Linzi Hawkin surfing

Ocean Literacy, And Why It Matters

Reading and writing isn’t something we normally associate with the sea, but we’re upping our game and joining the global movement to improve our Ocean Literacy. And helping our guests to too.

Ocean Literacy means to have an understanding of the ocean’s influence on us, and of our own influence on the ocean. It’s the human and ocean relationship that is key here, and it’s not simple. After all, relationships are often complicated, ever-changing and extremely complex.

Everything we do has an impact, and due to the interconnections embedded within natural systems, this means that everything we do – even on land – has an impact, however small, on the ocean. And on the flip side, the more we learn about the ocean, the more this impacts our own awareness and actions. In other words, the more ocean literate we become, the more we realise just how dependent we are on the ocean.

A Growing Awareness of Ocean Literacy

Blue Planet II heralded a remarkable shift in human consciousness. People began to understand the connections between them and the ocean on a much deeper level after seeing the magic that was happening underwater. And 88% of those who saw ‘Blue Planet II’ committed to changing their lifestyle [source].

“Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet and never before have we had the power to do something about that. Surely we have a responsibility to care for our blue planet”
~ Sir David Attenborough

This increased global awareness and responsibility to care about the ocean is something that educators and scientists have been working on since 2002 when they saw that children in the US were experiencing a severe lack of ocean science tuition in schools. They committed to bringing new lessons about this into the mainstream curriculum, and in 2017 UNESCO and the UN adopted the same framework to reach a global audience.

When it came to Sir David he had the right storytelling ensemble to take this even further: the technology, his incredible legacy and persona plus a huge reach through the BBC platform… And in turn, he managed to blow people’s minds. Whilst Blue Planet II did not directly feature Ocean Literacy principles it communicated key concepts clearly by provocatively showcasing ocean ecosystems and marine species in captivating new ways.

Ocean Literacy at Soul & Surf

At Soul & Surf, the ocean’s health has always been important but perhaps we’ve not yet explicitly communicated that to our guests. With this in mind, we’ve been taking time over the last 6 months to incorporate Ocean Literacy into the (new!) soul of surfing syllabus that will be delivered as part of surf lessons . But why?

“Far and away, the greatest threat to the ocean, and thus to ourselves, is ignorance”
~ Sylvia Earle, President of Mission Blue.

We urgently need to update our baseline knowledge of ocean processes. A lot of our understanding is rooted in primitive and unsupported scientific theory. Yes, there is a lot we don’t know about the ocean, but there is also a lot we do.

Ocean literacy principles and concepts remind us how humans and oceans are inextricably connected, and that the larger planetary systems such as climate, atmosphere, water cycle and biological diversity are deeply rooted to the healthy functioning of the sea. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to take in all that is going on in the ocean – especially the negative effects humans are having on the marine world such as plastic pollution, rising sea temperatures, increasing acidity and overfishing. However, if we look at the amazing things that the ocean does for us, it can be a learning journey filled with awe and wonder – and can inspire positive change too.

In Conversation with Protect Blue

Protect Blue is a creative agency focused on creating a measurable positive impact on life below water. Protect Blue believes we are shaped by the stories that surround us and tell stories about the human connection to nature – beyond the science and statistics – to explore the immeasurable and reimagine a brighter future.

Co-founder Linzi Hawkin’s work lies at the intersection of sustainability & creativity, and her work in ocean conservation and storytelling has been instrumental in the development of the Soul Surfing syllabus.

Linzi Hawkin at home

Linzi at home | Photo credit @googsicreative

We thought we’d ask her some questions about Ocean Literacy, and here they are:

Hi Linzi! Can you tell us why you think Ocean Literacy is so important?

I sometimes struggle a bit with the term ‘Ocean Literacy’ because it takes something, that for me at least, feels very heart-focused and turns it into something head-focused. Of course, there are parts of Ocean Literacy that are knowledge-based and require us to learn about the ocean and some of the science related to it, but I think that there’s another side to it that I’d argue is just as (or even more) important – which is our connection to ocean itself. That’s where the magic lies – when you look at people doing incredible work in ocean conservation, it’s their personal relationship with the sea that often drives them: the feeling they get when they spend time in, on, under or near the ocean.

