Canada’s First Ocean Literacy Conference: Presented by CaNOE, the Canadian Network for Ocean Education, June 17–18, 2015, Vancouver, BC

By Haley Guest and Anne Stewart

It was a remote target and we nailed it. When the CaNOE Interim Board set out to plan the first ocean literacy in Canada conference along with CaNOE’s first AGM, we had no idea how much interest there would be. “Who will come? Where will they come from? Should we get a big room?” “Nah, we might have 40 people if we’re lucky. But let’s do this!” These were the collective thoughts starting out on the journey.

Fast-forward nine months and a beautiful, baby conference was born. We were thrilled to see so many new faces from across the country—upwards of 75 marine educators, communicators, scientists, and ocean lovers in one room. None of this could have been possible without the generous support of the Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response Network (MEOPAR), who funded the gathering with their Partnership Workshop Program through UBC’s Marine Mammal Research Consortium. Thank you MEOPAR and thank you MMRC.

CaNOE’s main goal is to advance ocean literacy, and part of that is taking stock of what is already going on, sharing good practice, and celebrating successes. Fundamentally, ocean literacy means, “understanding the ocean’s influence on you and your influence on the ocean.” The first part of the conference was organized around these two themes. In planning the conference and AGM, everyone we approached was interested in jumping on board. Help came in the form of volunteers, speakers, facilitators, a videographer, research and education organizations, reception partners, and field trip donations and discounts.

Day one was formatted into three main sessions following the opening, keynote, and a special presentation on the history of ocean literacy in United States. The theme for Session 1 was the ocean’s influence on you and for Session 2 was … your influence on the ocean. The poster sessions were right outside the presentation room and we ran the day concurrently and surrounded by the MEOPAR Annual Science Meeting also known as the MEOPalooza. Some scientists from MEOPAR were seen perusing the posters and quite a few popped in and out of the sessions. CaNOE’s first AGM was sandwiched between Sessions 1 and 2 while Session 3 finished off the day with a totally different format and facilitated consultation with membership on specific, relevant topics, leaving lots of food for thought for the new board. The reception followed this jam-packed first day while the second day was dedicated to getting out on field trips aka CaNOE Quests together.

Keynote and History of Ocean Literacy in USA

Day one kicked off with a fantastic keynote address from Dr. Boris Worm, @CBCoceansguy and Marine Biology Professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Dr. Worm invited the audience into his very personal ocean literacy story, beginning on Germany’s shores and eventually landing in Canada. Dr. Worm is one of Canada’s well-respected marine scientists, and with over 85 peer-reviewed publications on topics such as the global effects of fishing and climate change on ocean ecosystems, he is well versed in science and the state of the ocean. Yet instead of a scientific talk, he used a story-telling approach and provided the audience with an illumination of a deeply contemplative scientist grappling with difficult issues of global importance.

Dr. Worm articulately conveyed that being an advocate is not in conflict with being a scientist and investigator. He made the case that advocating for the ocean comes as a natural responsibility for anyone who is informed and cares, using the analogy of a medical doctor who advocates for his patients when they are ill and need help.
Through his own story, Dr. Worm reminded us of the importance of early childhood connections with nature and how his early experiences at the seashore helped shape his trajectory in life. He also emphasised his belief in basic human values, like love, support from family, and encouragement for youth to follow their dreams, using his own life story as an example.

Dr. Worm’s take away message was that scientists and managers cannot alone conserve and restore the diverse ocean life and systems that have been altered by people. The politicians will follow the people and ocean literacy is the key for both. To achieve a more ocean literate society, learning will need to happen inside and outside of the classroom. For change to happen, we will have to truly include the ocean as a part of our home, which we care for and value.

Following Boris, Diana Payne from the National Marine Educators Association (NMEA) and Connecticut Sea Grant, reported on the history of ocean science literacy south of the border and encouraged CaNOE in its efforts to advance ocean literacy in Canada. Her overview of the development of ocean literacy was detailed and comprehensive. If you are interested in finding out more, there are excellent resources on this topic on the College of Exploration website. Many institutions and individuals (educators and scientists) were involved in the development of ocean literacy over many years. Key institutions were National Geographic, National Marine Educators Association, College of Exploration, Center for Ocean Science Education Excellence, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Teachers and the Lawrence Hall of Science.

