• Ocean literacy advocate Diz Glithero

    Lisa (Diz) Glithero was recently honoured with the Alex Trebek Medal for Geographic Literacy by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society for her work in geography education, in particular relating to ocean literacy. (Photo: Diz Glithero)

Diz Glithero is a national coordinator for the Canadian Ocean Literacy Coalition, a cluster of existing organizations that have come together from across Canada to better understand and advance ocean literacy in Canada. Originally a classroom teacher who taught both at the elementary and high school level, Glithero has taken part in projects such as the Canada C3 expedition and Students On Ice. In addition to her ocean literacy work, Glithero is also an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa.

On defining ocean literacy

It’s your understanding of the ocean’s impact on you and your impact on the ocean. More recently, the international community has also defined it as cultivating a civic relationship with the ocean. It’s about how much we value ocean health and establishing that ethic of care in people. The last part of that is around ocean action — how we can create opportunities and experiences for Canadians to actively contribute to ensuring healthy oceans for future generations.

The ocean is really the determining life system on the planet. It is absolutely essential that we have a healthy ocean in order to have life on land, not the other way around. As land dwellers, we don’t often pause to appreciate the need to have a healthy ocean to ensure our own health as humans. That knowledge gap is enormous. Often ocean scientists focus on wanting us to better understand the ocean, the species in it and ecosystems. And that is important, but I would argue that it’s actually understanding the ocean-health and human-health connections that might be even more essential.

On the work of the Canadian Ocean Literacy Coalition

There’s lots of great ocean education programs happening all across the country, but they’re really fragmented. We’re looking ahead to the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science through Sustainable Development, which starts in 2021, and there’s a real opportunity here for us to come together. My main focus over the last two years has been to lead a Canada-wide research initiative and an engagement process that has brought 3,000 Canadians and 400 organizations into a conversation around what is ocean literacy and how can we advance it. It’s about understanding the strengths, the barriers and the gaps across our five different regions — Atlantic, Pacific, Inuit Nunangat, St. Lawrence and inland Canada. In June, we published the reports from this study and have been working to take all the findings to synthesize into a national ocean literacy strategy, which we’ll be releasing in early 2021. There’s work to be done around better understanding how the ocean influences our lives, but what was really encouraging to find was that Canadians are very willing to change their behaviours and choices to support ocean health.

On the takeaways from the Canada C3 expedition

The Canada C3 journey was very affirming. It’s amazing how many Canadians don’t realize that we have the longest coastline in the world and that 50 per cent of that is in the Canadian Arctic. From the time you leave Newfoundland and circumnavigate the entire coastline until you get to Vancouver Island, you are exclusively in Indigenous territory. There were so many of those kind of truths and facts about our country that just aren’t part of our daily narrative or our identity. The government often refers to us as an ocean nation and yet most Canadians don’t identify that way.

As an educator, moving through that journey, what struck me was that so much of the innovation that we need to connect young people to these bigger issues is already happening. One of the things I took away from that was that we need to get better at telling those stories and shining a light on these projects and school initiatives, to amplify, connect them and tease out the best practises that are making them successful. And we need to recognize and support Indigenous leadership when it comes to water and ocean conservation because the most ocean literate people in Canada are Inuit and coastal First Nations. That comes back to education, that meaningful integration of Indigenous ways of knowing together with climate, water and ocean education.

On how to advance ocean literacy

If the ultimate aim is to increase Canadians’ care for the ocean, we have to be really mindful that more than 30 million Canadians live nowhere near the ocean. The biggest barrier for us going forward is for us to bridge the great work that is being done in freshwater education with efforts around ocean literacy. Up until now, those efforts have been largely siloed from one another by looking at what distinguishes fresh water from the ocean rather than what connects them. What we really need right now is a strong integration of water, ocean, climate, environmental, sustainability, and Indigenous education. When all of those are integrated, we’re heading to the same end goal — to create a healthier, more just, and sustainable society for future generations.

The biggest thing is experiences. We don’t act on what we know, we act on what we feel. So we need to create opportunities for students to foster personal connections with local waterways, taking them out of the classroom and to the local creeks, rivers and watersheds. Whether that’s taking them swimming or getting them working with a local scientist on citizen science, such as local water monitoring, so that they actually become the ears and eyes for a local waterway, observing changes over time. And their observations feed into a larger data-sharing platform.

On engaging youth in learning and action

One example, Swim Drink Fish Canada, is a water NGO that has a public app that anyone can use called Swim Guide, that’s looking at the health of local waterways. You feel like you are part of something bigger, contributing towards a common goal. I think any activities that teachers do to create opportunities for young people to feel that their actions are part of something bigger is really empowering. It cultivates that sense of agency in young people.

Ocean School is a fairly new initiative, which is a partnership between Dalhousie University, the National Film Board, and Ingenium. It’s this virtual storytelling platform for teachers about the ocean, so they can throw on VR headsets and can have inquiry adventures and establish a classroom action project that they want to do. That’s a great way that teachers can break the walls of the classroom and build more personal and emotional connections to water.

I’m most hopeful because of young people, because they are demanding and calling for action around land and water health. They are driving and demanding change. Our job as young-at-heart people is to create the space for young people to take all that energy they have and be able to engage meaningfully in processes that help enact that change. It’s not just about acknowledging that they have good ideas and enthusiasm but actually bringing them into the decision-making process.