Getting the message out – the ocean is vital for human life

For two days leading scientists and communications experts attended the Ocean Communications Symposium in Barcelona to discuss ways of advancing strategic ocean communications.
10 may 2024

Half the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean. It regulates our climate. Billions depend on it for food and livelihoods. Yet people are not aware of this or the huge problems we are creating. The science is clear but how to communicate this in a way that engages people? How to ensure that solutions reach everyone and work for everyone?

On 8th and 9th April, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s Sustainability Programme hosted the Ocean Communications Symposium, an official pre-Conference event in partnership with the Ocean Decade organiser, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) UNESCO and ocean strategy specialists, Communications (Comms) INC to advance the communication of ocean science and sustainability.

The Symposium gathered people from media, psychology, the social and natural sciences and other disciplines from across the world to share knowledge, understand the challenges and identify solutions.

Headlines from the Symposium

Participants explored four areas of work – audience data and research; messages and messengers; training diverse spokespeople; and scaling successful approaches. The format was interactive, a mix of group discussions, quickfire presentations and case studies from around the world, designed to exchange insights and ideas and build a global inter-disciplinary network of ocean communicators.

The Symposium highlighted four priorities:

  1. Increase investment in ocean communication: It is under-valued and under-resourced. We need to show the strategic role it plays in scaling ocean solutions and resource it appropriately.
  2. Create a global network of strategic communicators: The establishment of a global practitioner network was a significant outcome of the Symposium.
  3. Promote evidence-based approaches: Research and data underpin effective communication. Participants identified key opportunities, including a new global ocean and society survey, and existing evidence on how different audiences respond to communication on the ocean.
  4. Prioritise Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI): Applying JEDI principles in ocean communications is central to engaging more people on ocean issues.
Highlights from the Communications Symposium's graphic recording Credit: Teresa Aldeo

A multi-stakeholder project for the global community of ocean communicators

The Symposium is a key milestone in the Advancing Strategic Ocean Communication project, a longer-term initiative led by Gulbenkian, IOC-UNESCO, Comms INC, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to improve ocean communication. Through consultations and events, this multi-stakeholder project is responding directly to priorities identified by the sector and recommendations in the recently published UN Ocean Decade white paper on ‘Restoring Society’s Relationship with the Ocean’.

The initiative will result in accessible new resources and, critically, a series of virtual and in-person events and trainings to promote widespread use. It will also develop an evidence framework to help assess the impact of ocean communications. The aim is to strengthen the global community of practitioners and increase philanthropic investment in ocean communications – responding directly to the priorities identified at the Symposium.

Inclusion is a key principle, maximising participation from regions typically underrepresented in ocean communications circles. A JEDI Advisory Board – comprised of nominated members – is overseeing the project delivery and outputs. The Symposium aimed for 50/50 parity between Global North and Global South representation.

Championing the importance of ocean communications

The Foundation has invested in ocean communication research and engagement for a number of years, recognising that effective communication underpins all the work that is done to protect the ocean.

Research that we conducted 10 years ago showed us that, underlying all the problems facing the ocean, a lack of understanding about why the ocean matters was one of the biggest challenges. We know that with understanding comes concern, and when people feel more connected to an issue, they are more likely to act.

Addressing this broader lack of public awareness is critical to shifting opinions and action on ocean health. This goes beyond specific policy campaigns – it is about changing the overall “mood music”, or public narrative. This is what will create sustained support for ocean action, ensuring that policies are secured and implemented for the long term.

The current project builds on a workshop we held at the Foundation as part of the UN Ocean Conference 2022, and a subsequent report on priority areas for support.

Find out more and participate

We need more investment in and deployment of strategic communications in the ocean sector. This includes better sharing and use of approaches that work (from within and beyond the sector), innovating and testing new approaches, and collaboration between organisations and policy campaigns.

Join a webinar to learn more and hear a digest of the Communications Symposium. We are offering the webinar in multiple time zones on 15 May (hosted in English, with interpretation in Portuguese, French and Spanish). Reports and materials from the project will be available soon.


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