Science and the vast ocean that remains to be discovered
By Samira Scoton
Ph.D. Student in Maritime Studies (PPGEM/EGN); MSc in International Security and Defense (PPGSID/ESG); Researcher at Economy of the Sea Group (ESG); at Simulations and Scenarios Laboratory (LSC/EGN); and at Center for Studies and Research in International Environmental Law and Sustainable Development (NEPEDIMA/UERJ); Lawyer (FND/UFRJ).
This month’s column is a reflection rather than an attempt to bring up pressing (and perhaps alarming) ocean-related issues. Since I started my columns, I have adopted the posture of bringing up the themes informally, lighter, and with a bit of poetry (when possible). Then, I agree that both readers, emerged and immersed in the ocean, could understand a little bit of the ocean problematics. But this month I decided to bring up a very thorny topic: the dissemination of science beyond research centers.
Nowadays, the importance of science has been vehemently questioned by a part of the population. This is quite frightening, especially for those who work to produce knowledge, seeking to bring progress to society. In a scientist’s mind (and I place myself in this group) it is unbelievable that the importance of science is questioned.
If there is something that a scientist does, it is questioning. The method, the application, the theory, the problem… All of them are questioned. There are so many questions that our minds do not stop. But the importance of science is never questioned. In this way, I found myself thinking (and questioning) why. Do we scientists have a share of responsibility in this current reality? Was it a matter of communication?
A language is constructed by many languages, and perhaps academic language, in general, is not accessible to people. It is necessary to involve, to generate the feeling of belonging and closeness so that those who do not work daily with producing science, may feel part of it. As such that they question the problems and methods, but not the importance of the science.
For this purpose, the Extension Programs of the Universities were designed. But how inclusive are they? How far does the extension of these programs go? They are necessary, however, instead of expanding, they are reduced every day by the lack of funds allocated to education. It results in a growing distance between society and the University. Transforming them into almost distinct universes.
At the Universities, laboratories, and libraries, scientists are questioning problems and thinking about solutions to which society will not even have access to the debate unless they read publications aimed at the scientific community. But who reads these works other than academicians? Here there is another problem: people (i) do not know that these academic papers exist, (ii) if they know that they exist, they do not know where to look for them, and (iii) if they know where to look for them, they do not know how to do it. Once again, an abyss. Different universes.
And why is this connected with the ocean? Although Brazil has the sea as its largest frontier in extension, not everyone has access to it. Of those who have access, few understand the dimension of the wealth to be found there. It is not something that can be observed relatively easily, like the “cerrado” forest or the Amazon Forest. Corroborating this point, the term Blue Amazon (Amazônia Azul in Portuguese) was even created in the 2000s to make the Brazilian population aware of the greatness of the wealth existing in the Brazilian sea, based on an analogy with the Green Amazon.
In addition, the United Nations Decade for Ocean Science has among its goals a known and valued ocean. As such, observe how everything is connected. A decade focused on the development of ocean science, seeking to minimize the degradation of the ocean, which has as one of its goals a known and valued ocean. It is impossible to detach the production of knowledge through science from the knowledge transferred to the population, in order for it to be possible to value the seas. It is a virtuous cycle from which we cannot be distanced. The Decade started this year. There is still time.
Still in the theme of international agendas that are in vogue, one cannot fail to mention Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No. 4 of Agenda 2030, entitled “quality education”. This SDG aims to ensure quality inclusive and equitable education, promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all, including expanding access to education for vulnerable people. This proposal is also a way of planting the grain of sand of curiosity so that students of all ages are interested in science, in addition to enabling everyone to access the means to learn about scientific production.
Finally, I suggest that we, as scientists, do a self-analysis about how we act. Talking to the population clearly and with understandable language must be our agenda. The development of ocean science must include awareness of people who are not immersed in these issues. By knowing and being aware of the problem, it is possible that the population itself pressure governments for more effective public policies on this issue. And for that, people must feel that they are contributing to a possible change.
In other words, it is not just up to us the mission to build knowledge, it is up to us to know how to talk to people outside the academic area, and to make us understood, even by those who have never wet their feet in the sea. It is a matter of creating media and language so that everyone feels part of this grand narrative that builds respect for the ocean.
*Source of the cover image: Freepik. Available in: https://br.freepik.com/fotos-gratis/planeta-terra-na-praia-arenosa_945173.htm.
 CARVALHO, Roberto de Guimarães. A outra Amazônia. Folha de São Paulo. São Paulo, 25 feb. 2004.
 ONU UNITED NATIONS – UN. International (UN) Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. Resolution adopted by the IOC Assembly at its 29th Session, Paris, 21–29 June 2017, (Resolution XXIX-1), 2017
 UNITED NATIONS – UN. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Available at https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal4.