Date: 19th September 2019

Words are important. The way that we communicate influences the way people think, feel and act.

There is only one ocean. We may give different parts of it different names but there is only one ocean and it works as a whole to help make all life on earth possible.

That’s why we are asking, quite simply, that you drop the ‘s’ from the end of the word ocean.

The ‘Drop the S’ campaign asks that you make the active decision to use ocean as a singular noun in all communication and that, where possible, you explain this choice to others and encourage them to do the same.

What’s the big deal with the ‘s’?

It has to do with the first and most basic principle of ocean literacy.

Ocean literacy is defined as ‘an understanding of the ocean’s influence on us and our influence on the ocean’. There are seven ocean literacy principles that scientists and educators agree everyone should know, in order to understand why the ocean is so important for the health of the planet and humankind. If people understand why the ocean is so important they will make more effort to protect it and efforts are underway across the globe to integrate these principles into education systems, societies and organisations, through training programmes, toolkits and education reform.

The first ocean principle is that Earth has one big ocean with many features. The different parts of the ocean are all part of one interconnected circulation system powered by winds, tides, the force of the Earth’s rotation, the Sun, and water density differences, that moves energy, matter and organisms around the globe. Although the ocean is large, it is finite and its resources are limited.

Talking about ‘the ocean’ reinforces the notion of connectedness. It reinforces people’s understanding that what happens in one part of the ocean will affect the other parts too. It reminds people that the ocean is part of one global system.

As an ocean community, we need to ensure that we model the behaviour and understanding that we seek to instil in others. While ocean literacy is widely considered to be a vital step in encouraging people to live and act more sustainably, as a community we sometimes overlook the basic ocean literacy principles ourselves.

For further information on how ocean literacy has evolved as a movement, the science behind the principles and case studies of ocean literacy in action, the UNESCO-IOC ocean literacy toolkit is a great resource: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000260721

In order for this effort to be a success, everyone needs to be on board. Referring to ‘the ocean’ should be the norm. As such, this campaign will encourage civil society, scientists, media and other ocean influencers to drop the S wherever possible.

‘Wherever possible’ recognises that some organisations have the ocean as plural in their title or campaign names and that this cannot be changed overnight.  That’s fine; organisations can think about the longer-term implications while implementing a new style guide for their day to day communications and messaging. We can all drop the S from now on.

How can you help?

Stop using the S when you write or speak from now on and make this the house style for your organisation.

If you are in a position to make a public statement about why you are doing this as a proactive commitment to ocean protection, then do so and encourage others to do the same.

The following guidance can be taken as a style guide for the implementation of principle one of ocean literacy.

There is only one ocean, consequently it should only be referred to in singular. The word is not capitalised except under the circumstances below. Terms such as ‘global ocean’ or ‘whole ocean’ can help people to understand this and are useful when differentiating between a named portion of the ocean, such as the Pacific, and the whole.

When referring to areas of the ocean which have been assigned a name, like the Atlantic, it can be described as ‘the part of the ocean called the Atlantic’; ‘the Atlantic area of the ocean’ or just ‘the Atlantic Ocean’ in which case the word ocean is capitalised to indicate that it is part of a proper name.

When you need to refer to several named areas, they remain singular and are managed as follows, ‘the Southern, Mediterranean and Atlantic areas of the ocean’. Although the word ‘sea’ is often used instead of ocean, it actually has a specific geographical meaning – it is a body of salt water often adjacent to or semi enclosed by land. Thus, there are several ‘seas’ within the ocean.

Areas beyond the national jurisdiction of any state are often referred to as the High Seas. ‘High Seas’ is a name for an area of the ocean and should have initial capitals. It is singular and should be treated the same way as any other named area of the ocean such as the Pacific.

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