Ocean Literacy - an understanding of the ocean’s influence on you and your influence on the ocean.

The ocean covers over 70% of our planet's surface and plays a critical role in supporting life on Earth. Hopefully we all, or at least most of us, realise this by now (thank you for all you continue to do, King David Attenborough & Blue Planet). But despite its importance, many of us have little knowledge or understanding of the ocean and its significance. This is where the concept of 'ocean literacy' comes in.

So, what is this ‘Ocean Literacy’, then?

Ocean Literacy, a term coined by Unesco, describes the symbiotic relationship between us and the ocean, the understanding of its influence on us – and our influence on it.

It encompasses a broad range of topics, including ocean science, policy, and management – and is becoming an increasingly important tool for educators and policymakers alike.

But this term wasn’t dreamed up because humanity has been cognisant or respectful of this reciprocal relationship. Quite the opposite. And we are now all too aware of the danger that faces our oceans. Or we should be.

This article will explore our interpretation of ocean literacy and the tools we use as surfers – to ensure a healthy and thriving planet for generations to come.

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The air, the water and the food we rely upon to sustain our lives depends upon the continual functioning of highly complex ocean processes.


Life on Earth only exists due to the ocean.


Soul & Surf's 7 Principles of Ocean Literacy

So we've nailed down what ocean literacy means, but how can we become ocean literate surfers?

We created a framework that serves as seven basic principles that map out our influence on the ocean and the ocean's influence on us. As surfers we are well aware of our intrinsic connection to the ocean; it is how we feel stoked (and sometimes frustrated).

We are also exposed, first hand, to environmental changes which could help inform ocean science and policy to employ protection measures. It is both our playground and our sanctuary – upon which our health and happiness depend. 

The connection runs deep.

1. The Earth has one big ocean with many features.

Our Blue Planet is 70% water and the ocean contains 97% of this water. It moves around due to the hydrosphere but also interacts with other Earth systems such as the cryosphere (ice cycle), geosphere (rock cycle), pedosphere (soil cycle), lithosphere (tectonic plates), atmosphere (gas cycle) and biosphere (whole Earth System).

We utilise different features by surfing a variation of breaking waves; sandbars or beaches; reefs or points.

2. The ocean and ocean life shape features of the Earth.

We came from the sea; and so did the land. We still see the effects of this today, particularly whilst surfing waves off volcanic islands or breaking over coral reef.

3. The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate.

And with the climate crisis in motion, we will now start to experience extreme weather patterns, affecting our surf season and breaks.

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The Ocean is our Life Force… and our Source of Life.  


4. The ocean made the Earth habitable.

But it could soon make certain places uninhabitable, due to a rise in sea level. Many low lying islands such as the Maldives. who also boast world class waves, are at risk.

5. The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.

Surfers are exposed to an array of marine life, from phytoplankton to whales. Observing marine species in their natural habitat is one of the unique aspects of surfing, and finding ways to peacefully coexist with them is a learning journey but one all surfers should aim to strive for - it’s their home, after all.

6. The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.

The principles that surfers embody. Without ocean waves there would be no surfers. Research has shown that despite having many physical benefits, the biggest motivation for surfing is: “connection to the ocean”.

7. The ocean is largely unexplored.

Which is why we need to learn a lot more about it. The UN have dedicated the following 10 years to ocean science and research. The next step from being literate in ocean processes is collecting data to monitor for changes; or to create change. Spending time in the ocean as a surfer could result in vital knowledge, and by sharing with science and policy, help protect marine environments.

“Understanding the Ocean is essential to comprehending and protecting this planet on which we live.” ~ Unesco


By educating ourselves about the ocean, we can better appreciate its value and take action to protect it. 


Ocean Literacy is an essential component of a sustainable future.

By educating ourselves about the ocean, we can better appreciate its value and take action to protect it. 

By working to improve our individual ocean literacy, we can develop a greater appreciation for this valuable resource and take steps towards a more responsible relationship with the ocean.

The ocean is one of the Earth's most valuable resources, providing us with food, energy, and recreation. However, despite its importance, the ocean remains one of the least understood ecosystems on our planet.  As human activity continues to impact the ocean and its delicate balance, it's essential to have a better understanding of how we can protect and preserve it. 

In 2021, the Intergovernmental Ocean Committee launched the Decade of Ocean Science: a 10-year strategy across countries and sectors to investigate, learn and share all we can about the ocean; to support a better relationship with the ocean in the future.  They call it the decade to conduct “...the science we need for the ocean we want”.

Ocean Literacy for all is an integral part of this strategy.

We finish this article with one more why….

Why are you here? 

Are you also drawn to the ocean; to the mysteries of its depths or the turbulence of its waves? 

Are you captivated by its stillness on a calm day or its shifting colours as you watch the sun disappear into its horizon? 

We highly encourage you to start this process by reflecting on your current relationship with the ocean. Each individual has their own, highly personal connection to the ocean, a unique story.  Perhaps there are emotions it stirs up in you – anticipation, joy, clarity, fear, excitement.  Whatever you think, feel or know about the ocean, whatever you’ve experienced, bring it forth and then take a breath. 

Now, take another. 

Out of those two breaths, one breath is thanks to the tiny, microscopic organisms that live at the surface of the ocean, photosynthesising carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.  Yes, the ocean truly sustains us, and ocean literacy provides a framework to embed and embody that knowledge into the forefront of our thinking and doing.

Read all about how this pillar fits into our Soul of Surfing revolution, our ethos & surf lessons. And keep your peepers peeled for the next in this series – Blue Health. Thanks for the science, as ever, to our sustainability advisor Nat Fox, and to Coco Steigner for her beautiful illustrations.


Humans and the sea – an intricate, dynamic and symbiotic relationship