A child standing on a surf board in shallow water on a beach

New research into the concept of “marine identity” has been officially endorsed as part of the UN Ocean Decade, after being submitted by Dr Pamela Buchan, a University of Exeter researcher and marine social scientist.

Dr Buchan defines a marine identity as an identity formed when a person feels so passionately about the marine environment that they depend on a healthy ocean to support their sense of self.

This is thought to be important driver of “marine citizenship”, when a person takes action to change the human-ocean relationship in ways that contribute to improving ocean and climate health and sustainability.

Speaking ahead of World Ocean Day tomorrow (June 8), Dr Buchan said: “The UN Ocean Decade is a vital international initiative designed to safeguard our seas for future generation.

“As a passionate ocean advocate, I am delighted that our research into marine identity has been endorsed as a UN Ocean Decade Action.

“This research contributes directly to Challenge 10 of the Ocean Decade, transforming humanity’s relationship with the ocean, and I can’t think of a more pressing challenge facing society today.

“I hope that our co-conceptualisation of marine identity will be relevant to researchers and practitioners around the world, and that it will support them in thinking widely and holistically about the relationship people have with the ocean and how that might influence their own work.

“Together we can transform our relationship with the ocean for the better.”

Dr Buchan, who won the ESRC Outstanding Early Career Impact Prize in 2022 for her research into marine citizenship, is currently leading an international researcher-practitioner collaboration to co-produce a conceptualisation of marine identities as part of an ESRC-funded Postdoctoral Fellowship.

The collaboration has brought together marine researchers and practitioners from around the world with a shared interest in marine identity.

Together, the collaboration is co-producing a multinational and cross-cultural understanding of the nature and types of marine identities.

The findings will shortly be submitted for academic publication.

The collaboration responds to questions such as: What does it mean to identify with the marine environment? And are there universal aspects to this?

It is hoped that the international collaboration will lay the groundwork for a new research direction that recognises the importance of the ocean for identity and how this influences marine citizenship.

The UN describes the Ocean Decade (2021-30) as a “framework for diverse stakeholders to co-design and co-deliver solution-oriented research for a well-functioning ocean”.

Dr Buchan presented this research at a UN Ocean Decade-endorsed session at the IGU Thematic Conference on Ocean and Seas in Geographic Thought in Milan.