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Front. Mar. Sci., 21 January 2020
Sec. Marine Ecosystem Ecology
This article is part of the Research Topic Connecting People to Their Oceans: Issues and Options for Effective Ocean Literacy View all 13 articles

Editorial: Connecting People to Their Oceans: Issues and Options for Effective Ocean Literacy

  • 1AZTI, Marine Research Division, Pasaia, Spain
  • 2Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, UNESCO, Venice, Italy
  • 3Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, RI, United States
  • 4School of the Environment, Geography and Geosciences, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, United Kingdom
  • 5Acteon, Colmar, France

While there is a growing understanding of theimportance of marine ecosystems for society (Selig et al., 2019), evidence shows that pressures from human activities on these ecosystems are increasing (Korpinen and Andersen, 2016; Lotze et al., 2018), putting the health of marine ecosystems at risk worldwide (Borja et al., 2016). In particular, Sustainable Blue Economy ambitions are becoming an important component of national socio-economic development strategies (e.g., this is called Blue Growth in Europe; Eikeset et al., 2018). This can result in increasing pressures on marine and coastal ecosystems if this development is not designed and implemented with care. Thus, despite current regulatory framework across the globe (illustrated inter alia by the Oceans Act in the USA or Canada and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive in Europe; Borja et al., 2008), it is likely that this challenging situation will continue into the future (Golden et al., 2017).

All citizens are directly or indirectly connected to the marine environment. Ensuring that everyone gains a better understanding of the importance of the oceans, the human-ocean interactions, and opportunities to act sustainably and reduce human impacts on marine ecosystem is central to global Ocean Literacy (Santoro et al., 2017). The Ocean Literacy movement, initiated over 25 years ago in the USA, has received increasing attention world-wide, particularly in Europe, where significant funding had propelled the movement forward. Ocean Literacy is a challenge for all parts of society: educators and trainers, children and professionals, civil society and scientists, consumers and policy/decision makers (Uyarra and Borja, 2016). It is seen as an essential part of the strategies necessary to change human behaviors and practices that can result in healthier marine ecosystems, while allowing sustainable development opportunities (Gelcich et al., 2014). Ocean Literacy will be a key pillar of the upcoming United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021–2030; Ryabinin et al., 2019).

Two projects, funded by the European Commission's Horizon 2020 program and implemented between 2015 and 2019, focused on challenges and solutions for more effective ocean literacy. The project ResponSEAble1 investigated how to effectively connect people to their seas and help them better understand the complex human-ocean relationship. This research was intended to identify strategies that will encourage people to make responsible, informed decisions, thus becoming “ocean literate.” Its sister project SeaChange2 explored the way European citizens view their relationship with the sea, by empowering them as “Ocean Literate” citizens, to take direct and sustainable action toward healthy seas and ocean, healthy communities, and, ultimately, a healthier planet.

With this in mind, the editors took the view that a Research Topic in Frontiers in Marine Science would be an ideal platform for synthesizing and giving open access to up-to-date research in Ocean Literacy, as developed in the framework of the two EU projects described above and others across the world. This led to the Research Topic presenting a variety of research that addresses issues and options for achieving Ocean Literacy worldwide, which we anticipate will be useful to those involved in the design, implementation, and evaluation of ocean literacy initiatives that target a variety of audiences.

The papers in the Research Topic discuss: (1) practical experiences in Ocean Literacy (formal and informal education for children, training for professionals, tools for raising awareness of consumers, and of investors in the marine sectors), illustrating their effectiveness at catalyzing the transition from “understanding better” to “acting differently” (Barracosa et al.; Fielding et al.; Mogias et al.); (2) the role Ocean Literacy could play through interaction with innovation, regulation, economic incentive, and social norms to support human capital development as a key component of sustainable growth (Fernández Otero et al.); and (3) pre-conditions for effective and increasing Ocean Literacy for different sectors and target groups (Brennan et al.; Chambers et al.). Questions relevant to Ocean Literacy include: Which knowledge (produced by whom) to share and how? (Salazar et al.; Kopke et al.); Who to target and how to effectively reach those targeted? (Seraphin et al.; Stefanelli-Silva et al.); How to design Ocean Literacy initiatives, including by mobilizing those targeted (e.g., via living lab approaches), to ensure effective Ocean Literacy and pave the way for behavior change? (Ashley et al.; Barracosa et al.; Stoll-Kleemann et al.); What are the knowledge gaps that limit our capacity to design effective Ocean Literacy initiatives, connecting people to the Ocean? (Chambers et al.). As scientists, it is likely you can discover many more questions discussed in this Research Topic.

We thank all contributing authors and are confident that you will enjoy reading these papers on Ocean Literacy. We hope that the papers will support progressive changes to improve understanding of the oceans and seas and their processes, ultimately leading to a healthier ocean.

Author Contributions

All authors listed have made a substantial, direct and intellectual contribution to the work, and approved it for publication.


This editorial and the work within this Research Topic is a result of ResponSEAble (Sustainable oceans: our collective responsibility, our common interest. Building on real-life knowledge systems for developing interactive and mutual learning media) project, funded by the European Union under the H2020 Framework Programme (grant agreement no. 652643),

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.



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Keywords: ocean literacy, ResponSEAble, behavior change, attitude toward oceans, human pressures

Citation: Borja A, Santoro F, Scowcroft G, Fletcher S and Strosser P (2020) Editorial: Connecting People to Their Oceans: Issues and Options for Effective Ocean Literacy. Front. Mar. Sci. 6:837. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00837

Received: 11 December 2019; Accepted: 30 December 2019;
Published: 21 January 2020.

Edited and reviewed by: Katherine Dafforn, Macquarie University, Australia

Copyright © 2020 Borja, Santoro, Scowcroft, Fletcher and Strosser. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Angel Borja,

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