Early on, a consensus framework document was established consisting of seven basic principles and many supporting concepts. Over the years as curriculum changed, scope and sequence tables were made and aligned with the various standards, the latest iteration being a very well done iteration aligned to the USA National, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The groups in the USA have worked tirelessly to make sure that there are ‘ocean mentions’ in science curriculum and they have created well-vetted learning resources that use ocean examples fitting within the NGSS. The Scope and Sequence is a very helpful tool for American teachers using those standards. The one constant with science curriculum, no matter where you are, is that it is constantly changing. It is also challenging to influence.

One of the coolest things about the Ocean Literacy Framework is the open access. The Americans decided early on that no one owns ocean literacy. It is shared within the States and with other countries. The framework is very adaptable and can be aligned to different science curricula. It provides clear, common messaging and this gives it the power to succeed in making a difference to ocean literacy globally.

Poster Pitches and Session One: The Ocean’s Influence On You…

Following Boris and Diana came the quick round of ‘poster pitches’ from poster presenters—a conference tool we learned from our friends across the Atlantic at EMSEA (European Marine Science Education Association). Each presenter had only one minute to summarize their poster and invite the audience to visit it during the coffee and lunch breaks.

Session one kicked off after the first break of the day (delicious hot coffee and snacks). These short reviews of the talks do not do justice to the high quality presentations given at the conference, nor do they reflect the humble presenters themselves who were all quick to credit and include the many people involved in their successes. Some of the speakers’ twitter handles are included in the reviews here so that you can follow them easily on Twitter.

Jackie Hildering started off with lots of wows and wonder, showcasing the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS) and celebrating the return of Humpback Whales to the coast of British Columbia. @OceanDetective described a new humpback whale feeding behaviour and showed how the difference between research and education can be a fine line. Advice from MERS’s experience in effective communications—keep it simple (and funny). For example, a catchy phrase to reduce whale vessel strikes that works: “See a blow, go slow.” Jackie’s incredible positive energy and her affinity with the group had everyone smiling and we all knew that we were in the right room at the right time.

Mike Irvine, @brinyseas, came next and shared his experience of engaging students in dive explorations and sharing discoveries using underwater web-cams and sub-communications that bring the excitement and discoveries of dives into classes. Mike is taking the Live Dive to the next level and achieving IMAX success. Students far from the sea are able to see the unseen thanks to Mike’s work. His masters thesis defence in science education may have been the first ever defended from underwater using SCUBA. The three E’s from Mike are: Engage, Entertain and Educate.

Jennifer Provencher took us to the arctic where she combines meaningful, local learning and her doctoral seabird ecotoxicology research. She also does outreach and education for other researchers working out of Carleton University. Research permits in Nunavut require giving back in the form of educational outreach and Jennifer gives back for the whole research group. Jennifer described what sounded like crowd-sourced seabird dissections with an Inuit twist and a weird but wonderful blending of hands-on science experience, arctic fashion design (using Eider duck skins and sealskin), with traditional food and knowledge. @jenni_pro shared some great examples of how to communicate clearly without jargon including how to collaborate with Inuit communities and Inuit youth to achieve specific learning goals while collaborating with Arctic College. Jenn brings her background as a teacher to her award-winning doctoral science.

Wendy Simms reported on her experiences piloting citizen science on the beaches of Vancouver Island. This work is part of @wendysimms22 doctoral research at the University of Calgary. Together with a scientific advisory group and grade five classes from the Nanaimo School District they are starting to monitor varnish clams, an introduced species in BC. Stay alert to this developing project; the pilots are intriguing and rigorous citizen science with well-defined scientific and educational goals empowers learning and engagement on both sides of the equation. Wendy brings her background in science to her doctorate in education.

Magali Gregoire was the last speaker before lunch and she took the citizen science ball from Wendy and ran with it. She presented on the Fishermen Scientists Research Society (FSRS) and their collaborative activities on the Nova Scotia coast. Through FSRS, fishermen collect data and share insights in dialogue with scientists. This relationship empowers and benefits both groups of experts.

The emerging theme from session one is that there is a lot of good ocean literacy work to celebrate across Canada, from sea to sea to sea. It is being led by citizens, educators, and scientists and supported by academic institutions, government, and many others. I really liked the ways that these young Canadians were blurring traditional lines between science and education in their outstanding work.

CaNOE AGM and Session Two: Your Influence on the ocean

After a full morning of interesting and inspiring presentations, everyone was ready for lunch and the Sheraton Wall Centre delivered nicely. We rubbed shoulders with the MEOPEERS as we lunched with them, visited poster sessions, and then dove into CaNOE’s first AGM. With the short order of business completed, the first Board of Directors elected and tummies full of food, we set sail into afternoon activities.

