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Part four in a series of articles to appear each month related to the New Ocean Ethic initiative of the Shorefast Foundation. This month the focus is on one of the 11 New Ocean Ethic project components – the Canada Ocean Lecture Series.

FOGO ISLAND — Whether it’s the waters off Fogo Island or those lapping the coast of British Columbia, what happens in the worlds oceans impacts each and every one of us, even if you call Saskatoon home.

“Canada has the largest coastline in the world bordering on three oceans,” said Gordon Slade, chair of the Shorefast Foundation. “It’s only logical for Canada to be taking a leadership role in all this.

“We are kind of an unusual coastal state in that only about 30 per cent of the population (of Canada) live on or near the oceans, but for those who don’t live near the oceans they are just as important to them as they are to the people on Fogo Island.”

Slade is all about educating people at home about the oceans. It was in 2006 that Slade and Dr. Patricia Gallaugher of Simon Fraser University (SFU), Centre for Coastal Science and Management, discussed the idea for a series of public lectures designed to raise awareness from coast to coast about Canada’s vast marine environment and its importance to all Canadians.  

The idea of the Canada Ocean Lecture Series was born, co-hosted by the Shorefast Foundation and SFU. They decide on whom they would like to invite to speak at the annual event and suggest topics for discussion, but the speakers (as experts in their fields) ultimately make the final decision. Such lectures take place all over Canada at the choosing of the speaker. Gallaugher said this year former prime minister Paul Martin has been invited to describe the findings of the recent report of the Global Ocean Commission.

“Lectures are not just science-based, but also include the importance of ocean and coastal policy and decisions based on sound science,” she said. “The capacity of government ocean science in Canada has declined significantly. The future lies in productive partnerships such as the one between SFU and MUN and our Centre and the Shorefast Foundation.”

Past lecture topics have included the consequences to Canadian marine biodiversity from climate change; unknown wonders of the deep oceans and changes to the Arctic Ocean.

“You just can’t look at the Arctic — you have the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans that are joined to the Arctic,” said Slade. “What happens in the Arctic is very much influenced by those two other oceans and what is happening with them.”

The first Canada Ocean Lecture delivered by then Fisheries and Oceans Minister John Fraser set the tone for those to follow by asking the question that still stands out for Slade, “Who speaks for the ocean?”

“These are big issues being addressed,” said Slade. “You might say we are not directly involved in them, but everyone is involved, everyone has to be involved because you can’t make change until you have the majority of the people believing it’s necessary to make the change to oceans or anything else.

“The idea with the lecture is can we convince more people in Canada that they should be interested in a healthier ocean and have them doing something about it.”

Gallaugher noted, “Only by communication of the ocean and its resources will we develop a type of ocean literacy in Canadians that will lead to ocean stewardship.”

Videos of past lectures can be accessed online through the SFU Centre for Coastal Science and Management.

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