It’s that connection that deepens our understanding and gives us a sense of agency when we learn more about what we can do to protect our marine environment. Right now, we’re living in a time where a huge percentage of the population are disconnected to nature – we’ve forgotten that what we do to the ocean is what we do to ourselves.

Anything we can do to close that gap is vital – whether that’s through ocean experiences like surfing or swimming, good storytelling, educational platforms or amplifying the voices of ocean advocates – the more we reconnect to nature, the more likely we are to recognise our responsibility to protect it.

What, where and who have you been working on/with lately in terms of Ocean Literacy?

Yikes – ha ha – it pretty much spans all of our work. We built an Ocean Literacy comms framework earlier this year as part of the We Are Ocean collective, which aims to help ocean advocates explore how we might be able to spark meaningful conversations about the ocean in order to can deepen our connection to it.

We’re also working alongside Finisterre to build their Sea7 event that will run at the same time as the G7 in Cornwall – it’s shaping up to be a super exciting event that will dive deep into the conversations that are most needed right now and really help ocean activists have a greater impact locally & globally. And we’re part of the team designing World Ocean Day for Schools – a super super fun event for kids on the 8th June.

That’s what ‘work’ looks like from an agency point of view, but we’ve also got two big projects we’re working on internally: Cloud & Dirt, which is an environmental education curriculum that leans into design thinking & the values we learn from spending time with nature; and Undercurrent, an incubator program for ocean advocates.


How do you think Ocean Literacy links to the “soul of surfing”?

For me it comes back to the interconnectedness – because that’s something that we all feel, intuitively, when we surf. We are not separate to nature, we are part of it. And when you begin to truly understand and trust that, your perspective changes. Spending time in the ocean humbles us – in the very best way, and I think that humans need that more than ever, to realise that we’re not in charge, that we need to show respect to this beautiful planet we live on and that there are incredible ways for us to live in harmony with nature that give us hope for a much brighter future.

Linzi Hawkin surfing

Linzi at home in the surf | Photo credit @googsicreative

Through your platforms – SUPKids and Protect Blue – what are the changes you hope to see within the wider ocean (and non-ocean) community by incorporating Ocean Literacy principles and concepts?

There are two key changes that we aim to catalyse in our work. The first is all about getting people immersed in nature, whether that’s ocean adventures, getting up early to watch the sunrise or simply taking a moment to look up at the stars at night: we shift into being more present, and a little quieter. It’s in those moments that we experience awe & wonder that can be completely transformative.

We’re also really passionate about helping ocean advocates build self-efficacy – giving them the tools, the community and the support to have real impact in the work they are doing. It’s an electric feeling – having a sense of agency. The spark of knowing that your work can make a dent in something much bigger than you.

We know that having a strong ecological identity and high levels of self efficacy are essential building blocks for anyone who wants to be an effective ocean advocate. If our work can strengthen those two areas then we’re doing something right 🙂

Happy kids - members of SUPKids

SUPKids | Photo Credit: @mickwilcomes

The Ocean Literacy Principles

With huge thanks to Linzi and the Protect Blue team for talking to us, you can find out more about what they do by checking out their journal for inspirational stories of the sea.

And as a final note on this Ocean Literacy journey, here are the Ocean Literacy principles themselves:

  1. The Earth has one big ocean with many features
  2. The ocean and life in the ocean shape the features of the Earth
  3. The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate
  4. The ocean makes the Earth habitable
  5. The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems
  6. The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected
  7. The ocean is largely unexplored

If you’re coming to join us at Soul and Surf,

whether in India, Sri Lanka or Portugal, you’ll be learning how to integrate these into your wave riding learning journey with us.

Which sounds fun, right?
And worthwhile?

We hope so!

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