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Guest Blog by Anne Stewart: EMSEA 2014

Posted By Lisa D. Tossey, Saturday, December 20, 2014

EMSEA14 logoThe 2014 European Marine Science Education Association (EMSEA) conference was held at Gothenburg University, a center of marine science, in the medieval heart of the old city of Gothenburg, Sweden. The city boasts Sweden’s biggest science center as well as a wonderful aquarium and maritime museum. Lobster season was open as the conference began and so were the hearts and minds of attendees from around the world, ready to be inspired about ocean literacy and best practices in marine science education.

This blog is just a sketch of the conference, it only includes a few of the presentations and the view is my own. I also tweeted at the conference from my account and you can find everyone’s tweets by looking at #emsea14 on Twitter.

Gaelle Le Bouler opened the conference, addressing the audience from the perspective of the European Commission, where she is the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation. Gaelle put the importance of the conference into the context of current affairs in the European Union (EU) and emphasized the high-level, political will to advance ocean literacy in Europe. She spoke about the Galway Statement signed by EU, Canada and US and explained the structure and progress of working research groups. She shared her surprise with us at receiving thirteen proposals from consortiums responding to the EU Horizon 2020 called “BG-13-Ocean Literacy”.

Lisa Emelia SvenssonLisa Emelia Svensson, was the keynote speaker and as Sweden’s Ambassador for Oceans, Seas and Fresh Water, provides advice and expert guidance to the Swedish Minister for the Environment on the action needed to move forward on Sweden’s international ocean and water agenda. She is part of the Foreign Service and spoke knowledgeably about ocean issues, the different sectors, sustainability, politics and ocean literacy. She inspired all of us to view potential challenges as opportunities, by thinking outside of the box for a blue economy that is integrated with the green.

Svensson reminded us that new approaches, such as ecosystem-based management, must be explained to people with language that they understand. Sweden has committed to an ecosystem approach by 2018 and people need to understand the benefits. Ocean governance is also a challenge as there are 576 bilateral and multilateral frameworks.

She also spoke about a broad range of topics from maritime spatial planning, to maritime transportation, to innovations for a healthy planet, new consumerism and social media, and emphasized the importance of cross-sector work within government. She reminded us that ocean literacy is also needed within the government and she reported that on a global level, there are a lot of events and activities that can raise awareness about the ocean.

Svensson brought the audience back to self and the importance of individuals at the end of her talk, reminding us that ideas and leadership come from individual people. She suggested facilitating dialogue between scientists and policy makers, by starting at a local level and then scaling up. It was a treat to experience Svensson’s presentation. In my view, the creation of ambassadorships for oceans and water in more countries would help further global ocean literacy faster than any action.

The first session presenter was Joachim Dengg from GEOMAR in Germany. There are about 500 scientists at GEOMAR working on topics such as ocean circulation and climate dynamics, marine bio-geology, deep sea, natural hazards, resources from the sea and plate tectonics. He questioned whether school outreach in marine research was a welcome addition or an extra effort and concluded that scientists needed to be able to choose. He demonstrated the positive difference to the efficacy of outreach efforts that a judicious coordinator could make and how he plays this role himself. 

John Parr (MBA) takes over from Geraldine FauvilleSam Dupont presented on a case study of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) Facebook page and ocean literacy. The question was: can Facebook be used to increase scientific literacy? Geraldine Fauville, the PI, was at MBARI for ten weeks and had access to their amazing stories and materials. She was looking at how to optimize the posting strategy to engage users and was evaluating this using quantitative and qualitative techniques.

Their findings indicated that strategy doesn’t seem to change number of fans. The numbers reached were very variable, none to 50 per day, whether there was a post or not. She found that there are more hits if there are photos and videos and their conclusions were: use visuals, post as often as possible and when does not matter. The authors felt that there was a lot of investment of time and energy for a potentially limited rewards since it was a little like “singing to the choir”. However, a tweet from Jim Wharton of the Seattle Aquarium was a good reminder that “singing to the choir” is not in vain as it supports them in communicating to their networks which adds to the ripple effect that can ultimately have the most impact.

Next we jumped to Malta where Alan Deidun is setting up an ocean literacy hub. The International Ocean Institute (IOI) was started in 1972, has special consultative status at the United Nations and although centred in Malta, is now also found in 25 countries around the world. The Malta center is working toward ocean literacy and advocacy, training and education, and research and collaboration.

Spot the JellyfishDeidun talked about several IOI citizen science projects such as Spot the Jellyfish, which involves a range of participants, from school children to mobile phone users at sea, who photograph jellies and send them in along with location data. The program has produced posters, waterproof jelly guides, GIS jelly apps for iPhone and Android, and postcards. IOI has also produced three popular under-water documentaries on Marine Protected Areas as well as YouTube videos.

IOI is interested in taking this maritime hub further and is seeking partners on possible projects. They will be hosting the PERSEUS conference in November 2015. A question about divers had Alain pointing out that Malta has about 100,000 SCUBA divers visit annually so the potential for citizen science is great and already happening with invasive species.

