Ocean Literacy - our connection to our seas

My name is Kath and I am the senior advisor for the Marine Area Statement (MAS), which is underpinned by the work everyone in NRW’s marine departments (and wider!) do.

Area Statements come from the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, there are 7 covering Wales and each outline the key challenges facing that locality, what we can all do to meet those challenges, and how we can better manage our natural resources for the benefit of future generations.

There are 3 priority themes for the Marine Area Statement which are embedded in the work NRW does, these are:

Alongside these there are 4 overarching themes which cut-across the priority themes. One of these is “Reconnecting people with Welsh coasts and seas” and this is where something called ocean literacy comes into play. Let me set the scene - the ocean is important – it regulates lots of global processes such as the climate and our weather, it made earth habitable, it’s a huge carbon sink and it supports vast amounts of biodiversity, life and ecosystems. The way we live our lives influences the health of the ocean, from where our energy comes from, to the food we eat. Ocean literacy, in its simplest form, is “understanding your individual and collective influence on the ocean, and it’s influence on you”. Ocean literacy is evolving from an academic study, to being part of society that includes things like school learning, citizen science, corporate training, public awareness campaigns, the science-policy interface.

There are lots of different components to being “ocean literate” including awareness, knowledge, attitude, activism, behaviour, emotional connection, access, experience and proximity to the sea. Having a more ocean literate Wales could support the sustainable management of natural resources through “greener” lifestyle choices and behaviour. Behaviour changes could include things like supporting more local businesses such as seafood producers, switching to renewable energy suppliers, using more public transport and consuming less in general. As an organisation, NRW’s ultimate goal is the sustainable management of natural resources, so it is important we support ocean literacy in Wales.

To understand ocean literacy in Wales, it is essential to gather baseline data. In a collaborative survey, NRW with Defra, Scottish Government and Ocean Conservation Trust have conducted a survey to assess levels of ocean literacy in the UK. Today, NRW have published the Welsh headline results. The survey assesses how much the public understands and are aware of the benefits they receive from the sea and coast. It also identifies pro-environmental behaviours among the public in relation to the marine environment, such a reducing single use plastic consumption. The survey measures attitudes towards protecting the sea and coast, including intentions for future change. It also asks how and when people visit the sea and coast, where they go and what they do there, and whether people understand how the sea and coast impact physical and mental well-being. 

The key findings from the survey were that:

  • Around 80% of respondents felt visiting the sea and coast provided mental and physical health benefits
  • Marine litter / plastic pollution was perceived to be the pressure posing the biggest threat to Wales’ sea and coast
  • Almost half of the respondents felt that their lifestyle has no impact on the marine and coastal environments in Wales
  • Most (83%) felt that it is important to protect the marine environment
  • A large proportion of Welsh respondents wanted to make lifestyle changes to protect our sea and coast, things that people already do include:
    • recycling more,
    • reducing consumption of single-use plastics
    • minimising energy demands in homes
  • People mostly got their information about the ocean from nature documentaries and the news
  • The most popular destinations for visitors were sandy beaches and coastal towns

Survey results show people believe plastic pollution to be the biggest threat to our sea and coast, however the best available evidence from the State of Natural Resources Report (SoNaRR) points to impacts from climate change such as coastal flooding and coastal squeeze as posing the biggest threat. There is huge potential for everyone in Wales to become better connected to our wonderful marine environment through understanding, knowledge, access, emotional connection etc. Improving access and engagement to the marine and coastal environment could support direct and wider benefits to individuals and communities in general. Direct benefits may include spending more time at the coast walking, cold water swimming or doing other recreational activities which supports individual physical and mental well-being. Wider benefits could be re-training in ocean sciences for employment in the environmental management or renewable sector, volunteering for coastal conservation projects, voting based on pro-environmental policies or giving up the car for a bike and public transport. Managing our natural resources sustainably is something we can all get involved in.

These survey results can help to support all areas of MAS work, particularly the cross-cutting action of ‘Reconnecting people to the sea’. The results provide the data needed to underpin a strategy to support ocean literacy in Wales which is being actioned under Welsh Governments “Blue Recovery Agenda”.

Julie James MS, Minister for Climate Change, Welsh Government said:

In Wales, we have a beautiful and diverse coastline, with 60% of the Welsh population living at or near the coast. Building ocean literacy is key to supporting a vibrant connection between people and the sea. This survey provides baseline data which can inform action to strengthen the health and well-being benefits we get from the marine and coastal environments in Wales. These results will feed directly into the work of the Wales Coasts and Seas Partnership which highlights ocean literacy as a priority to improve how we manage and use our coasts and seas in Wales

On a political landscape, there are several movements aligning that prioritise the importance of ocean literacy as key to managing our coast and sea. These include the UN Decade for Ocean Science, Area Statements and the Blue Recovery Agenda. In Wales a significant number of projects are already going on to support ocean literacy, and we are working with our partners to support and share approaches and learning for the benefit of everyone.

If you want to stay up to date with the ocean literacy journey in Wales, please sign up to the NRW marine newsletter.

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