and organisations to sign up to the UN Voluntary commitments for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

The main section of the early morning was the High-Level Panel. This was chaired by Peter Pissierssens, IOC-UNESCO, Capacity Development Co-ordinator with three-panel members: Vladimir Ryanbinin, Executive Secretary of the IOC-UNESCO, Gesine Meissner, Member of the European Parliament and Peter Thomson, Special Envoy for the Ocean, United Nations.


Peter Pissierssens

This section opened with discussing the ocean itself. He reiterated what was previously stated by Mnst. Skog in that we need to understand that everything is interconnected (identifying that Ancient Philosophers have said this for centuries). He addressed the consequences of burning fossil fuels and the cycle of decline, particularly regarding reefs, oxygenation, acidification, and climate change. Pissierssens went onto review sea level rise, especially related to islands and coastal communities and the effects of melting ice caps. Declining fish stocks were examined next, suggesting that human greed was the primary cause such as wild catch and poaching. He did identify, however, that despite the current poor picture, there is a plan in place for this to be overturned.

Pissierssens next debated the Paris Agreement and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), promoting that if properly implemented, these can and will save ocean life. He identified that since the UN Ocean Conference in June 2017 there had been a change in opinion, in that something does need to be done and people now understand more.

He indicated that society is “walking into a plastic plague”, and that plastic is everywhere at present. However, positive action can be made and humanity is starting to move, stressing that Ocean Literacy and Marine Science are vital in this behaviour change. Negative ecological changes are evident such as in phytoplankton due to microfibers (the foundation of life in the ocean). Ocean Literacy and Marine Science are the basic steps to fight this and all are connected, we must redress and get the balance right once more.

Pisserssens closed his open speech stating that Fiji has been a central part of this movement, Ocean Literacy was the core of the Commonwealth Education Conference, a Blue Charter was being developed and the three-quarters of the EEZ are Commonwealth Countries.

One Big Ocean

Vladimir Ryanbinin lead this section starting with that the ocean is a singular body of water, promoting the IOC-UNESCO Ocean Literacy for all: a Toolkit. He focused upon how everything is surrounded by the unknown, scientists look into the unknown and educators share the unknown making the light brighter.

This was followed by addressing carbon’s contribution to climate change and ocean acidification, stating that there are six dead zones due to oxygen depletion. He also discussed the effects of oil spills, algae blooms and Illegal, Unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

It was emphasised that the ocean is the seventh-largest economy in the World (after the UK!). (This certainly surprised me). This flowed into dialogue regarding Coastal Zone Management, Marine Spatial Planning, and Marine Protected Areas. Ryanbinin addressed UNCLOS and how this regime needs to be based on science with formal Sustainable Development Goals. He also identified that data has been collected with GPS and Iridium from up to 2000m below sea level. This information from ocean studies can assist with preparing for drought.

Finally, Ryanbinin concurred that although there are publications on Oceanography in Europe, USA, Asia and Austalia, the distribution of knowledge is distorted. However, education can and has saved lives. He gave the example of when Tsunami prediction was taught via a television documentary, a young girl saved 100 lives through when a Tsunami struck.

What is Ocean Literacy?

This was the first of two-panel questions. Peter Pissierssens identified that the concept began in the USA in approximately 2002. Panel member then provided their own interpretation of what Ocean Literacy meant to them.

Gesine Meissner

She stated that it was important to act, people know and love the ocean but need to be highly educated about it, promoting knowledge and encouragement to act. It is about the ocean and seas but the ocean is everything. Meissner acknowledged that society has feelings for the ocean and knowledge makes it more tangible.

Peter Thomson

Pisserssens recognised that the important thing is what has been done in respect of th UN SDG’s. He promoted that governments need to include these into their national plans as well as asking individuals to adopt the SDG’s. It was suggested that information was essential for them to understand that ocean action is a critical response. The Ocean Literacy movement is about ocean action.

