Looking inland for oceanic inspiration

CarolAnne Black
November 30, 2022

The ocean is protecting us from the impacts of climate change. It has absorbed more than 90 percent of the heat generated by climate change and about one-third of excess carbon dioxide emissions. It is the dominant force in the Earth’s climate system, affecting us no matter where we live on the planet. And that message — that the ocean is important to us all — is getting through to high school students in Ontario.

The Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE), a not-for-profit focused on driving ocean innovation based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, commissioned a 2022 survey, Blue Economy Student Thoughts — Ontario (BEST ON), which included 172 students from two of that province’s high schools. Almost 90 percent of respondents suggested the ocean plays an important role in addressing the climate crisis, while 83 percent stated that their actions impact the ocean, while 64 percent believe the ocean impacts them.

These results are good news, because there is considerable interest in engaging Ontario youth with water and ocean-related jobs, which have been dubbed the Blue Economy. Projections by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development argue that by 2030, 40 million people will be employed globally in the Blue Economy — double the number that worked in that sector in 2010. This broad sector will call for people with diverse skill sets, who may not even live near a marine coastline, working in fields such as technology development, remote sensing, policy-making, and communications.

COVE’s Workforce Initiative program seeks to support targeted ocean literacy programming for students from across Canada, including inland provinces like Ontario. With that goal in mind, the Centre wanted to know how Ontario students perceived their connection to the ocean, as well as their interest in STEM and awareness of Blue Economy careers, their plans for after high school, how they think about their future careers, and their perspective on the importance of career-building activities, such as summer jobs.

The study found that 56 percent of girls and 59 percent of boys are interested in STEM careers. After seeing a list of Blue Economy jobs, 46 percent of girls and 64 percent of boys indicated their interest in this sector. The analysis also linked students’ perceptions of the ocean to fighting climate change, with 44 percent of respondents citing the importance of making an impact on the world. Of the students interested in Blue Economy jobs, 70 percent see those jobs as a means to have that impact.

The Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI), based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, is like COVE, one of a multitude of organisations across Canada supporting the growth of the Blue Economy.

“We don't only need ocean science people in this industry, we need lots of people that develop applicable skills from within the country,” OFI’s Chief Innovation Officer Eric Siegel told Research Money. “We simply need more people in the ocean economy, and this clearly includes people from Ontario.”

Siegel added that OFI’s role is to “facilitate frontier research and thought leadership to inform global industry and policy.” Among the ways of fulfilling that role is developing “human capacity for the Blue Economy, by creating scientific research and professional development opportunities for students and early career ocean professionals.”

In Canada, recognizing the upcoming needs of the Blue Economy, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is leading the development of a cross-departmental Blue Economy Strategy.

“Fisheries and Oceans Canada is committed to supporting healthy oceans, creating more opportunities for coastal and inland communities, and contributing to a more sustainable and prosperous Blue Economy,” said Niall O’Dea, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “To accomplish this, Canada requires a talented, skilled, and knowledgeable workforce. The BEST ON study provides great insight into the ocean literacy of our Ontario youth, particularly with their understanding of the important role of the ocean to their lives. Expanding students’ connections to the ocean and water can help us to ensure Canada’s youth can find their path to the Blue Economy.”

Programming to increase ocean literacy — understanding the ocean’s role in our lives and our impact on the ocean — is growing across the world, including in Canada. In 2018, the Canadian Ocean Literacy Coalition (COLC) formed as an alliance of organizations and individuals working together to better understand and advance public understanding of the ocean. COLC subsequently began to study how ocean literacy is practised across the country, as well as connecting parties interested in this area.

COLC observes the seven goals of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021 to 2030, the basis of a society that “understands and values the ocean in relation to human wellbeing and sustainable development.” The Ocean Decade itself was a United Nations response to the importance of Agenda 2030, to achieve sustainable development goals, especially those that pertain to the marine environment.

Canada has committed to protecting 30 percent of its ocean territory — the area from the shore to 12 nautical miles — in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent recommendation to protect 30-50 percent of Earth’s area, land and ocean, to maintain a healthy planet that can provide for us, minimize biodiversity loss, and help to protect us from climate change.

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