In her interview with the National Geographic on 8 November, Francesca Santoro, Programme Specialist of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, explained the importance of the Ocean Literacy programme, highlighting the fundamental role of the ocean in our lives and simultaneously stressing the need of our contribution in preserving it. The interview was a part of the National Geographic Fest 2021, a seven-day event aimed at encouraging a more sustainable way of living our planet by convening experts from different fields to share their stories.
In recent years, we have been experiencing a situation where climate change and global warming are increasingly threatening our planet, causing a significant deterioration of the environmental and marine conditions resulting from the phenomena such as carbon dioxide emissions, deforestation and massive pollution.
More specifically, when thinking about the ocean, what often comes to our minds are images of tragic scenarios, such as sea animals affected by plastic pollution and polar caps melting with a subsequent increase in the sea level. The ocean’s worsening situation and its consequences urgently need to be taken into consideration in the climate change debate.
At the same time, it is also extremely important to recognise the ocean as the source of solutions to combat the ongoing climate crisis, and, thus, how crucial it is to preserve it. The ocean plays a critical role in our lives although most people remain oblivious to its crucial functions. Despite being the defining feature of our planet, the ocean continues to be predominantly unexplored and understudied primarily due to the expensive costs of oceanographic research.
In this context, the participation of Francesca Santoro, IOC-UNESCO Ocean Literacy Programme Specialist, the National Geographic Fest 2021 was extremely enlightening. She clarified the importance of preserving the ocean, while transporting the theme of the ocean to a wider audience by making it more accessible. Interviewed by Marco Cattaneo, Director of National Geographic Italia, she explained what the ocean offers us and why we need to take care of it.
There are a number of different reasons to thank the ocean, ranging over different fields. Among the most mundane but fundamental benefits is the production of oxygen, which is produced from 50 to 80% in the sea by the phytoplankton; and climate regulation, which allows landmass areas to be habitable.
During the interview, Santoro mentioned the benefits more directly linked to human health, for instance, being near the sea can improve the heart rate and blood pressure. More specifically, she underlined that “the ocean is a large pharmacy open to us all.”, It is astonishing to learn the possibilities of developing medicines from substances produced by organisms living in the ocean abysses, which can be used to treat severe diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer.
In the context of climate change, the ocean plays a pivotal part, in fact “the ocean is our best ally against climate change, against the climate crisis, also because, up until now, it has absorbed about 28% of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere due to antropogenic activities,” emphasised Francesca Santoro.
Nonetheless, the ocean is still not a subject of negotiation in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Instead, the preservation of the ocean and its forests should be placed at the centre of negotiations for climate action, as Santoro pointed out, “working on the restoration and regeneration of marine ecosystems is one of the solutions to the climate crisis”.
It, therefore, becomes essential to raise awareness and disseminate knowledge on the importance of the ocean’s well-being for our lives and for our planet. This can be achieved by investing more in education, which would lead to the ability to make more conscious and well-informed decisions.
The Ocean Literacy programme, pursued by Francesca Santoro, is highly relevant and useful in this context because it teaches us to understand our connection with the ocean. More importantly, having knowledge and greater awareness on the ocean’s situation is fundamental to developing solutions to the current issues. Education and information, hence, become, central elements in the safeguarding of the ocean, and contributing to the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, a ten-year initiative to better understand the ocean and bring solutions for its sustainabilty.
In her interview with National Geographic, Francesca Santoro meticulously explained the interconnection between the ocean and human beings, also highlighting the mutual influence that exists between the two entities. Understanding this relationship is highly important and it should create a sense of collective responsibility, leading each one of us to do their part and feel, which begins with sharing knowledge and raising awareness, followed by actions. The goal is to become what Francesca Santoro called the “Ocean Generation”, in other words a generation fully aware of the significance of the ocean for our planet and, above all, a generation capable of acting.