Former European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Perit Karmenu Vella addressed the MMF-Westmed event on 12 May outlining the long list of free services provided by the oceans. “It is a main source of food, energy, minerals, and oxygen; it transports 90% of global trade; it regulates our climate; it hosts the biggest ecosystem; it absorbs 90% of the planet’s temperature; and it is the planet’s main carbon sink” he said.

Yet, he explained, many today are living in “ocean blindness” because they are unaware of how we and the ocean affect each other. This is the essence of ocean literacy and without it we cannot appreciate our dependence on the ocean and the need to protect it.
Ocean literacy can empower policy makers to take informed decisions and present the right solutions.

For us Mediterraneans “Mediterranean literacy”, is as important as “ocean literacy”. Our Mediterranean is one of the biggest enclosed seas on the planet. It has shaped the history, traditions, cultures, and economy of all its literal states. It is robust and plentiful, but equally fragile and at risk.

Economically, the Mediterranean is already a source of the region’s economy with its traditional and emerging sectors. Environmentally, the Med is the third most polluted sea on our planet, contaminated with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of plastic waste every year, and with 90% of its stocks being overfished. Socially and culturally, the Mediterranean is referred to as the cradle of civilization, home to the richest cultures in the world and always a main protagonist in world history.

This region is still very poor in ocean literacy because of an absence of ocean teachings in formal education and a shortage of ocean educators.

We are citizens of the same Sea sharing a common destiny, with common benefits and common responsibilities. Mediterranean literacy can facilitate a better understanding between its litoral states and their citizens especially through the responsible development of the Blue Economy.

One of the main challenges and problems to develop and grow the Blue Economy is the unavailability of adequate skills. Highly qualified and skilled professionals are a prerequisite for a competitive and resilient blue economy.

The skills gap cannot be addressed by ocean literacy alone. We also need to invest in capacity building, skills and career development. This is where education and industry must collaborate. Ocean literacy is the first step, creating awareness and raising the attractiveness of blue careers among students and young professionals.

The EU is supporting all MS with funding of research, innovation, and the development of blue skills as part of its solution to reduce the skills gap.

Perit Vella concluded “We must make ocean literacy one of the pillars of international actions to safeguard our ocean. Ocean literacy is not an end in itself, but a tool and a means to an end.”

Karin Grech
Author: Karin Grech