Chelsea Archibald from the Coastal Explorer’s Program, @coastalXnl of the Ocean Learning Partnership was first out of the gate in session two. Chelsea reported on experiential, boat-based programs used to bring ocean literacy to students and teachers in Newfoundland and Labrador. Chelsea sees ocean literacy as absolutely essential in her province.

Next up was Dr. Jason Hodin from Stanford University. Jason presented on a project, called Inquiry to Insight or I2I, which connects many complex facets of ocean and science literacy with premiere league learning resources and a move into the realm of behavioural change in relation to carbon footprints. The international I2I group tackles the ‘evil twin’ of climate change—ocean acidification—on a global scale, involving teachers and students from around the world. He shared tips on tricky climate change communications such as reframing doom into support, reducing dissonance to simplify, and learning how to avoid triggering climate denial through the use of stories. This is another one to keep an eye on as it evolves and produces more high-quality virtual resources. Try the Virtual Sea Urchin Lab; it is remarkable on a lot of levels.

Melanie Knight from Newfoundland presented next on the power of Mini-Aquariums, starting in Ucluelet on the BC coast and ending up in Petty Harbour, Newfoundland. She calls the mini-aquariums a catalyst for change and showed how a mini idea can make a massive change. She shared some @PettyHrMiniAqua ocean love moments such as when a little girl learned that sea stars can ‘see’ using specialized tube-feet at the ends of their arms. She also shared her all-time favourite question: “How do lobsters pee?” adding in lots of information on the big impacts of mini-aquariums on small communities.

Kate Le Souef of the Vancouver Aquarium is Coordinator of the Great Canadian Shoreline Clean-up and an excellent speaker. She continued on the theme of change and delved into creating change beyond shoreline clean-ups. Kate, @cleanshorelines, related how people can be inspired and motivated to reduce their use of plastic and feel an ownership (and care) of local beaches through the action of participating in a clean-up. This is a great example of how action in a well-organized and informed effort can be a powerful tool to transform other behaviours.

Michelle Watts from Manitoba closed out Session two with a talk about Schools on Board. This program bridges Arctic marine system research and science education in high schools through authentic and simulated science experiences. The best part is that high school students from the south and from Nunavut have the opportunity to work with each other alongside researchers aboard Canadian ice-breaking research vessels in the Arctic. This experience engages, inspires, and motivates, changing lives in the process.

Session Three – Bridging Science and Education
During the afternoon refreshment break, the room was expanded and seating reconfigured for round-tables, World Café style. The last speaker of day was Norm Sloan from Gwaii Haanas National Park (Reserve). Gwaii Haanas is co-managed by the Haida Nation and Parks Canada. This talk was Norm’s last presentation before retiring and he proved to be an informed, impassioned, and articulate speaker. Norm brought home the importance of legislation to marine conservation. He honed in on the status of the establishment of marine protected areas to marine conservation, public engagement, and ultimately advancing ocean literacy. He reviewed Canadian legislation that advocates for our huge national shoreline and ocean realm and brought home the point that very little of it was protected. Norm challenged all of us, as Canadians, to protect more marine areas and he held up the Haida example as a way to move forward in collaboration and with dignity.

We rounded out the day World Café style, with two volunteers at each of nine tables facilitating and recording discussions on different topics. Participants had the opportunity to vote with their feet by visiting and discussing several different topics for a timed session on each. The objectives were to add more voices to the day’s proceedings, to guide the new board, and to add different perspectives to some of CaNOE’s challenges. The write- ups on the various topics will be posted here in the coming months.

Closing Reflections

As day one of the conference closed and we reflected on the day, there was a huge feeling of accomplishment and connection in the room. We had all been surprised before the conference that registration had to be closed early because there was too much interest. This sort of surprise continued throughout the conference especially the calibre of presentations, the rigour and scope of the work going on across Canada, the feeling of belonging to this diverse group working to promote ocean literacy, and the real and tangible hope for advancing ocean literacy in Canada.

One of the themes introduced by Dr. Worm that we came back to throughout the day reflects the quote by Baba Dioum:

“In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”

We also came back to Dr. Worm’s understanding that knowledge is not enough to change behaviours. Positive emotional links are also needed, and as Kate pointed out, behaviours can be changed through action. To become a truly ocean literate society we will have to make room in our terrestrial perception to really value the one ocean that defines the planet and its life.

