Ocean literacy

oceanplanet.gifSlowly but inexorably, the world’s consciousness seems to be turning green as the scale and rapidity of human impacts on nature, and their profound implications for our future, begin to penetrate even the more obdurate minds among us.  This is an encouraging and necessary development.

But what about blue?

There could be no green without blue, in the sense that the liquid surface that covers the majority of the planet is linked in many intimate ways to our terrestrial and atmospheric life-support system. Jacques Cousteau famously referred to earth as the Ocean Planet, and the first striking photos of earth from space in the 1960s burned that truth indelibly into us.  The ocean is the ultimate source of life on earth, provides most of our oxygen, and feeds much of the human population, among other gifts.  As Frank Zappa observed in one of his obscure instrumental masterpieces: “The ocean is the ultimate solution” — and not just in the cosmic and chemical senses he had in mind.

For the marine biologists among us, this is what makes us tick. But how to share the love? Many people grow up knowing little or nothing about the oceans, in no small part because educational curricula are increasingly built around standards, and ocean science is greatly underrepresented in national and state curricular standards. If we want to raise good stewards of planet earth — and who could argue with that? — then this state of affairs won’t do.

Enter The Ocean Literacy project. This effort aims to create that awareness (thanks to Rick at Malaria, Bedbugs, Sealice and Sunsets for the tip.  It’s among his posts from Thursday 26 July — I can’t seem to link directly to it). 

Here are the “seven essential principles” they suggest every person should understand (outlined in an attractive brochure available as PDF here), and how they can be linked to the National Science Education Standards:

1. Earth has one big ocean with many features. Obvious perhaps, but the implications are multifarious and important.  And even though it’s large, it’s finite.

2. The ocean and life in the ocean shape the features of Earth. Through sea level changes (coming soon to a shoreline near you), erosion, tsunamis, and so on.

3. The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate. Also, needless to say, a topic of intense current interest. Much of the solar radiation entering earth’s atmosphere, for example, is absorbed by the ocean, then lost by evaporation, driving atmospheric circulation, rainfall patterns, etc. (Did I mention tsunamis?). And the ocean dominates the world’s carbon cycle.

4. The ocean makes Earth habitable. Need I say more? Well, OK, most of the oxygen in the atmopshere came originally from microscopic plants in the ocean.

5. The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems. My personal favorite. And many of the creatures found there are unlike anything on land — jellyfish, squids, sponges, deep-sea anglerfish whose males are little more than tiny sperm-producing parasites on the females. Truth is stanger than fiction.

6. The ocean and humans are inextricably linked.  Water, food, climate moderation, spiritual inspiration (take Frank Zappa, for example).

7. The ocean is largely unexplored.  Fewer humans have visited the deepest ocean trenches than have walked on the moon. Honestly.  How about a mission to planet earth? Sign me up!

The ocean is indeed the ultimate solution, or at least an integral part of it.  Kudos to the developers of these guidelines — let’s hope they are widely adopted.

[The image is from a painting by Herb Kane and Jon Lomborg]

About Emmett Duffy

I am a Natural Patriot and an ecologist with expertise in biodiversity and its importance to human society. My day job is Professor of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
This entry was posted in Biodiversity, Education, Oceans, Sustainability. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Ocean literacy

  1. I wasn’t windsurfing, boss, I was just working on my “ocean literacy”. :)

  2. Emmett Duffy says:

    OK, James, I suppose that activity would fall under Essential Principle 6.

  3. Kevin Z says:

    brilliant way to link my blog and mention frank zappa, all in one post!

    Love the guidelines. I will use them in the classroom.