By: Natasha Jackson-Drouin

We humans are inherently relational beings. We rely on the relationship to our kin from the very start and build on those and other relationships throughout our short time here on earth. Relationships are at the core of being human. We have relationships with one another, with creatures big and small, with places near and far and with entities beyond our grasps. These relationships define and motivate us, they inform and persuade us, and they are what makes us, well ‘us’.

Throughout my time learning about and from the ocean I have come to think about what my relationship with the ocean might be and to wonder more deeply about it.

Something that I have noticed to be a powerful tool, and have been working to try to understand better, is my personal relationship to the ocean. Thanks to the wonderful opportunities I’ve had to experience the ocean firsthand as well as learn about it formally, I have come to care deeply for the oceans. This has motivated me to take action for the ocean in the work I do, in combination with living in such a way that minimizes my impacts on it. This is a pillar of my identity and at the core of my pursuits. But I have come to wonder, is this care and action the extent to which my relationship with the ocean can exist? Along with, what implication might this perspective have on ocean literacy?

Relationship to the ocean has been identified in both the Canadian Ocean Literacy Coalitions’ Ocean Literacy strategy (Land, Water, Ocean, Us) vision and as a key challenge for the United Nations Decade for Ocean Science.  In Land, Water, Ocean, Us relationship is part of the vision and is used in terms of “tak[ing] action together to ensure a healthy, sustainable, and equitable relationship with the global ocean and Canada’s waterways for present and future generations”. In the UN Decade for Ocean Science the challenge to change humanity’s relationship with the ocean has been identified as a focus of work for the decade.

Though both these uses have different focuses, what I think they both hope to capture is the work that needs to be done to change the way that people feel about the ocean. How people feel and the attitudes that humans have about something have a large impact on the way people behave. A positive and caring attitude for the oceans is a key motivation for meaningful behavioural change and action. It is this emotional component, changing the way people feel about the ocean, that really underscores all ocean literacy efforts and work across the globe.

I also believe that, sometimes, this gets overlooked. With conceptual and scientific understanding being prioritized over emotional and relational understanding. Can working on our relationship with the ocean be an overlooked foundation to ocean literacy?

Ocean Literacy principles and foundations teach that we are all connected to the ocean (Principle #6). Even those who don’t live close to the ocean are connected to it. The oxygen in the air we breathe, the rivers we travel on and harvest from, the rain that falls to rehydrate the lands, it connects us all back to the ocean. It indirectly influences every person, creature and being on earth. For many it is a direct source of food, security, livelihood, pleasure, and recreation. This is relatively straightforward to conceptualize – that my life is influenced by the ocean and the ocean influences my life – we are connected, and this is key to ocean literacy. What may be harder to understand is what that connection means. What responsibilities does it impose? What considerations should be made? What do I as an individual, and we as a collective, need to contribute to this overarching character? Instinctively, this is where making sustainable choices and advocating for sustainable practices come into the conversation – minimizing plastic use, reducing carbon emissions, advocating for change. These are actions informed by care that give meaning to what a connection to the ocean means. It is here where I believe an additional consideration should be made – your connection to the ocean can be viewed through your relationship to it. I don’t mean a superficial relationship here; I mean a deep, emotional and relational connection to it. Considering your relationship to the ocean, and actively working on it may seem abstract (and even drift into personification) but it is a powerful notion. You can consider the ocean as a friend, companion, teacher, healer, knowledge keeper, the list is endless. This shift, for myself, has led to a deeper and more emotional connection to the ocean. It forced me to consider the reciprocal nature of my connection to the ocean. I have begun to view the ocean less as something that I am a part of, but rather, considering the ocean as something I am in relation to. I challenge you to look inwards and consider what your relationship with the ocean is currently, imagine what you might do to strengthen it and what it may look like in the future. This is the point where I currently find myself, perched on a deadhead bobbing near the shore, pondering what mine and the ocean’s future holds . The next steps are unclear, but regardless, this perspective will follow me through my life and will inform the way I live and teach.

Natasha is a master’s student at the University of British Columbia in science education. Her thesis work focuses on ocean literacy and teacher education. She holds a bachelor’s of science from the University of Victoria in marine biology. Natasha is an advocate for learning from the ocean and the shore and outdoor education in general. 

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