Ocean literacy initiatives on the West coast of Ireland at the heart of the second 2023 IOLN regional meeting held in Galway

On Friday the 21st of April, the IOLN Secretariat members Noirin Burke, Garry Kendellen and Maria Vittoria Marra welcomed 19 ocean literacy practitioners and researchers from across the country at the Clybaun Hotel in Galway to continue the dialogue initiated at the first 2023 IOLN regional meeting held in Belfast on the 29th of March.

The Galway meeting offered a new opportunity to the IOLN Secretariat to engage with both members of the Network and other ocean literacy stakeholders who learned for the first time in this occasion about the activities of the Network, its vision and mission. All participants enjoyed the chance to get to know each other and learn about the work carried out by the rich line-up of presenters on the day, who showcased some of the very different ocean literacy initiatives happening in Connacht, ranging from restoration to behaviour change, catchments protection and blue bioeconomy.

The first talk was given by Kevin Lynch (University of Galway) who presented on the work carried out by Bertra Connected, a group consisting of local communities, academia, local government, national agencies and non-governmental organisations who came together in 2018 to look at the issue of erosion at Bertra Beach in Co. Mayo. Here, in spite of the various interventions implemented over the years, the cover of marram grass which holds the dunes together has reduced by 62% from 2010 to 2022. Kevin presented Bertra Connected’s Vision for 2050 which was identified as a key goal to achieve to stop – and even reverse – the damage that has been caused to Bertra and then collectively developed with the concept of community stewardship at its core.

Niall McDonough (Marine Institute) presented the results of the ‘Ocean Citizen Survey’ conducted in 2020 to consult Irish citizens and seek their views on what they believe are the top priorities for the health of the ocean and inland waters and how we can sustainably use and benefit from marine and aquatic resources. This online survey was open for four weeks and engaged over 1000 respondents. Niall shared with the attendees the key findings of the survey, which demonstrated that the Irish public care strongly about the ocean and are important stakeholders in planning for its future, and he also explained that the Marine Institute is working towards the establishment of a Biennial Ocean Barometer Survey for tracking societal attitudes, perceptions and values over time.

Patricia McHugh (University of Galway) described her work as a Social Marketing (not Social Media Marketing!) expert. Her research interests and expertise lie in the areas of stakeholder engagement, digital marketing, value networks, marketing strategy, sustainability and systems social marketing. Patricia has been involved in a number of research projects focused on ocean literacy as ‘Sea Change’ and ‘Sea for Society’, for which she designed and implemented a Co-Creation Toolkit and an Impact Assessment Framework for Environmental Behaviour Change and Engagement, as well as SOPHIE (Seas and Oceans for Public Health in Europe), in which she coordinated and facilitated multi-actor stakeholder conversations to design a strategic research agenda for Oceans and Human Health in Europe.

Ananya Tiwari, PhD student at ATU Sligo, presented SCORE, a four-year EU-funded project aimed at tackling specific challenges related to sea levels, coastal erosion and extreme weather events integrating smart technologies and nature-based solutions. To do so, SCORE outlines a comprehensive strategy developed via a network of 10 coastal city ‘living labs’ (CCLLs) addressing water and climate-related hazards to enhance coastal city climate resilience that will involve citizens, scientists, policy makers and other stakeholders in providing prototype coastal city early-warning systems. Two of the CCLLs are in Ireland, respectively in Sligo and Dublin, and Ananya in her presentation focused on the challenges and risks as well as the planned Ecosystem Based Approaches considered for the CCLL on the West coast of Ireland.

Conor Ruane (LAWPRO Community Water Officer for Galway and South Roscommon) presented on the experience of the training organised in the framework of the ‘Communities Caring for Water’ Programme rolled out nationally across 26 counties between 2021 and 2022. Designed by LAWPRO and aimed at community groups and landowners, this training programme on water biodiversity was delivered by external consultants with a background in environmental education through a combination of online and outdoor sessions. Conor highlighted both the positive outcomes of the training, as the potential for catchment groups to form and to make plans for water quality, but he also pointed out some important learnings to take in account for future trainings in terms of course content and organisation.

Dave Wall (National Biodiversity Data Centre) presented some results of the Explore your Shore! Programme of the National Biodiversity Data Centre with a special focus on the West Coast of Ireland. Explore Your Shore! is working to build knowledge of the distribution of marine species around the Irish coast via the promotion of surveys primarily focused on intertidal species. Everyone’s contribution to these surveys will help better understand where and when marine species occur around our coast, and how they are being affected by climate change, water quality and other human impacts, as it has already been observed with particular indicator species as e. g. the Portuguese Man ‘O War, the seagrass or invasive species like the leathery sea squirt and the wireweed.

Majbritt Bolton-Warberg (Marine Institute) presented some of the work she is doing as Blue Bioeconomy Programme Manager at the Marine Institute. In this role, she has been involved in a number of projects, including the BlueBio Cofund, aimed at establishing a coordinated R&D funding scheme that will strengthen Europe’s position in the blue bioeconomy, the massive Sustainable Blue Economy Partnership, which involves 60 partners from 25 countries, and the JPI Oceans Joint Action focused on Blue Carbon as a measure for climate mitigation. Majbritt also shared her experiences with trying to raise awareness of blue bioeconomy through webinars and lectures as well as the library campaign launched to inform people of all ages about bioeconomy during the Bioeconomy Ireland Week last year.

The final talk by Sean Corrigan (National Federation of Group Water Schemes) focused on some of the raw water source catchments protecting projects carried out by the over 400 community-owned group water schemes (GWS) in Ireland, and how a combination of trust and science is key to their success. In particular, Sean described the ‘Let it Bee’ initiative carried out by the farmers turned beekeepers on Corracreigh GWS in County Roscommon to highlight the danger of pesticides to their honey bees, the local drinking water source and to wider biodiversity. Also, Sean mentioned two documents developed as part of the source protection pilot project, i. e. ’A Framework for Drinking Water Source Protection’ and ‘A Handbook of Source Protection and Mitigation Actions for Farming’.

The slides of all presentations can be downloaded by clicking on the name of the corresponding speaker.

When asked to express their views about the future of the IOLN, the attendees of the Galway meeting suggested similar actions to the ones already proposed by the participants at the same event in Belfast, in particular the importance for the Secretariat to organise further in-person regional meetings in different locations of the province, as well a national meeting to bring all the IOLN members together in the same venue in order to keep the momentum and build on the new connections created at each meeting. A new point raised at the event in Galway was the need for more inclusion of arts and artists in ocean literacy activities carried out in Ireland, also as regards the IOLN.

Finally, as follow-up to the discussions had in Belfast, the IOLN Secretariat announced during the Galway meeting the plan to establish a number of working groups within the Network to address the UN Ocean Decade Challenges as well as the idea of having over the next few months a dedicated meeting to bring together the curators of the ocean literacy surveys in Ireland and Northern Ireland with the contact people in other countries where similar surveys have been carried out (or are planned to be carried out in the forthcoming future) in order to compare methodologies and results, and discuss potential common plans.

Some pictures of the Galway meeting are shown below. The next stop of the first series of regional meetings organised in 2023 to bring together the IOLN members and other local ocean literacy champions will be in Dublin on the 12th of May, please contact the Secretariat at irishoceanliteracynetwork@gmail.com for more information about it.

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