The Power of Ocean Knowledge

24 August, 2023

The EU’s and Sweden’s marine policy has for several decades led to overfished seas. Several ocean areas are on the brink of an ecological disaster. Climate change, warming and eutrophication are the result of human activities, which are dramatically changing our oceans.

Politicians and authorities have also allowed massive overfishing for a long time.

I wonder why we citizens don’t protest more loudly – as we would if the equivalent disaster were happening on land. One answer is that we feel no connection to the sea, that what happens below the surface does not concern us.

Scientists call this lack of knowledge about the importance of the ocean “Ocean illiteracy”: Most of us are illiterate in ocean knowledge and therefore lack understanding of how crucial the ocean is to ourselves and our planet. It is difficult to understand how the extinction of the cod in the Baltic Sea can be connected with my life. Or that square miles of dead bottoms, far below the beautiful surface, would threaten my grandchildren’s future.

The ignorance leads to zero involvement in the climate crisis in general and the exploitation of the sea in particular. At EU level, those who are considered most closely affected, such as professional fishermen, are given great influence over marine policy. Lobbyists and bureaucrats are allowed to rule and ask.

But the fact is that the sea belongs to all of us. Even those of us who just like to look at the sea, dive, fish, walk the dog along the quay or stroll barefoot on the sandy beach. We don’t have to exploit the ocean to have the right to have a say in how we treat it. We must seriously begin to question the fact that large fishing companies are given a monopoly over the general resource that fish stocks represent.

This week I spoke to Peter Richardson, who is the Director of Ocean Recovery at the Marine Conservation Society in England. Richardson is passionate about spreading knowledge about the sea.

Peter Richardson, Director of Ocean Recovery at the Marine Conservation Society in England.

He has noted how fierce the contradictions are between environmentalists and professional fishermen – but above all how widespread “Ocean illiteracy” is:

The reality is that most people, certainly in the UK, are completely disconnected from the ocean, in that they have very little understanding of how dependent we are on the natural environment generally, and certainly on the ocean.

Meetings and public discussions about the sea have often resulted in arguments where loud commercial fishermen have not allowed other people to speak. Richardson and his organization have therefore developed a method they call “Community voice”:

We engage with coastal communities on local issues like designation and management of marine protected areas. And we use film and workshops. The idea is that we don’t want it to be just a conversation, as has always been in the past, between the regulator and the fishermen, maybe an angler, maybe a diver. But we broaden the conversation out to much wider sections of society. This way the broader society is part of the discussions about how to manage their sea, and their values and what they benefit from are also taken into account, says Peter Richardson.

The Marine Conservation Society produces half-hour films in which citizens express their feelings for the sea. The films are then shown in assembly halls where all citizens are invited. After the film screening, a discussion is invited, for example on whether a marine protected area should be established. It turns out that the hard polarization disappears. When you calmly take in the other’s points of view, understanding increases and it is easier to find compromises.

We who work at Deep Sea Reporter try to spread knowledge via stories about the sea, not least what happens below the surface. As the Marine Conservation Society notes: it’s a tough job – but they, like us, are working for the long term.

Text: Peter Löfgren

Related articles

At the forefront of climate change is Tonga – an island nation in the Pacific Ocean where rising sea levels, warmer waters and tropical cyclones pose an increasing threat. “The sea is everything to us. But it’s on fire,” the country’s delegate Uili Lousi told TT [Tidningarnas Telegrambyra] at the climate summit…
Text: Sofia Eriksson/TT
Photo: Jane Barlow/PA/AP/TT, Karen Setten/NTB, Sofia Eriksson/TT
SLU Aqua in Lysekil has for several years filmed bottoms in three different marine protection areas. Bratten is a Natura 2000 area far out to sea towards the Norwegian border. It is located in an area that is one of Europe’s most fished places. Here it is possible to trawl right through the protection area, except in certain specific zones. Watch in the feature what it looks like on the bottom after a trawl has pulled out. …
I don’t usually go around picking fights with market traders. But the other day, a stall holder managed to ruin the Christmas mood. He was selling endangered animals wrapped in plastic, with Jingle Bells playing in the background….
Text: Peter Löfgren
Scroll to Top