With its location at the Western edge of Europe and its relatively small size, the island of Ireland suggests the idea of a strong rooted yet tormented relationship between the mighty sea that surrounds it and its population, especially to a foreigner like me who comes from the more laid back landscapes of the Mediterranean Sea. However, even though 40% of the Irish population lives within 5 km from the coastline, there are still many people who would say they know little about the ocean, the variety of life it hosts and its connections with our everyday lives. This lack of awareness about the important role the ocean plays for us all is a general trait of human populations across the globe, regardless of how far or close they live from the sea.
The main reason for this has been recognized to be the lack of ocean-related content in standard school curricula. However, in the last twenty years this problem has started being addressed with the development of ‘Ocean Literacy’ campaigns.
WHAT IS OCEAN LITERACY
But what do we mean by ocean literacy? It is defined as ‘the understanding of the ocean’s influence on us and our influence on the ocean’ which eventually will drive people to be ‘able to make informed and responsible decisions regarding the ocean and its resources’ (from the Ocean Literacy Network website).
Ocean literacy is based on seven principles that are considered fundamental by the marine scientists and educators. They were developed as part of an ocean literacy framework, to help each one of us to know and understand the ocean. Let’s explore these seven principles, from our privileged perspective on the West Coast of Ireland!
#1 The Earth has one big ocean with many features. Ireland is surrounded by the North Atlantic Ocean, the Irish Sea and the Celtic Sea, but in reality, these are not isolated seas; they are all connected to each other as they are to any other sea or ocean basin on the Planet. There is only one Ocean on the Earth, and it covers over 70% of its surface, that’s why we call it the ‘Blue Planet’!
#2 The ocean and life in the ocean shape the features of Earth. Probably not many other places in the world prove this point more the gorgeously rugged Wild Atlantic Coast of Ireland! The powerful erosive impact of the waves caused by frequent storms has helped generate some of the most iconic Irish landscapes, like Slieve Leagues and the Cliffs of Moher, whereas the unique lunar landscape of the Burren, full of gorgeous fossils of corals and shells, is due to the limestone that formed from sediments in prehistoric times when Ireland was covered by the sea. Sea levels also play a major role in the land we have access too, as sea levels increase and decrease in sync with amount of water trapped in glaciers and ice.
#3 The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate. We all know that the weather in Ireland is not like it is in Naples, but have you ever considered that Ireland is almost at the same latitude of countries like Denmark or Lithuania which are considerably colder in wintertime? How is that possible? The reason is that warm temperatures are brought towards the Irish coastline by an ocean current that originates in Central America, called the Gulf Stream. But yeah, unfortunately it’s also the reason why Ireland is so wet!!!
#4 The ocean made the Earth habitable. We all know that we need to be thankful to the plants that produce oxygen we breathe to live, but many people don’t know that the majority of the plants that produce our precious oxygen are out of sight from us, not only because they are not on land, but also because they are microscopic! In fact, over 50% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by an astonishing variety of single-celled algae floating in the ocean that altogether form a group of marine organisms called phytoplankton. It’s not every breath you take, as Sting would sing, but more than every second one!
#5 The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems. At every depth, every latitude and despite extreme conditions, life thrives in the ocean. There is far more variety of living creatures in the ocean than on land, and Ireland, with its vast marine territory (have a look at what is called the ‘Real Map of Ireland’ here), hosts an extremely fascinating array of marine biodiversity. If you want to discover many beautiful species of fish, sharks, rays, crustaceans and molluscs that are native to the Irish marine and freshwater environments, come and find them here at Galway Atlantaquaria!
#6 The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected. A lot of us eat fish and other types of seafood, so we all know that the ocean is a fundamental source of food for us. However, you might not know that the ocean gives us a whole range of other goods that span from minerals used by different types of industries, renewable energy generated by tides and currents, and even medicines! You can visit the CÚRAM exhibit at Galway Atlantaquaria to learn how seaweed, sponges, barnacles or tiny microalgae like diatoms and coccolithophores are studied to inspire medical device research in NUI Galway. Finally, the ocean is also a vital source of leisure and inspiration for us all, and can be a great help to us to maintain a sense of wellbeing and a good mental health.
#7 The ocean is largely unexplored. There is still a lot we don’t know about the ocean, and we can even say how much: over 80% of the blue world has still to be explored, with most of that being in the cold, dark and inhospitable deep part. However, thanks to the advancement of the technologies available, the last decade has marked a turning point in the exploration of the deep ocean, and Ireland is actually on the forefront of this research field thanks to the Marine Institute and its two research vessels suited for deep-sea surveys which offer support to marine scientists to discover new unknown habitats.
Here at Galway Atlantaquaria we are deeply committed to expanding the reach of ocean literacy in Ireland through the long list of education and public engagement activities we carry out every day. Firstly, we are one of the Explorers Education Programme Centres: the Explorers Programme is funded by the Marine Institute and engages with primary school teachers and students, creating marine leaders and ocean champions in Ireland. We deliver the Explorers module in Galway and Clare, so if you are a primary school teacher based in one of these counties and want to learn more about how you can get involved, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us! We are also the current secretariat of the Irish Ocean Literacy Network (IOLN), an all-island group of over 40 organisations across i.e. academia, industry, NGOs, and state bodies who are committed in promoting ocean literacy across Ireland and beyond. In fact, the IOLN is also part of international ocean literacy initiatives like for instance the EU4Ocean Coalition, a bottom-up inclusive programme aimed at uniting the voices of Europeans to make the ocean a concern of everyone, whereas our Education Director, Dr Noirin Burke, is one of the ocean literacy experts who collaborate with the Intergovernamental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO. Finally, we also carry out locally a large range of educational activities like sea safaris and rock pooling events, school workshops focused on the targets of our conservation projects on seagrass, sponges and freshwater catchments, and other activities aimed at promoting music and visual arts as tools to enhance our connection with the sea.
As highlighted in a very recent paper about ocean literacy research, the final aim of ocean literacy is to connect ‘the human dimension to the ocean and that intends to be an incentive for positive change in people’s behavior’. This is extremely important, because, as we know, we tend to care more for something we know well. Therefore, to cite Dr Easkey Britton, find your water wherever you are, even if it’s hundreds of kilometres away from the coast, and explore your personal connection with the ocean: the future of our Blue Planet is in our hands!
The final aim of ocean literacy is to connect ‘the human dimension to the ocean and that intends to be an incentive for positive change in people’s behavior’.
Ocean Literacy Images
We randomly selected these images from our library, just to give you a sense of all the people invested in a healthy ocean. Is there an image you would like to share? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org and I can add.
Our goal is to share the diversity of stories that reflect the beauty of the sea, we are doing this by sharing images, stories, art, reviews & interpretation of the beautiful blue ocean we are only discovering.
This blog is to record the adventures , ocean literacy, discoveries , and showcase the hidden beauty of the Wild Atlantic Way.