By Rick Searle
Earlier this year, I was invited to join an international consortium of researchers, educators and civil society organizers in Rome for a workshop to develop an exciting project proposal focused on ocean literacy.
The workshop took place in Fregenae, Italy, a seaside resort a short distance north of the Leonardo da Vinci International Airport. It was still off-season so most of the summer homes and businesses were shuttered and the streets were empty pretty much at all times.
As I stepped out into the arrival area at the airport, I was greeted by the shuttle bus driver and two other workshop participants—an American and a Portuguese. After checking in at our quaint hotel, we set off to find some place to have supper, our ever-growing group now including a Norwegian and a German.
The next morning, as introductions went around the room, I was astounded to learn that I sat in a room filled with 20 people from at least 14 different countries. I felt like a linguistic whimp when I realized that most of them could easily speak at least two languages in addition to their native tongue. Fortunately for me, English was the common language of the workshop.
Two fisheries scientists from the University of Tromso, Norway, led the workshop. After brief introductions, we each gave a presentation about our respective organizations and what expertise and capacity they could bring to our challenge: mounting a three-year initiative to significantly advance ocean literacy within the 28 member countries of the European Union. The Americans presented first because they have the most experience with ocean literacy through their work with the Centers of Ocean Science Education Excellence (COSEE) and the National Marine Educators Association (NMEA). I followed because, even though we lag behind the United States, we’re still ahead of the European Union.
I gave an overview of the history and state of ocean literacy in Canada, partly based on a survey I conducted in 2007 for the Marine Protected Areas Group of the Ocean Management & Research Network. My conclusion wasn’t pretty. I stated flatly that initiatives were “idiosyncratic, uncoordinated and issue-driven among relevant government and non-government organizations.”
I then provided a brief overview of my personal involvement with ocean literacy with particular emphasis on my recent experience at Ocean Networks Canada, where I had the thrilling opportunity to build a national ocean science program infused with ocean literacy principles and concepts from the ground up. My presentation concluded with an introduction to CaNOE: its formation, mission, goals and current activities.
For more details, please take a look at my presentation (PDF).
Watching the other presentations, I was amazed at the incredible diversity of complementary skill sets among the consortium members. Everything from digital libraries of massive databases to community-driven cooperatives.
After the workshop, the Norwegian team prepared the proposal and submitted it to the EU Commission for funding consideration at the end of June. We know of at least two other consortia vying for the same funding with equally strong members. For its part, the EU Commission is taking its time to assess each proposal carefully. A response from them is not expected until at least the end of October. In the meantime, I have my fingers crossed! It would be a phenomenal experience to represent CaNOE at the international level.