Our future ocean needs strengthened communication
Over the coming decade, marine science communication will become critical to achieve a more Ocean literate and sustainable society. “Knowing and understanding the Ocean’s influence on us, and our influence on the Ocean is crucial to living and acting sustainably. By sharing the world’s Ocean knowledge, we are committed to building a global Ocean movement to protect the planet on which we live”, recalls Jan Seys, spokesperson of the Flanders Marine Institute and coordinating author, from a respondent of one the surveys. Future conflicts between the use of marine resources and marine protection will require solutions that need to be explained by experts and can be understood by non-specialists. An Ocean of challenges and opportunities requires an increase in the generation of content for scientific dissemination and specialized communication.
The increased awareness for topics such as ‘plastic soup’, ‘climate change’ and ‘sea-level rise’ have fuelled the perception among experts (89%) and students (67%) that the Ocean is now more visible in the media than it used to be. As both experts (92%) and students (90%) expect marine science communication to become even more important in the future, and based on the outcomes of the three surveys, the European Marine Board Communications Panel recommend strengthening the capacity and impact of marine science communication in Europe.
European Marine Board recommendations
The Future Science Brief ‘Marine Science Communication in Europe: a way forward’, published by the European Marine Board, highlights four main priority actions:
- When asked why certain Ocean news stories caught their attention, 47% of the students answered “because it is scary and it makes me worry for the future”. That ‘negative bias’ in Ocean news needs to be balanced with a more optimistic perspective, providing solutions and opportunities. The communication baseline shaping the international Ocean Literacy movement could serve that goal, stating that in order to create more stewardship for the Ocean “every citizen should have an understanding of the Ocean’s influence on them and their influence on the Ocean”. Marine science communicators should stick to the facts but also promote positive stories about the Ocean and highlight the added value of Ocean science to society.
- In order to cope with future marine science communication needs, Ocean research institutions and funders need to further acknowledge, value and strengthen their science communication efforts with additional funding and human resources. Today, all scientific institutions realize the importance of having staff dedicated to communication tasks, and all of them make a considerable effort to maintain dedicated personnel. However, in most cases communication staff amounts for less than 5% of the workforce. The European Marine Board Communications Panel recommends that marine science institutions should dedicate at least 10% of their staff time to marine science communication.
- In marine science communication, there are plenty of growth opportunities in order to better share expertize and to learn from each other. Connections with other science communicators and with communicators in other domains should be enhanced. Dedicated training programs and events (e.g. the CommOCEAN conferences) need to be further developed, both for marine scientists and for other marine science communication stakeholders. A marine science communication platform or database sharing expertise and resources, is not available today but could stimulate the exchange of skills and ideas. This enhanced connectivity could also help to make better use of new technologies and approaches to reach the wider public in order to enhance successful traditional methods (story-telling, hands-on activities, arts, visuals, etc.), ‘to make the invisible visible’, to stimulate curiosity and hunger for knowledge, and to actively connect with a wider audience.
- Finally, this is the perfect moment to make it happen. The entire Ocean community should collaborate under the umbrella of the UN Ocean Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) and the ‘EU Mission: Restore our Ocean and waters’, both unique opportunities to enhance marine science communication to help achieve the objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Further reading: European Marine Board Future Science Brief No. 8 `Marine Science Communication in Europe: a way forward’ (2022, PDF, 7MB).
- Kim Sauter
Head of Communication, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ)
- Jan Seys
Flanders Marine Institute spokesperson and coordinating author (Belgium)
- M. Carmen García Martínez
Director of the Oceanographic Centre of Malaga – Spanish Institute of Oceanography, and Chair of the European Marine Board Communications Panel – EMBCP (Spain)