Where does the salt in the ocean come from? What is the biggest animal in the ocean?

When students in grades seven to 12 in the coastal province of Nova Scotia were given a test on general ocean-related questions, the resulting overall score fell just below 50 per cent, with critical gaps of knowledge in the topics of ocean chemistry and geology.

Would the outcome be different here on the country’s west coast? Researchers believe not. They’d argue ocean examples are not incorporated into the classroom unless a teacher has a real passion and interest in it. A movement to introduce ocean topics into the core curriculum is taking place and the concept of Ocean Literacy has unfolded. Ocean Literacy is the understanding of the ocean’s influence on you and your influence on the ocean. An ocean-literate person understands the principles and concepts, can communicate about the ocean in a meaningful way, and is able to make informed and responsible decisions regarding the ocean and its resources.

Create and build the framework for your family to increase their ocean literacy with these investigative or experiential activities. (Note: each Ocean Literacy principle incorporates multiple ideas, too many to cover here; check out oceanliteracy.wp2.coexploration.org for more information and educational resources.)

Principle #1: The Earth has one big ocean with many features.
• Follow a river or stream all the way to the ocean.
• Learn about watersheds using the CRD’s online educational resources and their Ollie the Otter Watershed Warden program.
• Use a globe to visually understand most of Earth is covered by ocean.
• Study the watercycle and look at rain differently.

Principle #2: The ocean and life in the ocean shape the features of Earth.
• Visit your favourite beach before and after a storm. Are there physical or biological differences? Are there differences in summer and winter? Are these different than beaches you experience on vacation?
• Go storm watching and take in the power of waves.
• Look at a sand sample under a microscope or magnifying glass.

Principle #3: The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate.
• Take out a book on meteorology from the library.
• Watch the weather channel as a prompt to learn about El Niño, La Niña, hurricanes, cyclones, and other weather patterns or phenomena.
• Conduct weather experiments; many ideas can be found online.

Principle # 4: The ocean made life on Earthy habitable.
• Google stromatolites, cyanobacteria and plankton.
• Conduct experiments that demonstrate photosynthesis. What undergoes photosynthesis in the ocean?
• Embrace your child’s interest in dinosaurs or fossils. How many came from or lived in the sea?

Principle #5: The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.
• Visit an aquarium or marine education centre to get up close with marine diversity (see islandparent.ca; Hands-wet, Hand-on Learning by Tina Kelly highlights centres up and down the Island).
• Journal different beach ecosystems—sandy beaches, rocky beaches, sheltered bays, estuaries, spits, among others.
• Understand tide charts (tides.gc.ca) and survey the species you find at lowtide. Are the animals at hightide different—in colour, shape, size, texture, etc.? Why—predators, salinity, temperature, substrate?
• Challenge your child(ren) to pick a lesser-known creature or a microscopic organism when tasked with a school project on the ocean.
• Join a free nature program offered by CRD Parks; you’ll learn about local animals and ecosystems.
• Take a magnifying glass to the beach with the sole purpose of finding creatures smaller than a grain of rice.

Principle #6: The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.
• Participate in a beach clean. Talk about where the garbage may have come from—a beachgoer, ocean currents, storm drain?
• Learn where your drinking water comes from. Take a tour of the Sooke Lake Reservoir offered by the CRD.
• Conduct an inventory of your bathroom and kitchen cupboards. Do any of your products contain sea salt, carrageenan, algin or seafood?
• Visit the Royal British Columbia Museum to understand First Nations’ connections—food, transportation, clothing—to the sea.
• Learn what makes seafood “sustainable” with oceanwise.ca.
• Count freighters passing Southern Vancouver Island—a busy marine highway. Visit marinetraffic.com, plug in your coordinates and observe the numbers and types of vessels using our waters for pleasure, carrying ferry passengers or bringing goods from overseas.
• Contribute to a citizen science project (see islandparent.ca for Cellphones and Citizen Science by Tina Kelly).

Principle #7: The ocean is largely unexplored.
• Follow deep sea explorations live on your computer with Ocean Networks Canada (ONC, oceannetworks.ca). You’ll observe engineers, computer programmers, and scientists (chemists, biologists, geologists) at work with advanced technology, tools, sensors and submersibles. Citizens watching online can interact with scientists and ask questions. ONC also has remote live cameras displaying underwater reefs and vents.
• Have a friendly chat with a scuba diver about undersea conditions and how they overcome them, for example, pressure, oxygen, visibility.
• Check out live dives with the Fish Eye Project, fisheyeproject.org.

The biggest animal in the ocean is of course the blue whale but do you know where does the salt in the ocean comes from?

Additional activities can be found at ONC’s Ocean Aware Girl Guide Challenge.

Tina Kelly is the Director of Learning at the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea (formerly the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre).