A deep dive on Canadians’ relationship with the ocean

The Team

Mitacs Accelerate intern Lisa “Diz” Glithero, postdoctoral researcher at Dalhousie University.

The Challenge

Canadians underestimate the impact a healthy ocean has on our wellbeing and that of our planet — and as a result, may not realize the importance of ocean stewardship.

The Solution

This research measured public perceptions of the ocean and the role it plays in our lives, and mapped ocean literacy initiatives nation-wide to identify strengths, gaps, and priorities. This work culminated in Land, Water, Ocean, Us: A Canadian Ocean Literacy Strategy, now seen internationally as a model to follow.

The Outcome

The strategy is now being implemented nationally by the Canadian Ocean Literacy Coalition, and will strengthen ocean-climate education, establish grants for community-based ocean literacy work, and expand training and leadership opportunities in ocean conservation.

The world’s first national ocean literacy strategy maps out how Canada — and the world — can strengthen marine conservation and our understanding of the ocean

As the nation with the longest coastline in the world, Canada’s environment, economy, and overall health are deeply influenced by the ocean — perhaps more than many Canadians realize. This idea led Dr. Glithero and her team to measure Canadians’ understanding of the impact of the ocean on their lives, and in turn the impact their daily activities have on marine ecosystems.

Dr. Glithero was a postdoctoral researcher at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia — a part of the country affectionately known as Canada’s ocean playground. It was from here that Glithero and her all-woman team of postdocs and research assistants conducted a study diving deep into Canada’s relationship with the ocean.

Through this project, which was supported by Mitacs’s Accelerate program and received funding from the Government of Canada, as well as over a dozen partner organizations, Glithero and her team gained a better understanding of the national population’s ocean knowledge, perceptions, and values. The team engaged more than 3,000 people and over 400 organizations across the country in the study. What they found was that, although the vast majority of Canadians — 90 percent — agreed that the ocean plays an important role in Canada’s economy, only one-third felt it directly influenced their day-to-day lives.

Glithero and her team believe that’s a problem.

“We need to understand how our choices, decisions, behaviours, and actions impact the ocean, for good or for bad,” she said. “There are more than 30 million Canadians living inland who don’t get to see the ocean, yet we all need to realize that more than 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe comes from it, that it regulates climate, stores carbon, provides food, medicine, jobs, and more.”

The data Glithero’s team collected throughout the project informed the development of the world’s first national ocean literacy strategy. Land, Water, Ocean, Us: A Canadian Ocean Literacy Strategy identified nine action areas based on the study’s findings. These include initiating an oceans awareness campaign, strengthening ocean-climate education in schools, establishing grants to support community-based ocean literacy work, building engagement and diversity in youth training, increasing leadership opportunities in ocean conservation and the “blue” economy, and developing international collaborations for ocean literacy research.

Now, the strategy developed by Glithero and her team is being implemented across the country by the Canadian Ocean Literacy Coalition and partner organizations.

Glithero’s work has furthered Canada’s global leadership in the effort to promote and sustain ocean health. She has even presented the results of the team’s work in Nigeria, the U.K., and Ireland. The strategy is now seen internationally as a model to follow.

“Ocean literacy is about much more than teaching kids ocean facts in school. It is a mechanism for change, empowering people and communities — all of us — to be engaged civic actors ensuring ocean health. Taking action to eliminate single-use plastics, helping to establish ‘blue spaces’ such as public swimming piers, and learning more about Indigenous-led conservation work being done in Canada are a few examples,” Glithero said. “We need to remember, now more than ever, that a healthy ocean is required for life on land, not the other way around.” 

For her work on this breakthrough ocean conservation research, Glithero received the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation — Postdoctoral at an Ottawa ceremony last November. This award is presented to a Mitacs fellow who has made a significant achievement in research and development innovation during their Mitacs-funded research. 

For Glithero, the opportunity to spearhead the development of the Canadian strategy is a special opportunity — one she said she couldn’t have done without the support of Mitacs.

“Mitacs understands the diverse funding ecosystem required for a project of this nature, and the importance of supporting a researcher’s essential role as a connector to bridge people, projects, and ideas across regions, sectors, knowledge systems, and scales,” she said. “We’re not innovating a product. We’re shifting consciousness and building relationships with each other and the ocean. We couldn’t have done it without the visionary funding leadership of a partner who supports that transformative role.” 

Mitacs’s programs receive funding from valued partners across Canada. We thank the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon for supporting us to foster innovation and economic growth throughout the country. 

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