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World Oceans Day: research finds Nova Scotia youth need more ocean education

Posted by The Faculty of Science on June 8, 2015 in News, Environment, Science
(L-R) Doug Wallace, Haley Guest and Heike Lotze teamed up to explore the level of ocean literacy among Nova Scotian youth. (Nick Pearce photo)
(L-R) Doug Wallace, Haley Guest and Heike Lotze teamed up to explore the level of ocean literacy among Nova Scotian youth. (Nick Pearce photo)

HALIFAX, N.S. – June 8, 2015 – Researchers at Dalhousie University have found that Nova Scotian public school students in grades 7-12 average below 50 per cent when tested on their ocean knowledge. Their study, published recently in the journal Marine Policy, emphasizes the importance of ocean education and literacy for the future health of the world’s oceans.

“Nova Scotia is a region with strong connections to the sea, but how ocean-literate are Nova Scotian youth?” said Haley Guest, lead author of the study and recent Dalhousie environmental sciences graduate. “Ocean-literate individuals understand their impacts and make behaviour changes to reflect that knowledge. Improving ocean literacy among youth may lead to improved ocean health in the long run.”

Guest, an ocean education research associate at Dalhousie collaborated with two of Dal’s ocean researchers to explore the level of ocean-literacy among Nova Scotian youth today. Dr. Doug Wallace, Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Ocean Science and Technology and Dr. Heike Lotze, Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Marine Renewable Resources combined their expertise worked with Guest to prepare the ocean quiz and a supporting survey. Funds from Wallace’s CERC appointment supported this study.

The quiz and survey were distributed in November 2013 to 723 students at 11 public schools across the province. Results showed the average score on the quiz was below 50 per cent, with most demonstrated knowledge and interest focusing more on ocean life, particularly marine animals, and less on physical or geochemical features in the ocean. The results also indicate that those with higher quiz marks were more likely to take an interest in ocean-related jobs and careers—a sector currently on the rise in Nova Scotia.

Data from the survey shows that students with multiple interests in ocean-related activities—like going to the beach, swimming and fishing—had higher quiz scores. This suggests a link between time spent near the ocean and a general understanding of ocean science, but also raises a flag that classroom curriculum is falling short.

Ultimately, students still demonstrated a high valuation for oceans despite lower quiz scores.

“This tells us there is an understanding of the importance of oceans, but youth may not necessarily know why that is,” explained Guest. “It’s clear that advancing ocean literacy in Canada has great potential for the oceans, society and the economy. We encourage the promotion of ocean awareness in schools so students graduate as more informed global citizens who understand how they influence the ocean, and how the ocean influences them.”

Guest is currently sitting on the Board of Directors of the recently formed Canadian Network for Ocean Education (CaNOE). The organization is holding the first Ocean Literacy in Canada conference June 17-18 in Vancouver, where Guest will present her findings. Also attending the conference and giving the keynote address is Dalhousie marine biology researcher Dr. Boris Worm. The conference is sponsored by the Marine Environmental Observation, Prediction and Response Network (MEOPAR), which is hosted by Dalhousie University.

Guest and Worm have partnered with the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and are in the early stages of planning an "Oceans School" concept for NFB's CAMPUS program, which would bring oceans education to schools across the country. Studies have shown that many students tend to lose interest in sciences during middle school. This concept will target that age group and help teachers use an innovative ‘ocean lens’ through which to teach core science curriculum—building on the inherent fascination that students have shown for ocean life.

Media Contacts
Nikki Comeau
Communications Officer, Dalhousie University
(902) 222-8810 / (902) 494-4189


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