The flash (one minute) poster presentations were a really great way for everyone to hear from all of the poster presenters and helped inform later discussions at the posters. Portuguese high school students and their teacher presented my favourite EMSEA poster. It outlined their original research on beach micro-plastics from clothing and gave us all a reason for ocean optimism. The integrity, passion and excitement of youth, certainly gives me hope for the future. Portuguese students with their teacher

Annie Russell and Susan Gebbels spoke about two of the different types of programs to create young coastal guardians at the Dove Marine Laboratory, at Newcastle University, and in local communities. The first uses a pedagogy that is student-led and includes topics such as marine ecology, maritime heritage, shipping and renewable energy. The questions that the students ask leads where the session will go, and yes, that is a scary idea for many educators. The learning then follows a truly inquiry-based approach, which is both interactive and provides access to things (objects, tools, artifacts) that promote learning not available to the students everyday. Educators have to be incredibly flexible, and aware that the children may learn things other than pre-set goals. 

The second type of program Russell and Gebbels spoke about was a five day program culminating in a multi-school event that raised awareness about ocean litter through art, including music, poetry and posters. On the final day all five schools got together on Oceans Day for a marine mammal talk, sand sculpting, and a poster competition. Students also created a huge collage, made a giant plastiki boat, sang sea shanties, wrote a messages in a bottle with what they learned, and made a pledge of what they would do to help.

Russell and Gebbels reported that the student buy-in is instant: they get to be creative, they gain confidence, and the legacy is that they become the teacher. Children and teachers were absolutely ‘hooked’ and all the resources are free online. Their advice for the audience was: make it relevant, achievable, and fun. 

One of my favourite sessions was a hands-on lab led by Mirjam Glessemer, who took her learners on adventures in oceanography and teaching right in the classroom. Her methodologies advance learning speed and depth through enquiry, peer-to peer learning, building on prior knowledge and understanding prior misconceptions. This was a busy, noisy, engaged workshop where everyone was talking, reasoning, and manipulating water, salt, and ice.

Nia Haf JonesNia Haf Jones presented on the Nautilus Exploration Program, which uses tele-presence technology to inspire the next generation in real-time. Nia is a very passionate Science Communication Fellow with the Ocean Exploration Trust, when not working with north Wales Conservation Fund. The Science Communication Fellows are trained at NOAA’s Inner Space Station at the University of Rhode Island, the site of next year’s NMEA conference. They also go to sea aboard the Nautilus for three week expedition and engage learners in events over the year. During the lunch break we had a brief tele-presence connection with the Nautilus crew as they did a deep dive in the Caribbean - an unplanned but awesome addition to the program.

Portugal stands out as a maritime nation that takes ocean literacy really seriously - they have designed a map for youth to help change their view of their country and extend their perspective out to sea. The beautiful new map places the outer limit of the continental shelf and Portugal on the right side, with the map centered on the sea. It was validated pedagogically and maps went to all the schools. Politicians, including the President, and the media got involved and there was lots of coverage by the press.

The educational team created teacher’s resources for geology, economy, ecology, pulled together lists of hands-on and minds-on activities, and the mapping team made maps of living and non-living resources, which all help in learning through discussion and debate. Workshops and teacher training was carried out to satisfy teacher’s needs for information, resources and access to the teams. Further links were made between the policy makers and educators/schools. I really like the way Portugal tackles Ocean Literacy and identifies itself as a maritime nation. Check out the map online even if you don’t speak Portuguese - it is pretty inspirational!

The last session I am going to cover is that of Luc Zwartjes, an amazing Belgian geography teacher who led a great open source GIS workshop that demonstrated how creating and manipulating maps can increase ocean literacy. In brief, he had a group of GIS neophytes making and saving ocean maps of wind-farms and shipping routes in no time at all. We can all be thankful that Luc also trains teachers amongst his many other contributions and accomplishments.

Finally, I have to add just one more tantalizing link: Discovery of Sound in the Sea. This is thanks to Gail Scowcroft’s thought-provoking presentation on ‘The science of underwater sound: merging research, education, and policy.” 

I'd like to send a big shout-out to the organizers of this conference including the EMSEA team, the University of Gothenburg and their friends at the Maritime Museum & Aquarium, Universeum, Sven Lovén Centre for Marine Science at Kristineberg and the upper secondary sailing school, Öckerö Gymnasieskola. I thank the organizers for allowing me to do a five-minute, dance-along presentation on ‘Canadian progress in Ocean Literacy with the Voices of Youth’ in the closing ceremonies. I am personally grateful to NMEA for a scholarship that helped me to attend. I hope that my tweeting and blogging goes a little ways towards showing my deep gratitude for that assistance to participate in the great conference that was EMSEA14. Also, thanks to Peter Tuddenham for his photos that I've included in this post.

If you want more information, check out the EMSEA conference website >

- Anne Stewart,  marine environmental educator and communicator
Read more from Anne on her personal blog, A Stewart in Bamfield

Tags:  conference  EMSEA 

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