Vladimir Ryanbinin

Ryanbinin reiterated the views of Meissner and Thomson, highlighting that Ocean Literacy is the influence of the ocean on human’s and humans’ influence on the ocean, something which society ought to take a social and moral responsibility for. He also suggested that these principles can also be applied not just to seas and oceans but to rivers and coastal areas too.

School Systems – main areas of action

Gesine Meissner

In response to the second-panel question, Meinssner’s focus was on schools and including Ocean Literacy and Marine Sciences in the school curriculum as it is critical to make people aware. She also accentuated how critical partnership working was to achieve positive results and the inclusion of the political domain completes the picture.

Peter Thomson

Thomson stressed the power of media and celebrity, emphasising the need for collaboration. He applied Gandhi's notion of human v human greed, stating that every human needs to be part of ocean action. Thomson identified that society needs to take accountability for its actions, steering towards science, law, and pollution. Reviewing the outcomes of the Oceans conference, he suggested that we need to be mentors, maintaining connection with business and civil society.

Vladimir Ryanbinin

Ryanbinin opened his response by informing the audience that the next Ocean conference is in 2020, but also concurred that the current issues need more than three to be resolved. In respect of mainstream schools there are three key areas: take Ocean Literacy and Marine Science to schools and into the curriculum, deliver Ocean Literacy to the Governments and expand Ocean Literacy knowledge to the wider community. Within schools, educational efforts ought to focus on social and behavioural sciences and we need to avoid a situation where today’s children clean up the mess of the past and present adult generations.

The collective notion concluded that if we are not implementing SDG 14, we are failing. And for the collective movement to be truly successful, we need to act local but think global.

Keynote speaker sessions

The late morning session welcomed two keynote speakers, Francesca von Habsburg, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA 21), and Sam Dupont, University of Gothernberg.

Francesca von Habsburg

Francesca’s keynote speech was much thought-provoking for me in an unexpected way. As I am not an artist, I had never considered how Art can influence a scientific domain. Her introduction focused upon changing behaviours, sharing ethics, and a synopsis of her upbringing in Cold War Soviet Union within an artistic family. Although her speech wasn’t directly related to my own domain of Sail Training, she made several key points about Artists that I felt resonated with the ethos of Sail Training representatives. The main points were:

  • To be an advocate of change.

  • To be investigators.

  • To be mediators.

  • To provoke awareness.

  • To work with reverence and integrity.

  • Our view of the world is not based on territorial boundaries.

  • We imagine what is, what was and what could be.

  • Young people can resist the status quo, seeking alternatives to possible solutions.

  • [Art] helps to feel what science helps to understand.

Does ocean conservation actually start at home [on board ship]?

Although Francesca was speaking specifically in the context of Art, it is my view that these themes are transferable to many domains, for me specifically to Sail Training. I often say that two different products/ situations can lead to the same end result, as it suggested here. It just shows that society has more in common than what differentiates us as sub-group/ individuals. It is these commonalities that we ought to utilise for future collaboration. Differences make us unique, Similarities make us whole. A holistic approach is critical for successful collaborations that withstand the test of time.

Sam Dupont, University of Gothenburg

In the second video address of the day, Sam began by reflecting on concepts, stating that for centuries the ocean has been regarded as a ‘garbage bin’ and that the human species is having a massive impact on the planet. He identified that the Plastics issue is an opportunity of communication (also suggesting that scientists on their own are poor communicators). Sam continued with commenting that we need to take action to protect the ocean environment. Once more, the concept of merging communities to address the issue was emphasised.

Sam continued the notion previously considered by Francesca von Habsburg, suggesting that Science and Art share the same common passions. Where Artists communicate what Scientists cannot. By the conversion of the two disciplines from its interceptions, empathy is generated and promoting indigenous thinking e.g. “I am the ocean and the ocean is me” highlighting that we are all indigenous people of our own region).

However, one of his points that did resonate with me (I and several more within the Sail Training fraternity aim to promote this) was that we need to connect with issues through physical experience and to encourage one person at a time. Small steps = Great results.

#IOCUNESCO #OceanLiteracy #Venice

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