What is Ocean Literacy?

25 January 2024 - // Beyond
Mikaela Martirosyan
Communication Trainee at REVOLVE

Despite its immense importance, there is an overwhelming lack of understanding of the ocean’s significance and its impact on our lives. This is where ocean literacy comes into play.

The concept of ocean literacy was first introduced in the early 2000s by a team of marine scientists and educators in the United States in response to the observed lack of ocean knowledge in educational institutions. Recognizing the need for a structured approach, they formulated a comprehensive framework to advocate for the integration of marine sciences into formal education. The essence of ocean literacy lies in the understanding of the influence the ocean has on us and the influence we have on the ocean.  

To better illustrate the need for ocean literacy, I like to refer to prochlorococcus, the smallest photosynthetic organism on the planet that produces 20% of the oxygen in the biosphere. Did you learn about it in school? I did not.

Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean

Ocean Literacy: Understanding the Ocean, Our Lifeline 

Ocean literacy isn’t just about memorizing facts about marine ecosystems or understanding ocean currents. It’s about developing a comprehensive understanding of the ocean’s significance to our planet and our lives. It’s about recognizing the ocean as our lifeblood, a source of food, transportation, oxygen, and climate regulation.  

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines an ocean-literate person as one who “understands the Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts about the ocean, can communicate about the ocean in a meaningful way, is able to make informed and responsible decisions regarding the ocean and its resources.

The 7 Essential Principles of Ocean Sciences are:

The Earth has one big ocean with many features.
The ocean and life in the ocean shape the features of Earth.
The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate.
The ocean makes Earth habitable.
The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.
The ocean and humans are interconnected.
The ocean is largely unexplored.

10 Dimensions of Ocean Literacy

While the 7 principles of ocean science present a solid foundation for strengthening ocean literacy, the concept has evolved in recent years from a knowledge-based approach to a more holistic approach, one that takes into consideration the active participation and engagement in ocean matters across audiences, as well as the emotional connection and a multiple other level of ocean literacy.  

Here is an overview of the 10 dimensions of ocean literacy that redefine the concept and go beyond simply having knowledge and understanding the principles: