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Ocean Literacy


The Ocean and You
Ocean literacy is an understanding of the ocean's influence on you—and your influence on the ocean.

Whether they live near a beach, or thousands of miles inland, whether they’ve touched a sea star in a tide pool, or watched a movie about an injured dolphin, young learners are fascinated by ocean animals. As they get older, their ocean awareness expands to include concern about huge disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis, and massive climate-triggered changes like melting polar ice.

Connect your learners to the ocean with howtosmile.org activities aligned to each of the seven Ocean Literacy principles below. Read "Ocean Literacy: The Essential Principles of Ocean Sciences" here. This framework introduces ocean sciences consistently into K-12 classrooms. Partners in framing the principles included the National Geographic Society, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science. Learn more about the principles and where they come from in this College of Exploration video.


Essential Principles
Choose one of the essential principles to view related activities.

The Earth has one big ocean with many features.


The ocean is the dominant physical feature on our planet Earth—covering approximately 70% of the planet's surface. There is one ocean with many ocean basins, such as the North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian and Arctic.

The ocean and life in the ocean shape the features of the Earth.


Many earth materials and geochemical cycles originate in the ocean. Many of the sedimentary rocks now exposed on land were formed in the ocean. Ocean life laid down the vast volume of siliceous and carbonate rocks.

The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate.


The ocean controls weather and climate by dominating the Earth's energy, water and carbon systems.

The ocean makes the Earth habitable.


Most of the oxygen in the atmosphere originally came from the activities of photosynthetic organisms in the ocean.

The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.


Ocean life ranges in size from the smallest virus to the largest animal that has lived on Earth, the blue whale.

The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.


The ocean affects every human life. It supplies freshwater (most rain comes from the ocean) and nearly all Earth's oxygen. It moderates the Earth's climate, influences our weather, and affects human health.

The ocean is largely unexplored.


The ocean is the last and largest unexplored place on Earth—less than 5% of it has been explored. This is the great frontier for the next generation's explorers and researchers, where they will find great opportunities for inquiry and investigation.