International Ocean Literacy

23 March 2017

There are now many efforts around the world to develop ocean literacy programs and projects. A list of programs around the world that are called “ocean literacy” can be found on the website. As more programs called ocean literacy are created around the world the term “international ocean literacy” is now being used by some people.

What “international ocean literacy” means is now becoming a topic of discussion (2016-2017). As other regions and countries develop ocean education programs they are referring to the US efforts on ocean literacy. The challenges with using the term “international ocean literacy” and the development of ocean literacy programs around the world are introduced here on this webpage.

This current ocean literacy website (March 2017) was originally created in 2004/5 with support from the US National Science Foundation, Ocean Sciences Division, through their program called COSEE, the Centers for Ocean Science Education Excellence. That funding and support ended in 2012. This website is now supported by the College of Exploration from its own resources.

The term “ocean literacy” was originally created in the USA for an audience in the United States. The first guide published in the USA called Ocean Literacy was published in 2005. It had the sub-title: “The Essential Principles of Ocean Sciences K-12”. K-12 is an abbreviation in the USA that denotes Kindergarten to Grade 12 in schools, students aged from 6 to 18.

The design intent and boundaries set for the the ocean literacy project in the USA in 2004 were to establish what ocean science could and should be used to support the teaching of general science in Kindergarten to Grade 12 (6 – 18 year old students) in schools in the United States of America. This first guide contained a matrix that linked the essential principles and fundamental concepts to the US National Science Education Standards and Standards Sub-Categories at that time (2005).

The team that created that first guide was comprised of ocean scientists, educators from K-12 schools and universities in the USA, and some representatives from the US Government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The guide was specific to OCEAN SCIENCE. The guide and whole project was, and still is (2017), based on ocean science.

In retrospect the guide should have been more accurately titled Ocean Science Literacy. There is a huge difference between ocean science literacy and ocean literacy. Ocean literacy in the USA and Ocean Science Literacy in the USA probably mean very different things to different people. The differences and distinctions have not been explored, developed or documented.

Version 2 of the Ocean Literacy guide was published in March 2012. This guide was called Ocean Literacy and had the sub-title “The Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts of Ocean Sciences for Learners of All Ages.” Please note the relation of the words principles and concepts to ocean sciences in the that sub-title. It is all about ocean science. The definition of ocean literacy then follows as you open the guide to say Ocean Literacy: An understanding of the ocean’s influence on you — and your influence on the ocean.

This Version 2 guide removed the matrix linking the US National Science Education Standards to the Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts. A new set of standards called the Next Generation Science Standards (NSES) were published in April 2013. The NSES replace or supercede the standards listed in the first version of the guide. The relationship between the NSES and the Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts are referenced elsewhere on this website.

This whole website and the guide and the actions that have followed are all outcomes of the original design requirement to enable science teachers in schools in the USA teach general science by using ocean sciences. The intent was not to create a general guide for teachers to teach all aspects about the ocean. This original intent of identifying the ocean sciences to use to teach science in US schools is important to consider as “international ocean literacy” becomes more into focus.

The word “literacy” is also more common in the English language than other languages. The presents its own set of issues. A collection of literacy efforts is present at and also at

Therefore the phrase “international ocean literacy” is not easily translated in meaningful ways in other languages. If we used the phrase “international ocean science literacy” that would mean something different again in English and would also have challenges being translated into other languages. There are links descriptions of the concept of literacy on those pages.

Therefore we should all be very cautious about using the term “international ocean literacy” in different countries, cultures, contexts and settings. We should be clear about the difference and distinction between the understanding of ocean literacy and ocean science literacy. The term international ocean science literacy maybe more appropriate if actions are taken based on the USA ocean literacy program. If we are to explore “what the ocean’s influence on you and your influence on the ocean” means we need to develop a global conversation about ocean science education and general ocean education.