Sea Beyond – The Case for Ocean Literacy in Canada
By Tom Paddon, CEO, Vale NL Ltd. & Baffinland Iron Mines Ltd.
In thirty years of being involved in businesses that revolved around shipping and the ocean I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t care about the environment. But having frequently straddled the arenas of science, business, and environmental concern I’ve been struck by how often misconceptions about businesses – and the people behind them – arise and persist.
Mining companies, among the largest customers of the global seaborne trade, are frequent and generous supporters of community causes, a logical reason why we are often asked to contribute to them. Encountering the awkwardness of a recipient organization later explaining that other funders would prefer our contribution not be publicly acknowledged because of their own environmental branding – and their concern at being associated with a mining company – was an object lesson in how damaging stereotypes can be.
Ocean industry is as broad a term as we can imagine and encompasses everything from fish harvesting to shipbuilding including ocean remediation, research and recreation – and yet the word ‘industry’ is to some a trigger, and not a positive one. In the absence of current knowledge about the scope and innovation of modern ocean industry too many people see it as too extractive, too pollutive, and too self-serving. In reality much is being done to address how ocean industry evolves to meet modern realities and future challenges, the work is wide ranging and genuinely impressive. And most people don’t know about it. Even more fundamentally most people don’t know much at all about the ocean and just how connected they are to it, (and it is just that: one ocean, regardless of how we divide it up and name it). That’s at the root of the problem. When it comes to a comprehension of all things marine – whether local, national or global and whether environmental, cultural or industrial – many Canadians are semi-literate at best. This needs to change and we all have a part to play.
A good problem to have is one that is well understood, that you can do much to address, and whose resolution will bring significant beneficial effect. This year marks the start of the United Nation’s Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and around the world efforts are being brought to bear on this topic. As with much in life the foundation is education and appreciation and therefore Ocean Literacy – understanding how we affect the ocean and how it affects us – is the starting point for many. The relatively new Canadian Ocean Literacy Coalition launched a national strategy to achieve this, complete with an implementation plan, on March 16th, 2021. I urge everyone to read the strategy and consider the implementation plan and your place in it – as a business or simply as an individual Canadian.
We are all tied to the ocean whether in the most vital sense (marine plankton produces at least two thirds of the world’s oxygen), or in more mundane ways (80% of global trade by volume and 70% by value is carried by sea and handled in the world’s ports). By 2050, the estimated world population of 9.1 billion people will require 470 million metric tonnes of animal protein annually. While land-based food production is ripe for significant improvement so that we are better able to produce more protein without using more territory, it is increasingly clear that the capacity of the ocean to responsibly feed billions is only now beginning to be understood. One estimate suggests that the ocean could sustainably produce all of the animal protein required in 2050, and while that is unlikely to happen it is clear that our reliance on the ocean will continue to be fundamental – for the air we breathe, the food we eat, the trade we require, and much more.
The mandate of the Canadian Ocean Literacy Coalition and its membership – which includes the Ocean Supercluster – will necessarily lead more Canadians to valuing and supporting the ocean and ocean industry. It is critical that the voice of responsible industry be heard in the current effort to educate our fellow citizens. It is that knowledge which will have currency in the widening discussion of how best to steward the world’s ocean and we must ensure opinions are well informed. We can all help in this effort, the COLC website is a good place to start.