The European Commission's Mission Starfish initiative aims to restore health to our seas and inland waters by 2030. Malta's Ocean Ambassador Alan Deidun, however, says most people remain emotionally detached from the big challenges currently facing our marine ecosystems.
To improve that, he says it's vitally important to raise public awareness about the state of our seas, especially with regard to pollution and climate change.
Ocean literate citizens
“You forget that every second breath you take comes from the ocean - more than 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean," Deidun explains.
"There's one important fact to keep in mind. And another thing is that the ocean is soaking up a lot of that extra carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that we're spewing up into the air through the burning of fossil fuels, if it wasn't for the ocean, climate change would be much worse because of higher CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.
So when you make people aware of these things, you turn them into ocean-literate citizens. You obviously, you know, start changing their mindset and also their behaviour and way of life to try to become change themselves, to bring about change themselves," Deidun says.
Bridging the emotional deficit
The EU-backed European Ocean Coalition (EU4Ocean) is also working to improve ocean literacy.
It connects a diverse range of organisations, projects, and people, to help improve the public's knowledge and create debate about what’s happening to our seas.
And Professor Deidun says, if we're to change the tide, it's about inspiring people to find out more.
“Here in Malta, one tool which I found to be really effective is citizen science, so basically asking and training, you know, and engaging with stakeholders - and stakeholders - a broad array of stakeholders, could be people using boats, could be divers, could be snorkelers, could be people - beachgoers, anybody you know on an island obviously could be a stakeholder - to actually engage with them to acquire scientific data about the sea.
"So in that way, you are acquiring the scientific data, but the person sending you the report is getting something in return, because they're getting a greater awareness about the sea. You know, they're getting this informal education, and you would be amazed about how popular citizen science campaigns are. They're really popular. They really managed to inspire people.
"So much so that nowadays many European institutions are actually looking towards citizen science as a way to bridge what we call the emotional deficit. At the Mission Starfish, we actually identified the emotional deficits as one of the greatest obstacles to inspiring people about the ocean - people still feel detached about the ocean.”