The Canadian Commission for UNESCO’s IdeaLab is a forum for reflecting on current topics of interest to Canadians within the mandated areas of UNESCO. Experts from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO’s broad network explore a variety of topics and offer new perspectives to encourage inter-sectoral and cross-disciplinary dialogue. The discussion papers published through this forum are intended for governments, national and international network partners, and civil society.


Lisa (Diz) Glithero, Pd. D.
National Coordinator, Canadian Ocean Literacy Coalition

Hilistis Pauline Waterall
Adjunct Professor, Vancouver Island University; Hailhzaqv elder

Mary Simon, OC, QC
Inuit rights advocate and former diplomat

Wendy Watson Wright, Ph. D.
CEO, Ocean Frontier Institute*

*Between article submission and publication release, Wendy retired from the Ocean Frontier Institute.

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Through our lived and shared experiences, the ocean can come to mean something different to us all. For some, the ocean is directly linked to livelihoods, food security, and socio-cultural well-being. For others, the ocean is an escape, a place to recalibrate, recreate, and explore. For others still, whether by lack of accessibility or by choice, the ocean is a distant known unknown.

Internationally, ocean literacy is commonly defined as the extent to which we understand our impact on the ocean and the ocean’s impact on us. For coastal First Nations and Inuit in Canada whose culture, livelihoods, and identity are inextricably linked to the ocean, ocean literacy can be seen as a modern and nebulous term for something that has always been known, understood, and practiced for generations. Literacy, ocean or otherwise, has always risked leaving out much of the local, place-based, and Indigenous knowledge base.

From the Pacific coast to Inuit Nunangat to the Atlantic, to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region – arguably Canada’s fourth coastline – and to all the waterways that exist in(land) between, Canada is as diverse as it is big. Amidst the facts, diverse perspectives, and expertise, some key questions remain: to what extent do we, as Canadians, recognize the ocean as the determining life system on the planet? If our life on land depends on the ocean, and particularly a healthy one, to what extent do we need to be engaging in a civic relationship with the ocean, and what responsibilities might that entail? Is a personal connection (be that physical, geographical, socio-cultural, emotional, spiritual) to the ocean needed in order for us to act, individually and collectively, with ocean health in mind?

These and other questions guide this reflection paper in exploring Canadians’ civic relationship with the ocean.

Download the publication here!