Ocean Literacy in the United Nations Ocean Conference (UNOC)

ocean literacy in the UNOC

Ana Vitoria Tereza

24 Aug 2022

Ocean Literacy in the UN Ocean Conference

Authors: Ana Vitória Tereza de Magalhães, IOC-UNESCO, Valentina Lovat and Andreas Mittermayr.

In June 2022, Lisbon gave space to host the second United Nations Ocean Conference (UNOC) co-hosted by the Governments of Kenya and Portugal. The event represented one important step towards actions for conservation, protection and sustainable use of the ocean, seas and marine resources, which includes the achievement of the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goal 14, but also accelerated the momentum for Ocean Literacy (OL) worldwide. 

ℹ️ To learn more about the importance of the UN Ocean Conference, read: https://oceanliteracy.unesco.org/un-ocean-conference/ 

Why do we need Ocean Literacy at the UNOC?

The ocean is the key feature that makes the Earth habitable. It covers two thirds of our planet and hosts multitudes of species both known and unknown to humans, entire ecosystems and immense biodiversity. Yet the ocean faces many threats, as mismanaged human activities continue to endanger the ocean and thereby deteriorate the conditions for human life on earth.

For this reason Ocean Literacy plays one important role at high-level conferences and events at the magnitude of the UNOC, as Ocean Literacy aims to promote and strengthen the emotional bond between the ocean and society, supporting global efforts to protect the ocean. This movement is building on the premise that eople tend to care about what they understand and love.

During the UN Ocean Conference, many Heads of State and the UNESCO Director General Ms. Audrey Azoulay, reinforced the need to invest in developing a comprehensive blue curriculum while bringing the ocean to the Member States in the capacity of engaging curricular frameworks. 

Peter Thomson addresses the need of Ocean Literacy during the UN Ocean Conference - Ocean Literacy Dialogues event.

A new Blue Curriculum 

Education is one of the key pillars that support the advance of the Sustainable Development Goals and that can support changes of behaviour from a young age towards the ocean. During the UNOC, IOC-UNESCO in partnership with IBE-UNESCO and with the support of AXA XL, organized a workshop that was composed of interactive sessions to provide training, information, and tools for educational authorities, policy-makers, and curriculum developers. 

The “Blue Curriculum: A training Session” was organized considering the recently launched UNESCO publication “A new blue curriculum: a toolkit for policy-makers” which aims to support Member States to include Ocean Literacy in the national curriculum frameworks and educational policies around the world.

A voluntary commitment for Ocean Literacy: Blue Education With and For All

The IOC-UNESCO, DG MARE of the European Commission and the EU4Ocean Coalition co-organized the Ocean Literacy Dialogues high-level side event that took place on the 29th June 2022 at the occasion of the UN Ocean Conference. The event marked the beginning of a process that looks to amplify support of ocean literacy, aiming at making OL a high-level priority on a global stage. 

As part of the momentum of the UNOC week, the Ocean Literacy international community has joined forces to develop one voluntary commitment called Blue Education With and For All ” that shall support policy-makers, curriculum developers, education experts, and stakeholders to integrate Ocean Literacy into curriculum structures. The commitment is meant to consider the need to adapt ocean topics to different audiences, cultures and regions and consequently increase the visibility of existing good practices for blue education around the world, facilitating further exchanges of these practices among all concerned stakeholders. The goal of developing a global, public campaign to advocate for Ocean Literacy and blue education is underway and has already become a global commitment. 

Ocean-related topics are not yet widely present within school curriculum structures worldwide, and the inclusion of the ocean and ocean science as an area of learning in curricula offers many opportunities to engage future generations and support informed decision-making processes regarding the ocean and by that means also our entire planet.

The “blue curricula” is currently occurring alongside other transformational changes in the educational sector worldwide. Education in a post COVID-19 world is becoming more digital, inclusive and requires students to stay more connected to nature. Teachers, however, require empowerment as well and need to renew their collaboration among their communities including families.  

In this context, a blue curriculum is necessary inside and outside the classroom as emerging trends in educational approaches and methods can shape blue education initiatives to allow them to spread around the globe.  

ℹ️ To watch the recording the High-Level Ocean Decade Alliance Event at the 2022 UN Ocean Conference and mentions to Ocean Literacy, please click here https://oceanliteracy.unesco.org/un-ocean-conference/ 

The Agenda 2030 and Ocean Literacy

The 2030 Agenda, adopted by the 193 member states of the United Nations in 2015, is divided into the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and one of those goals is entirely dedicated to the ocean. The Sustainable Development Goal 14, (SDG14) aims to “Conserve and sustainably use the ocean, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”, by establishing specific targets to conserve and use ocean basins and marine resources in a sustainable way. 

The SDG14 is the only globally agreed applied plan for the conservation and sustainable management of marine resources; its faithful implementation is therefore our best hope to remedy the challenges of the ocean. The targets of SDG14 specifically emphasize the need to work and improve in areas such as marine pollution, conservation through marine protected areas, ocean acidification, regulation of fishing practices and increased research to promote scientific knowledge and awareness.

A look at the first first United Nations Conference on the Ocean – New York 2017

The first United Nations Conference on the Ocean was held in June 2017 at the UN headquarters in New York (U.S.A.) and was co-hosted by the governments of Fiji and Sweden. It was made up of heads of state and government, civil society representatives, business leaders, stakeholders, academics, scientists and ocean and marine life advocates from over 150 countries.

Francesca Santoro, Programme Specialist at IOC-UNESCO and focal point for Ocean Literacy stated in an interview to UN News that: “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,” 

This first conference was a breakthrough in reversing the decline in ocean health by aiming for greater involvement of society, private companies, policy makers and stakeholders in general. 

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres asserted that decisive and coordinated global actions could solve the problems arising from human activity, appointing the ambassador of Fiji, Peter Thomson, as special envoy for the ocean. Peter Thomson stressed the importance of the conference: “If we want a secure future for species on this planet – including humans – we need to act now on ocean health and climate change.”

The main elements pursued to restore the ocean have been defined, aiming for a healthy, clean, resilient, predictable, safe and engaging ocean. This first edition of the United Nations Ocean Conference was the first substantial step and the first call to action to get the science we need for the ocean we want.


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