Pablo Neruda said that ' I Need the Sea Because It Teaches Me’ and after time, science proved him right. Oceans are of great importance in ecological (climate regulation, biodiversity) and societal (economic activities, environmental services, and residence) terms. Healthy oceans are therefore fundamental to achieving global sustainability. The European Union has identified ‘blue growth’, or the sustainable use of the oceans, as a core societal challenge for its research programmes (e.g. Horizon 2020). However, at present, we still have a challenge to promote ocean literacy in order to help citizens understand the influence of the oceans on our lives and the impacts of our behaviour on it. Following this approach, an educational movement, called Ocean Literacy, started over 10 years ago in the USA. The main stimulus for this stream was the recognition of a clear absence of marine knowledge within the general population (Aqua TT, 2015). In this sense, given our dependence on the health of the ocean for a wide range of ecosystem services, the 'meaning' and 'attachment' to the largest ecosystem on Earth must be assumed extensively by various sectors. As a key interface, marine tourism has a key role to play in achieving this. Tourism research of twenty first century is defined by the motivations, behaviours and choices of the travellers due to the fact that recreation, at present, is based on the experience (Holbrook & Hirschman, 1982; Álvarez Sousa, 2004). As a result, within the context of the Experience Economy (Pine & Gilmore, 1998), 'place meaning' contributes to the value and significance of the setting through the cognitive concepts or/and beliefs of the individual (Stedman, 2002). Concurrently, the 'place attachment' reflects the degree of bond to the setting (Kyle et al., 2003). Regarding this, the present study asks, how can underwater marine ecotourism contribute towards the place-based marine environmental awareness through Ocean Literacy? To answer this main question, an ethnographic study with emic perspective was implemented in a case study in Mallorca (The Balearic Islands, Spain). The fieldwork was conducted during six months (during the tourist season of 2016), using participant observation and semi-structured and unstructured interviews with divers, staff and the potential stakeholders network (science, government, NGO's, and professional associations). The scenario identified was an industry involved in a transitional period. It is suggested that this is due to the fact the activity is still conducted as a ‘sport’ but where the tourism is now the main client. At the same time, the experience is based on ‘what you see' but without a systematic transfer of knowledge, and where the staff are poorly trained in heritage interpretation and communication skills. Consequently, the entire structure loses the opportunity to connect the divers to Mediterranean Sea through a ‘sense of place’. Nevertheless, suitable conditions for further development are present: motivated staff; a clear demand of ocean knowledge from tourists; proper facilities; and an active network of knowledge production close to them. As a result, the study suggests a structure to put in place an Ocean Literacy stream in the current recreational diving industry in order to contribute to the aspiration of improved global ocean citizenship.
- ocean literacy, ocean citizenship, recreational diving, marine stakeholders, sense of the place, environmentally responsible behaviour
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