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Defining Ocean Literacy

In the context of informal education, the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation (NEETF, 2005) lists three levels of knowledge.

  1. Environmental awareness: having a simple grasp of an environmental subject with little real understanding of its causes and connections. Research indicates that this awareness has little effect behavior.

  2. Small personal steps: being aware that simple actions such as buying "green", recycling and low flow toilets have a positive impact, but not necessarily understanding the reasons. Research shows that this awareness can have a significant effect on behavior.

  3. Environmental literacy: really understanding the underlying scientific principles that relate our actions to the environment. This generally requires hands-on experience in a lab or the field. It has been estimated that less than 2% of all American adults are environmentally literate. This is where we come in.

The Ocean Literacy consensus defined the nature of ocean literacy and the types of knowledge needed, rather than the level of understanding (COSEE, 2005; website and brochure). COSEE defines ocean literacy as understanding how the ocean affects you and how you affect the ocean, then lists objectives and principles (table).

Ocean Literacy Definition (COSEE, 2005) Seven Essential Principles
An ocean-literate person:
  • understands the science of the oceans
  • can communicate about the oceans,
  • can make informed decisions about ocean policy.
1. Earth has one big ocean with many features.
2. The ocean and life in the ocean shape the features of Earth.
3. The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate.
4. The ocean makes Earth habitable.
5. The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.
6. The ocean and humans are inextricably linked.
7. The ocean is largely unexplored.