Global perspective Human stories
A young boy watches fish in an aquarium in Berlin, Germany.

Ocean literacy and unlocking a revolution in ocean science solutions

© Unsplash/Biljana Martinić
A young boy watches fish in an aquarium in Berlin, Germany.

Ocean literacy and unlocking a revolution in ocean science solutions

Climate and Environment

The ocean holds the keys to an equitable and sustainable development path for all. This is the premise behind the UN Ocean Decade and it will be in the spotlight during several major international summits this year to promote ocean health, including the UN Ocean Conference, which is set to open soon in Lisbon, Portugal.

As a part of this push, the UN Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is asking the world to join the revolution to unlock innovative ocean science solutions. UN News spoke to experts within and outside the UN system to reveal the importance of ocean literacy.

Empowering people to take action

Ocean literacy is commonly defined as an understanding of the ocean’s influence on you and your influence on the ocean.

Francesca Santoro, who is in charge of ocean literacy at UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), explained however that the definition goes beyond that.

“It is really about empowering people with tools, to better use that ocean knowledge to become more responsible and able to take decisions that involve ocean resources, in a more knowledgeable way. It is really about being capable of understanding how much the oceans influence our life and how much we can influence the ocean in both positive and negative ways.” 

Moken children swim in the Myeik Archipelago in Myanmar.
© Ocean Image Bank/Ben Jones
Moken children swim in the Myeik Archipelago in Myanmar.


As the focal point for ocean science within the United Nations system, the IOC leads the UN Decade of Ocean Sciences for Sustainable Development (2021 to 2030), and supports ocean research institutions around the world to strengthen public engagement.

“IOC works mainly to strengthen the international collaboration on ocean science and ocean research – as no single country can undertake research on all ocean basins, by itself”, Ms. Santoro continued.

Critical moment

The Decade of Ocean Science is an opportunity to change the state of the ocean for the next 100 years.

Earlier this year, UNESCO launched a campaign to empower people to join the Generation Ocean global movement.

The idea is to use transformative storytelling to connect citizens with ocean knowledge and drive action to restore, protect, and live better with the ocean.


In an interview with UN News, Vinicius Grunberg Lindoso, Communications Officer at UNESCO’S Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, described how you can be a game changer at this critical moment.

Students as active agents of change

Some of IOC’s flagship programmes examine the particular impacts of climate change on the ocean, and how the ocean can be considered the best ally in fighting climate change.

Working closely with schools, teachers and educators, the UN Scientific agency uses results from its ocean research to develop lesson plans.

Aquarium’s help young children to discover the aquatic realm in an immersive environment.
© Unsplash/Tim B. Motivv
Aquarium’s help young children to discover the aquatic realm in an immersive environment.

“We develop a number of resources – booklets, videos or games – and we use them to collaborate with schools all around the world in order to engage people from an early age, from elementary school to high school. We use an approach that doesn’t include only learning objectives, it also includes what we call social emotional learning objectives, and behavioral learning, because we want the students to become active agents of change – so they can take part in initiatives that support ocean protection”, Ms. Santoro highlighted.

Blue schools

In Portugal, co-host along with Kenya of the UN Ocean Conference, which is taking place from 27 June through 1 July, the Oceano Azul Foundation has an important role in developing literacy and conservation practices there.

Working towards children’s climate education in Portugal, the Foundation aims to have more kids learning about ocean issues and their impact on the ocean, so when they grow to be decision makers, no matter what profession they choose, they will have an important role to play.

A Diamond Stingray and a one-eyed Porcupine fish search for a meal in the sand as hundreds of Big Eye Jacks school behind them.
© Nicolas Hahn
A Diamond Stingray and a one-eyed Porcupine fish search for a meal in the sand as hundreds of Big Eye Jacks school behind them.

Samuel Collins, Programme Manager at Oceano Azul, explained to UN News how the initiative works: “We must deliver information in a way that is digestible for different age groups. But considering the importance of these issues, and the impact they will have on the near future of the current generations, we have the responsibility to deliver certain information to the youth.”

