By: Anika Smithson

After 6 years, people were able to gather once again for the 5th International Marine Protected Areas Congress. IMPAC5 brings together ocean conservation professionals – scientists, educators, policy makers, governments, Indigenous Peoples and youth from all over the world to discuss all aspects of marine conservation. This year, over 3,000 people gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations in what is now Vancouver, Canada. Given that the last event, IMPAC4, was held in La Serena-Coquimbo, Chile in 2017, there was a buzz in the air as people excitedly met once again in person, reconnecting with friends and colleagues.

From Feb 3-8, attendees listened to keynote speakers and presentations and participated in workshops and evening side-events, all with a focus on the themes of (1)Building a Global Marine Protected Area Network, (2)Managing Marine Protected Areas and Human Activity, (3)Conserving Biodiversity and the Addressing the Climate Crisis, (4)Advancing Conservation in the Blue Economy, and (5)Connecting Ocean, Culture and Human Wellbeing. Also woven throughout all facets of the congress were three cross-cutting streams: (1) Indigenous Peoples Leadership, (2) The Voice of Young Professionals, and (3) Innovation and Transformational Change. This culminated in a leadership forum on Feb. 9 to discuss how the global community can work together to further marine conservation in light of the new Global Biodiversity Framework and the 30×30 target (30% protection of the ocean by 2030).

Outside the Vancouver Convention Centre

Ocean Literacy Played a Large Role

Baleen the Whale at the Ocean Festival

To kick off the conference, a two-day outdoor ‘Ocean Festival’  was held next to the Vancouver Convention Centre with booths and activities to engage the public in ocean conservation. There was a giant octopus where people could write messages of HOPE for the Ocean, a floor map that allowed people to see marine protected areas around the world, and even evening concerts from famous Canadian artists. The Friday before the conference started, schoolchildren got a chance to attend the Ocean Festival. Over 300 students had the opportunity to interact with the different activities and learn about the ocean and why conservation is important. The rest of the weekend, the public was able to interact with folks from different organizations like Parks Canada, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and SeaSmart to learn about the variety of work being done on marine conservation across Canada. Each evening the square was packed with people listening to artists such as Alan Doyle and the Beaches. Giving the public an opportunity to learn about what is happening at a major international conference is critical to enhancing the ocean literacy of the public and support for marine conservation. To see a recap of the event, check out the Canadian Ocean Literacy Coaliton’s highlight video.

“It was really great to see so many people of all ages come out to learn about marine conservation! The Ocean Festival was an excellent oppurtunity to engage the public and connect a larger audience with the discussions happening inside the conference centre.”

Anika Smithson – Director-at-Large, CaNOE and
Conservation Campaign Coordinator, Canadian Parks
and Wilderness Society New Brunswick Chapter

In addition to the ocean festival, the 3rd edition of the Ocean Literacy Dialogues took place during IMPAC5, led by the Ocean Literacy With All Community. The goal of the Ocean Literacy Dialogue Series was to enable knowledge exchange and foster actions that help to achieve the goal of the UN Ocean decade – ‘to change humanity’s relationship with the ocean’. There were storytelling events, a film festival and an art exhibition.  Alongside art and culture, there were live broadcasts to classrooms and a networking session for early career ocean professionals. Ocean Literacy Research sessions were also held to allow participants the opportunity to learn about different topics related to Ocean Literacy. Topics ranged from the Sustainable Blue Economy to Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to Policy to Technology and Media Communications to Climate Change. Sessions were led by experts in their fields with lots of time for discussion and questions. Peter Thompson, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean, even spoke about sending letters to ministries of education around the world, encouraging them to include Ocean Literacy in their curriculums.

Canadian Network for Ocean Education (CaNOE) represented at IMPAC5

Several members of CaNOE were able to attend IMPAC5. It was a wonderful opportunity to connect in person and share our enthusiasm for the ocean with each other. In addition to attending various sessions and networking with other attendees about CaNOE, the organization had an opportunity to have a booth at the Nature4All pavilion. This allowed CaNOE to connect with folks from across Canada and the world and share about the work of the organization. It was also an opportunity to get folks excited about the upcoming Cross Canada Conference kicking off in Dartmouth, NS in May.

CaNOE was also well represented in the main IMPAC5 program. Board Member Carter McNelly had the chance to represent CaNOE on a panel, entitled Youth Engaging Youth, with other young professionals from organizations that have youth focused programming. He had the chance to share about some of how CaNOE operates and the ways that we are meaningfully involving youth within CaNOE. It was an informative session with insight into ways to better involve youth in organizations from fostering intergenerational knowledge exchange to making space for youth board members and providing funding opportunities.

CaNOE Members attending IMPAC5

Ocean Literacy is More than Classroom Education

The ocean connects everyone and creating a public that is ocean literate is important for the future. It’s not just about teaching children in a classroom facts about the ocean, it’s about shaping people so that their values include a connection to the ocean. Ocean Literacy can be achieved in numerous ways-art, science, storytelling, experiences…you name it and there is a way to incorporate the ocean so that ocean literacy can reach everyone. It was great to see Ocean Literacy, in all its forms, have such a big presence at IMPAC5 because if people can feel a connection and love towards the ocean, they will want to protect it. Love leads to understanding which ultimately leads to ACTION.

“The coming together of Indigenous Peoples from around our global ocean was beyond beautiful. Interacting with such a community of ocean lovers in one place definitely gave a sense of hope in what we can accomplish, not as individuals but together.”

Bryan Martin – Director-at-Large, CaNOE and
Ocean Advisor, Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council


Originally from Southern Ontario, Anika’s passion for the outdoors has led her to study, work and live in many different parts of Canada. She most recently obtained a Masters of Community Development with a focus on environmental education from Acadia University in Nova Scotia. It was living on the coast where she first fell in love with the ocean and has been passionate about conservation and community engagement ever since. She joined the board of CaNOE in 2021 and is an Ocean Bridge Alumni (2020). She currently works as the Conservation Campaign Coordinator for CPAWS NB, combining her passion for conservation and experience in outreach and education to advocate for more terrestrial and marine protected areas in New Brunswick. When not working, Anika can be found cross-country skiing, kayaking or hiking.

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