The ocean plays a critical role in maintaining ecosystems and is essential to our health and wellbeing. Its diversity of resources belong to all of us. Yet, only 1 in 10 Americans understand ocean systems or the threats these systems are facing. It is critical to educate and promote stewardship among our students and the public- at-large in order to restore a healthy, productive and resilient ocean.
Recently, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission reported on the status of the ocean, acknowledging that improved coordination among governing bodies is needed, and that oceans should be managed on an ecosystem level. We need look no further than our own offshore system, the California Current, as illustration. It moves south along the western coast of North America transcending political boundaries, while at the same time, sustaining marine wildlife populations, regulating climate, and providing a myriad of other ecosystem services relied on by our states, the nation, and the world.
The California Current and surrounding waters provide Washington, Oregon, and California with a rich bounty of resources — resources that are, unfortunately, in serious trouble. Polluted waters, declining populations of fish and other marine life, degraded near-shore habitats, risk of severe storms and tsunamis, and impacts related to climate change are but a few examples. To address these critical issues, the Governors of these three states have launched a proactive, regional collaboration to protect and manage resources along the entire West Coast.
In September 2006, the West Coast Governors’ Agreement (WCGA) on Ocean Health was signed. Since then, these three states have worked together and consulted with federal agency leads and stakeholders on appropriate actions to improve the health of our ocean and coastal resources. The final action plan includes specific steps for addressing the following key priority areas: clean coastal waters and beaches; healthy ocean and coastal habitats; effective ecosystem-based management; reduced impacts of offshore development; increased ocean awareness and literacy among the region’s citizens; expanded ocean and coastal scientific information, research, and monitoring; and sustainable economic development of coastal communities. To improve regional coordination between the three states, Action-Coordination Teams (ACTs) were established — one for each of the priority areas. To date, each of the ACTs have developed draft work plans, which have been released for public comment (June 2009). Final work plans, incorporating public comments, are currently being released.
Priority Area 5 of the WCGA Action Plan aims to “increase ocean awareness and literacy among citizens.” The specific actions are: to integrate ocean science and conservation into expanded environmental education curricula by encouraging changes to education content standards enhancing ocean literacy (Action 5.1), and to support ocean awareness efforts for the public and for decision-makers at all levels, and encourage improvement and expansion of self-directed learning institutions and volunteer programs (Action 5.2). To achieve these goals, change needs to occur in all aspects and levels of the education process, and all of the relevant stakeholders – students, teachers, informal educators, parents, administrators, community members and others – need to be engaged.
When the National Science Education Standards were re- leased in 1996, there was little mention of ocean topics. As a result, most state content standards do not include much about the ocean, coasts, or watersheds. Consequently, there is little teaching of these topics in most K-12 classrooms. Without a coherent framework of concepts and messages, these important topics remain on the margins of teaching and science learning. It is essential that states like Washington, Oregon, and California systematically incorporate marine science into curriculum. The Ocean Awareness and Literacy ACT plans to assist educators in integrating ocean literacy principles and concepts into their classrooms and programs by providing guidance on the tools and existing resources that help achieve mastery of state science and other content standards.
Outside of the classroom, an increase in public knowledge and understanding of marine science and issues is also critical to engage individuals to become better stewards of the environment. By establishing an integrated network of information, people, and resources, everyone, from the public to policy-makers will be better able to make in- formed environmental decisions. The Ocean Awareness and Literacy ACT plans to utilize online technology to raise awareness of and improve access to Web resources. Additionally, they will make available physical products such as exhibit materials and toolkits for various audiences that illustrate essential ocean and coastal issues and processes and demonstrate why this information is important in daily lives. Messages developed will focus on the California Current and other ocean and coastal topics common to the three states. Decision-makers, the public, educators and students, government agencies, and non-profit and volunteer organizations will benefit from the resources and information developed.
As one might expect, funding is the primary constraint to accomplishing these tasks. While the WCGA Executive Team works to find money for these projects, the ACT members continue to make progress on implementing the work plans using current resources and/or through lever- aging efforts with similar, external activities.
Immediate, meaningful actions can be taken — at all levels — to help restore and maintain the health of our oceans. You can:
– Contribute ideas, resources, funding opportunities, etc. to support our efforts.
– Complete an upcoming survey that assesses ocean literacy needs and encourage others to complete the survey.
– Share your favorite lesson plans and ocean-related resources for inclusion in the broader WCGA materials.
– Expand your educational efforts to address issues of regional significance.
– Engage decision-makers on significant regional ocean and coastal issues that warrant their attention and support.
– Familiarize yourself with the Ocean Literacy Principles and the newly introduced Scope and Sequence Conceptual Flow Diagrams (CFDs) – one for each of the 4 grade bands for each of the 7 Essential Principles. They can be found at http://www.oceanliteracy.net/usa/ocean_science_literacy/scope_and_sequence/ home.html.
– Integrate the Ocean Literacy Principles and CFDs into your educational programming.
– Encourage your colleagues to participate in professional development opportunities to learn ocean science concepts, skills and related pedagogy.
– Periodically check the WCGA Website for more information as implementation efforts move forward — http://westcoastoceans.gov/.
For more information, contact Nancee Hunter, Co-Chair of the West Coast Governors’ Agreement Ocean Literacy Action Coordination Team — firstname.lastname@example.org.