Basic Ocean Literacy

Partnering with the Ocean

Earth's Ocean supports all life on the planet. Covering 71 percent of Earth's surface, its influence on weather and climate, water and nutrient cycling, and habitable ecosystems is unsurpassed by any other feature on the planet. Despite its enormity, the ocean is finite and its resources are limited, and it is subject to the many inputs and disturbances caused by man's activities such as overfishing, oil spills, and plastic trash accretion. But the ocean is also strong and resilient, forever seeking to rebalance its systems in the face of threats and change, yet it may have a tipping point beyond which its power to survive as the conveyor belt for life on Earth is compromised.

Through exploration, research, and study, our understanding of the ocean and its importance to all life on Earth can lead to a greater appreciation of the influence of our activities on its health. With that understanding, we can more effectively live in partnership with the Ocean, empowering it to maintain its life support systems for us and other life. The Ocean is not, and will not be victim to human activity; it will endure. But whether it will sustain human and other life depends upon the degree and rapidity of change from its current condition.

Ocean literacy is a first step to understanding the ocean’s importance. From that understanding comes appreciation for its role in sustaining life on Earth, and from that appreciation comes the ability to make informed and responsible decisions about our activities and use of the oceans and its resources. We can be partners with the waters that nourish us. This is the goal, and necessity.

The Ocean Literacy Campaign ( publication Ocean Literacy: The Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts of Ocean Sciences for Learners of All Ages, Version 2: March 2013, is an excellent, short summary of concepts for understanding the ocean’s influence on us, and our influence on the ocean.


The principles are simple:

  • The Earth has one big ocean.
  • The ocean and life in the ocean shape the features on Earth.
  • The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate.
  • The ocean made Earth habitable.
  • The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.
  • The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.
  • The ocean is largely unexplored.

Each of these principles has brief concepts underlying them.

[The initial Ocean Literacy document was published in 2005 by National Geographic Society, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence, National Marine Educators Association, College of Exploration. The 2013 revision of the guide was supported by NOAA’s Office of Education and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, with contribution from numerous other organizations, which are listed in the publication and on the Ocean Literacy Campaign website.]

For materials on the Gulf of Mexico, visit the Gulf of Mexico Literacy page.