Initial Publication Date: September 19, 2019

The oceans must play a role in sustainable societies

Lauren Sahl, Maine Maritime Academy

When educating for a sustainable future it is vital that the ocean be included. The ocean provides essential goods and services to the planet. As more of the global population migrates to the coast, more resources are extracted from the ocean (such as food, minerals and energy) and more pollutants are discharged into the ocean, the pressures experienced by the ocean will impact everyone, not just coastal dwellers. Education of all stakeholders will be necessary to effect needed changes, and Earth Education will play a central role.

The many sustainability issues facing the ocean include plastics, dead zones, over-exploited fisheries, aquaculture, resource extraction, habitat destruction, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, mercury contamination, rising temperatures, ghost fishing, etc. Traditional education in oceanography has focused on the science of the ocean, with problems and problem resolution often relegated to a side bar in the textbook. It is time for the science to be supplemented with tools that will help people solve these problems. Although some of these tools will be based in science and technology, there will also have to be tools for working within societal structures to achieve goals.

The challenge for traditional Earth Science departments will be to build bridges to other departments, community groups, governmental and non-governmental agencies, etc. to engage and include stakeholders. Without such engagement and inclusion it is unlikely that change can happen. Achieving such solutions will require a deep understanding of the science (and here Earth Science departments already do a good job), but also a willingness to listen and learn, to compromise and the patience to see things through as the wheels of change can grind so slowly. The solutions to many ocean problems, such as plastic pollution, ocean acidification and warming of ocean waters will not be solved by one community or even one country. Students will need to think globally but understand the smaller scale actions that will lead to a solution. Young people are very aware of many environmental problems, and some are leading the way in solving them. My students have been inspired by Boyn Slate, who as a young person started The Ocean Cleanup with a mission to clean up the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. These young people have courage, now they need to tools to use it effectively. That is what an Earth Sciences education can give them.

Downloadable version of this essay

The oceans and sustainability (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 13kB Sep19 19)