Editorial: The need for ocean literacy

Last Updated on Friday, 13 May, 2022 at 12:17 pm by Andre Camilleri

The ocean covers more than 70% of our planet’s surface. It is the last and largest unexplored area on Earth. Yet too few of us understand how it is inextricably connected to all aspects of our lives. Ocean literacy and understanding it has become a core part of many of the world’s educational systems. Not just from a geographical and environmental point of view, but inspiring young minds about the maritime sector can also help grow our blue economy of the future and fill an evident skills gap. This is an issue frequently highlighted by the Malta Maritime Forum, as our front-page story addresses. 

The intervention is timely. A report in 2020 identified marine science and ocean literacy topics were poorly represented in school curricula across the world and called for an integrated approach starting with the youngest students, supported by additional training for teachers. Mokos et al., 2020 define ocean literacy as understanding the ocean’s influence on people and people’s influence on the sea. It is an emerging need necessary for ensuring the sustainability of the sea and its resources. The UN has declared a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, and one of the priority research and development areas is ocean literacy. How are we, in Malta, fitting into this? These are the questions we need to be asking.

The ocean influences weather and climate and plays a significant role in mitigating the worst effects of climate change by absorbing, moving, and storing heat and carbon. The ocean has captured more than a quarter of human-generated CO2 – up to 2 to 3 billion tonnes a year. According to WeForum, Earth would be uninhabitable to humans; most of the oxygen in our atmosphere originated in the ocean without the sea. Today, 80% of it is produced by phytoplankton – microscopic marine plants that drift across the sea. Wouldn’t it be great if the people helping to tackle climate change, the people working to make a difference and create new and sustainable ways of working in the maritime sector, were a generation we had helped educate about such topics along the way? We cannot assume such knowledge on such crucial issues is readily available to all; we know that is not the case.

From an economic point of view, the maritime industry continues to be a mainstay for Malta’s continued growth and development, and the country must ensure it remains so in a post-Covid 21st-century world. Unfortunately, as also identified by the MMF, the industry suffers from an “out of sight, out of mind” situation – hence the general lack of awareness about its importance. Indeed, most of the economic activity performed by the industry happens out at sea or in the confines of the Maltese harbours and immediate hinterland.

Nevertheless, as part of its mission, the Malta Maritime Forum strives to “fly the flag” of the entire industry, which also includes port and terminal operators, vessel towage providers, ship agencies, bunkering operators, pilots, tank-cleaning facilities, docking operations mooring personnel, dockers, cargo hauliers, professional services providers and suppliers of yachting services, among many other activities.

Ultimately, for an island country surrounded by sea, we must come together and work on refreshing the sector’s image as an industry where many can work in Malta and make a positive change.

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