The last IOLN members meeting held online on the 2nd of December 2021 was a fantastic opportunity to reconnect and showcase some of the most interesting and successful Ocean Literacy initiatives carried on in Ireland by the IOLN members, as well as by international collaborators in other European countries and even continents. In fact, the attendees of the event had the chance to listen to a number of successful stories of community engagement and advocacy not only about the ocean, but also about the freshwater basins, in Ireland as well as overseas Countries like Canada, Nigeria, France and the US, all under the common topic ‘Communities of Practice – learning from and creating Ocean/catchment communities’.
The rich programme of the IOLN members meeting was kicked-off by the first keynote speaker Lisa ‘Diz’ Glithero of the Canadian Ocean Literacy Coalition. Established in September 2018, the COLC has mobilised the efforts of several organizations, networks, institutions, and communities working together to better understand and advance ocean literacy in Canada. Diz, who is an interdisciplinary educator, social science researcher, and project leader that specializes in engaging youth, educators, organizations and communities in ocean, climate, and sustainability learning and transformative action, is serving as the national lead of the Canadian Ocean Literacy Coalition since its establishment. In her talk, Diz reflected on the successes, challenges and lessons learned by the COLC, which has taken its first steps from a ground-breaking national study about ocean literacy in Canada across five regions (Pacific, Inuit Nunangat, Atlantic, St. Lawrence, and Inland Canada), and within ten sectors (Education, Youth, Government, NGO & Foundations, Research, Industry, Community, Media, Arts & Culture, and Health). The results of this study have directly shaped the Canadian Ocean Literacy Strategy, which future plans focus on the three major areas of Ocean culture & celebration, education & training, and research, evaluation & policy.
The next keynote speaker was Emma McKinley, Research Fellow at Cardiff University and founder of the Marine Social Science Network. Emma’s research focuses on understanding the complex relationships between society and the sea, taking account of diverse perceptions, attitudes and values held by different communities and audiences, and considers how this insight can be used to support effective ocean governance. In her talk, Emma started acknowledging how the relationship between people and the ocean is not often given the right consideration in spite of the fact that a large part of the human population lives close to the coastline, but also how in the last decade or so this relationship has become the focus of many studies aimed at understanding it and how this has brought to developing the marine social sciences as a new field of study. The second part of Emma’s talk focused on the results of a study carried out this year to assess what ocean literacy means in England and Wales, including also non-coastal communities, which has provided some very interesting insights about the emotional connections with the ocean in the population of these two Countries as well as an overview of knowledge gaps and believes to be addressed in order to promote community engagement in ocean conservation.
The third keynote speaker was Micheál Ó Cinneide, who is currently Director of Corrib Beo, a catchment group based in Galway, and has three decades of experience in the Irish public & private sectors in the fields of environment, marine resources and research as former Director of the EPA and the Marine Institute. Micheál started his talk introducing the EU Water Framework Directive that was enacted in the year 2000 to address the concerning poor ecological status of over 50% of rivers, lakes, transitional and coastal waters across Europe, caused mainly by agricultural pollution, and how this translated in the development of the River Basin Management Plans in Ireland. After stressing the direct link between what happens in the catchments and what happens in the sea, Micheál reported about the social learning activities carried out by communities of practices established in some Irish catchments. One of the outcomes of this public engagement was the development of the iCatch Network, which aims at enhancing the leadership and management skills of Irish river catchment-based NGOs, encouraging collaboration within and between the network of members and facilitating the provision of quality customised training.
The second part of the members meeting showcased some important Ocean Literacy activities carried out not only by IOLN members in Ireland, but also by collaborators based in other Countries, like Nigeria, France and the US through a series of eight very engaging flash presentations.
First to present was Joao Frias (Marine and Freshwater Research Centre, GMIT), who gave an overview of the activities he carries out with his research group on microplastics, like for instance the IMP.act and Microplastix projects, including also the educational and dissemination activities and events on the topic promoted in schools.
As perfect follow-up to Micheál’s talk, Jimmy McVeigh (Local Authority Waters Programme) presented the 3rd Cycle of the River Basin Management Plan (2022-2027), a key tool for implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive that explains how Ireland is planning on managing its rivers, lakes, groundwater and coastal water in the next five years.
Dave Wall (National Biodiversity Data Centre) highlighted the Ocean Literacy activities carried out in 2021 by the Explore your Shore! programme, like for instance the webinar released for the World Ocean Day and the online training course on marine biodiversity citizen science developed with the Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board.
Anthony Johnson Akpan (Pan African Vision for the Environment) described the vision of a Nigerian Ocean Literacy Action Network, which is meant to become a multi-stakeholder platform uniquely equipped to bring together public, private and civil society organizations to develop joint solutions to the ocean challenges that are both pragmatic and ambitious.
Cassie Stymiest (Educational Passages) told the IOLN members about the miniboat programme carried out by her organisation that brings together students around the world to prepare, deploy, and track their very own miniboats while learning about ocean currents, weather, technology, and more, focusing in particular on two stories of miniboats that came to shore in Ireland.
Guillaume Lheureux (World Ocean Network) introduced the Youth4Ocean Forum, a free EU platform for young changemakers in Europe between 16 to 30 years old who are passionate about the ocean and act. At the end of his talk Guillaume invited all the IOLN members to identify and propose new young ocean advocates, and to consider becoming a coach/mentor for the advocates in the forum.
Lucy Hunt (The Ocean Race) presented ‘Champions for the Sea’, the Ocean Race’s award-winning learning programme which introduces 6-12 year olds children to the wonder and excitement of sailing and the importance of looking after our ocean. The programme includes a wide range of engaging resources that are available in eight languages and the opportunity of an online training for teachers.
Garry Kendellan (Galway Atlantaquaria) told the fascinating story of the Transatlantic ROV Project carried out in collaboration with the Westport Aquarium, which has given the opportunity to explore the life below the surface of the water in Grattan beach as well as in the river and canals in Galway, in spite of the challenges involved in the design and deployment of the ROV.
Finally, the IOLN Co-Secretariat Noirin Burke (Galway Atlantaquaria) concluded the meeting giving an update of the status of the IOLN at end of 2021, highlighting the amazing growth of the network in terms of members and social media reach, and including an overview of all the collaborations, activities and events carried out by the members over the last 12 months.