Scientists call for change in conversation to protect ocean

  • Date

    Wed 25 Nov 20

image of one ocean

Essex marine biologist Dr Michelle Taylor is part of an international team of scientists calling for an urgent change to the way we think and talk about the ocean.

Their report “Evolving the narrative for protecting a rapidly changing ocean, post COVID-19” breaks ground in recognising how effective use of language can change the trajectory of ocean decline.

Published in the journal Aquatic Conservation, the paper provides recommendations for decision makers, scientists and NGOs in the ocean and climate fields and makes six, scientifically informed points which everyone should understand and act on.

“Words, and how we express our connection to the ocean, clearly matter now more than ever before,” they write. The authors point to the absence of consideration of the ocean in most discussions about a post COVID world and believe that the global-scale policy change needed will not be forthcoming without an improved understanding and articulation of the role of the ocean in our lives. Although the health of the ocean is deteriorating swiftly and to the detriment of humankind, very little is done to address the situation.

The first, most basic step that the scientists point to is for the ocean to be recognised as a single entity. There is only one ocean, it has different areas with different habitats and names, but it is all connected and works as a whole to make all life on Earth possible.

Dr Taylor, from our School of Life Sciences, said: “This paper is important because ocean literacy and protection is crucial to human survival. We need to approach global scale problems holistically and that means addressing the whole ocean as one. That needs an evolution of the narrative we currently have, the blueprint for which is presented in this paper.

“By protecting the ocean we protect ourselves, but there is a limited window for action; we need our ocean community to work on the solutions listed in our paper. Post-COVID rules and laws will change and we need the ocean to be at the heart of those, as it is the beating blue heart of our planet.”

Lead author of the report, Professor Dan Laffoley, from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said: “Humanity cannot survive without a healthy ocean performing the services that make our planet habitable and allow us to live. We have to understand that the one ocean of our planet is vital to our existence so let’s start talking about it in those terms.”

The authors hope that improving knowledge about the role of the ocean in our lives – something, for example, which is not featured in many school curricula – will increase the attention paid to the ocean and the urgency with which action is taken.

The six key narrative points from the report are:

  • All life is dependent on the ocean
  • By harming the ocean, we harm ourselves 
  • By protecting the ocean, we protect ourselves 
  • Humans, the ocean, biodiversity, and climate are inextricably linked
  • Ocean and climate action must be undertaken together
  • Reversing ocean change needs action now