The tremendous feeling of hope that I had at the end of the day was because of the people in the room. It reminded me of the Margaret Meade quote:

“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Reception

That evening over 250 scientists and educators converged at Science World (Telus World of Science) for a reception. The view was over False Creek, where paddlers on dragon boats, stand-up boards, and kayaks raised ripples and reflections in the setting sun. MEOPAR, Metro Vancouver, Vancouver School Board, Leadership Ecology Adventure Program (LEAP), Environmental Educators Provincial Specialist Association (EEPSA), Walking the Talk BC Collaborative, and the Outdoor Council of Canada supported the reception. A big shout goes out to Bruce Ford who organized event logistics (and went out for more food), to Kate Henderson who persuaded her administration that this gathering was a good idea, and to MEOPAR who made it into a celebration.

We kicked off with speakers from each of the diverse groups introducing themselves and sharing the context of their part in this upwelling mix. This was followed by completely optional “open space”-type, table-top discussions on topics ranging from outdoor and environmental education to aquatic and ocean science education and communication, with various interconnections and permutations.

People had a great time mingling at Science World. Old friendships were rekindled, new contacts made, ideas shared and a good time was had by all. The kinesthetic learning toys were open for play during the event so you could weigh in as part of a balancing experiment, swing on a pendulum, hopscotch out notes of a musical piece, or track wolves through the displays while grabbing a bite to eat and testing local craft beverages.

Thanks go out to all the Vancouver educators who willingly changed the dates of their summer solstice gathering to the week that CaNOE and MEOPAR were in town. A big shout out from CaNOE to all the sponsors and especially MEOPAR, it wouldn’t have been possible without the support.

CaNOE Quests

The second day of the conference featured field trips called CaNOE Quests. Options included tours of Port Metro Vancouver and the Vancouver Aquarium, an intertidal discovery walk in Stanley Park led by biologist Sheila Byers of the UBC Biodiversity Museum and two trips for twelve paddlers each, in a replica traditional canoe named after the famous Chief Dan George. All the quests succeeded in getting CaNOE members together to get to know each other better while learning something new and finding out more about the Vancouver ocean literacy scene. If you want to read more about the Takaya Tours paddling CaNOE Quest click here.

Acknowledgements

Thank you for your interest in CaNOE and in ocean literacy in Canada. If you attended the conference, thank you for making the effort and being part of this historic occasion. A big thank you goes to CaNOE’s main conference sponsor MEOPAR and all the supporting organizations and volunteers who helped make our First Conference on Ocean Literacy in Canada happen.

MEOPAR Marine Environmental Obervation, Prediction & Response Network
UBC Marine Mammal Research Consortium – University of British Columbia
Vancouver Aquarium Vancouver Marine Science Center
Science World – Telus World of Science
Takaya Tours (Tseil WaTeuth First Nation)
Port Metro Vancouver
BCIT – British Columbia Institute of Technology
EEPSA – Environmental Education Specialist Professional Association. BC Teachers Federation
Wild BC – Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation
Walking the Talk BC – Working Group & Network on Sustainability Education
Green Schools
LEAP – Leadership Ecology Adventure Program School District 47

CaNOEconferencesponsors

Finally, thanks to the conference committee who worked so well together from across the country on Skype for a year. We only met face to face as a committee, for the first time the night before the conference. Big thanks to Haley Guest and Andrea Moore who looked after the presentations, from calls to submissions, to the keynote, conference programming and more, including the website. Thank you Heather Murray for your steady hand on the helm. Heather took on registration and played a big part in communications with others. (Heather also managed the CaNOE e–bulletin, SPLASHmail.) Thanks go out to Matt Rockall, who dealt with venue logistics, audio-visual support and much more. A big thanks to Rick Searle whose idea it was to have a conference during the first year, raised funds, and led the AGM. Thanks to Anne Stewart who came up with field trips and the reception with a lot of help from Vancouver folks and other committee members.

Assisting the committee, thanks go out to Michelle Lloyd, Peter Mieras and Kelly Nordin. Michelle dove in to help during the last few weeks. Peter was the conference videographer. Kelly Nordin was mentor to and supported Andrea and Haley with the program and Heather with the registration desk.

Although not officially on the conference committee I want to also take this opportunity to send out a special, big thank you to Interim Board member Dr. Melissa Frey. Without Melissa’s help and vision during the first year of CaNOE, the conference may not have happened. Melissa looked after membership and provided an official home for CaNOE at the Royal BC Museum. During the first year, membership went from five to 250. Thanks Melissa and best wishes on your new adventure at the Burke Museum.