Together with Oceanario de Lisboa, Oceano Azul has a programme to educate the blue generation, training teachers and providing them with the curriculum and resources to pass the message in the first cycle of education.

They will do math, but they will speak about fish, they’ll learn French, speaking about the ocean, they’ll do history, but integrating oceanography, so it’s just reinforcing the curriculum, looking through a blue lens. They come to the Oceanario, and they do a lot of fantastic activities, and get excited, because there’s a huge amount of potential in a healthy ocean, and reinforcing that is important.”.

The programme envisages to bring ocean literacy to all children, resident in Portugal, with a special focus on the group between the ages 5 to 9 years old.


According to the Foundation, using Portugal as a starting point in the case of literacy will, nevertheless, allow the replication of actions in other countries, namely in Portuguese speaking countries and developing states.

Kindergarten of the Lagoon

Not so far away in Italy, Venice has for centuries illustrated the dynamic interaction between humankind and nature, underlining its capacity to act as a model for other similar ecosystems.

Due to its ideal characteristics and its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site, ‘Venice and its Lagoon’ were selected as the implementation site of the pilot edition of the “Kindergarten of the Lagoon” Initiative, which was launched last May.

The new educational programme based on promoting ocean literacy principles and interaction with the environment, aims to foster a close connection between children and nature, using outdoor activities and interactions with the local community.

Children participate in drawing activities at an ocean awareness event, in Venice, Italy.
Children participate in drawing activities at an ocean awareness event, in Venice, Italy.

Thematic lessons are given to classes of 25 kindergarten students, conducted using outdoor education and aimed at discovering the lagoon ecosystem. This is then followed by creative stimulation and drawing at the end of each lesson.

In partnership with the Prada Group, UNESCO, hopes to empower youth in becoming the future Generation Ocean.

The international community must make education one of the pillars of its action for the ocean and engage in education to help today’s youth become responsible and aware citizens of tomorrow,” said Ana Luiza M. Thompson-Flores, UNESCO Regional Bureau’s Director.

Lisbon: scale it up

The ocean literacy community will convene in Lisbon, Portugal, for the UN Ocean Conference, ensuring that ocean literacy is seen as a central element of ocean action.

“The last UN Ocean Conference [in 2017, in New York], ocean literacy was in its infancy, but now we can really prove that we have been able to achieve important results such as promoting the presence of ocean literacy in formal education, and we have an increasing network of blue schools around the world. But we need to scale this up, make sure that ocean literacy initiatives are happening around the world, and strengthen the collaboration to share good practices among different actors,” Ms. Santoro told UN News.

In Lisbon, on the first day of the 2022 Conference, there will be a high-level Ocean Decade Alliance Meeting, followed by an Ocean Decade Forum on 30 June, to convey a message of action, partnership, and inclusivity.


“My other expectation is to see our community include more and more stakeholders. Right now, we mainly have scientists and educators, but I think we need, for example, journalists, the media, to help us make sure the ocean is present in media outlets, and that people are more aware of the importance of the ocean for the future of this planet,” she added.

Creative community is ‘crucial’

UNESCO has a series of events lined up for the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon – which include exhibitions such as the Ocean Decade Creative Exhibition at the city’s main Square, and a Generation Ocean Concert at the Rock in Rio Festival, on 26 June. Those events involve the global creative community, aiming to raise more awareness to ocean science and conservation.

For Ms. Santoro, the collaboration with the creative community is “crucial, especially because we are more aware that our emotions drive action. Working [more in depth] with artists, photographers, enhances the capacity of people to feel more connected to the ocean or to rediscover how much we are connected to it. The creative community is really helping us in finding this emotional part of our connection with it – so we need to work together, scientists and artists, to co-design and co-develop projects. No matter if you are a scientist or a journalist or an artist or a policymaker, or somebody working in the private sector. We should all come together and have a common vision and a common goal,” Ms. Santoro concluded. 

Saving the ocean to protect our future - Ahead of the UN Ocean Conference