Underprotected & Underrepresented – Youth & Ocean issues in Europe

Author: Anna Marino

One of the first lessons I learned when I first approached the field of ocean advocacy at YEE (and joined the Youth4Ocean Forum), is that you do not need to live by the ocean to be (and feel) connected to it and to do something to protect it. When you grow up in a coastal town as I did, you take that feeling for granted. Some of those principles that are now embedded in the concept and practice of “Ocean Literacy”, were already standard ideas in my daily life. It’s as simple as that. Later on, I realised that the opposite can be true as well: when it comes to polluting and exploiting the ocean, humans are historically convinced that it could be treated as an inexhaustible resource.

Anna at EMD & the EU4Ocean Ocean Literacy Summit

On the contrary, the ocean is more and more under pressure on multiple levels, with devastating feedback effects on the environment and climate. Without the ocean (yes, there is only one big ocean on this Earth), the environment and climate as we know them today would cease to exist: the ocean is the Planet’s main climate regulator, constitutes over 95% of the biosphere and ensures subsistence to more than 3 billion people.

But how do we communicate the importance of the living ocean in everyone’s life, to choose more sustainable behaviour, while supporting system change? This is where ocean literacy enters the scene and what I wish to talk about on this World Ocean Day, by telling you more about my experience at the EU4Ocean Ocean Literacy Summit!

The EU4Ocean Coalition

Ocean literacy is what brings the EU4Ocean Coalition together. We are three communities (the EU4Ocean Platform, the Youth4Ocean Forum and the Network of European Blue Schools) working towards one important goal: spreading ocean literacy around all of Europe, connecting people to the ocean, and driving action to protect the ocean. What I think is truly inspiring about the Coalition is that it brings together people of all ocean-related fields and ages, to collaborate on the creation of meaningful ocean literacy tools and actions. From educators, youth workers and students, to advocacy experts, marine biologists and scientists, artists, and explorers… everyone contributes to this big wave in their own way.

My experience at EMD & the EU4Ocean Ocean Literacy Summit

I consider the EU4Ocean Ocean Literacy Summit in Ravenna as an eye-opening experience in which I discovered some of the incredible work and achievements that people, organisations, and communities have realised under this project in the past 2.5 years – a little “universe” of meaningful ocean actions that sometimes do not always reach the wider public. The EU4Ocean Summit was hosted by the European Commission’s (DG MARE) annual conference, European Maritime Day (EMD), in Ravenna. EMD is the annual occasion for EU maritime stakeholders to come together to network, touch base on the state of EU maritime affairs, and find ways to cooperate and move forward. The second day of this conference was entirely dedicated to the EU4Ocean Summit, to discuss ocean literacy in the context of three thematic areas (Ocean and Climate, Food from the Ocean, and Healthy and Clean Oceans), and to celebrate the winning projects of the Ocean in action! Awards, and look at the future of this Coalition by bringing all its communities together in an in-person event for the first time.

I absolutely loved being part of one of this event’s workshops

Youth and Capacity building for Ocean Literacy – Connecting generations through storytelling. This workshop was an attempt to bring different generations together in a youth-led session, this hybrid workshop showcased storytelling as a powerful ocean literacy tool. Participants were directly involved in the delivery of storytelling by exchanging personal stories about the living ocean and their connection with the ocean, based on the storytelling method to convey a powerful message that could leverage on the listener’s emotional connection to the ocean. As a co-moderator of this workshop (and Youth4Ocean Forum member), I can confirm that we had a lot of fun preparing the event as well as carrying it out! Participants were very active and were positively surprised by how much they could share and connect with other people (of every age) in the room. If you dream of becoming a storytelling expert, or you’d just like to know more, the recording is now available on the EMD website!

We also had the youth dialogue with Commissioner Sinkevicius

Anna meeting Commissioner Sinkevicius.

It’s 9 am in the morning, a perfect time for a coffee break with Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevicius! During this youth dialogue, several members of the Youth4Ocean Forum shared their stories and introduced their ocean literacy projects, and invited the Commissioner to share his own personal ocean story, too. I appreciated how the Commissioner put an accent to the role that young people have and should be granted in international environmental decision-making, highlighting the importance for young ocean advocates like us to participate in all environmental processes, as they are all relevant for the ocean and thus they are important for the positive change we wish to see in ocean affairs. Achieving substantial results to protect biodiversity at COP15, he underlined, is a major priority. Although we ran short of time soon and the Commissioner was called to participate in the morning plenary session, he shared with us the hope to find other occasions for dialogue and exchange, only next time, in a roundtable rather than on stage with a small group of youth representatives.

The EU4Ocean booth

This was in my opinion the most creative, entertaining and educational space in the  venue. Between informal talks with experts from different ocean-related fields, quizzes and games for children, exchanges with schools, the possibility to make a pledge for the ocean or  to just sit back and relax while listening to the EU4Ocean podcast “If Oceans Could Speak”, I saw ocean literacy in action in multiple, innovative forms and got the chance to share my passion for the ocean with so many people of different age, professional fields and walks of life, bringing me to the important message that you do not need to be an ocean professional or know everything about the ocean, to be (and feel) connected to the ocean. Each and every one of us, at any time, can do something that helps the ocean!

Experience in the field

And in case you were wondering if we actually went to the sea…  the answer is YES! I was lucky enough to be involved in immersive experience at Marina di Ravenna, with a beach cleanup with Youth4Ocean friends, local high school students and teachers from the Network of European Blue Schools, plasticfree, and researchers from the National Research Council (CNR) , followed by a visit at the CESTHA centre. There, I found out that they are the biggest sea turtle rescue centre in Italy, hosting nearly 50 lovely guests who are currently recovering from their injuries to later be released into the sea! Seeing how much love, research, and innovation go into these activities was really insightful and is an experience I wish every young ocean and environmental advocate could have.

My final message to young people

To discuss all forms of expressions of and notions on ocean literacy,  I would need to write an entire book (until then, many resources are actually available online: you can start by discovering the 7 Ocean Literacy principles here!), but with this article that I tried to simply describe my experience of EU4Ocean and convey this important message: ocean literacy is key to communicate the importance of the ocean, spread knowledge about the living ocean, and drive action to protect our ocean, paving the way to more sustainable societies, economies, for a healthy and protected ocean future.

The ocean is as important as it is seriously underprotected and largely unexplored (did you know that more than 80% of our ocean is unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored… meaning that we explored and mapped the Moon’s surface MORE than we explored the ocean?!). And while ocean biodiversity quickly degrades and the consequences of ocean pollution reach irreversible points – in the face of inadequate international protection – youth voices are still widely underrepresented.

What can we do, then?

  • Let’s raise our voices for the Ocean in the run-up to the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon! The Youth4Ocean Forum and YEE representatives will be there to advocate for stronger and more extensive protection of ocean life through international governance, spreading ocean literacy, and to push world leaders towards more meaningful engagement of youth in ocean-related decision-making, such as under the future High Seas Treaty. If you have a message you would like us to bring to UNOC, send me an email at anna@yeenet.eu  …and don’t forget to follow YEE on social media to connect with us in Lisbon!
  • Make a pledge for the ocean by joining the #MakeEUBlue campaign! Launched in 2021 and joined also by EU Commissioner on Environment, Ocean and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevicius, the #MakeEUBlue campaign is open to everyone: individuals, organisations, business and institutions, can make their pledge for the ocean, because “Every action – even the smallest one – brings change to our ocean”.
  • Participate in local ocean literacy and conservation actions!
  • Join the Youth4Ocean Forum!