The ocean is one of the most dynamic and under-reported food systems on the planet. About a billion people rely on fish as their primary source of protein and, collectively, the nations of the world catch around 90 million metric tons of wild fish and shellfish from the oceans annually. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) produces a biennial report called The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture that identifies trends in the seafood industry. In 2014 it revealed that for the first time aquaculture began to supply more fish for human consumption than wild-caught stock.
The ocean is also chemically changing in dramatic ways in response to human influences on the environment. Seawater is becoming progressively more acidic, for example, due to the influence of industrially generated carbon in the atmosphere. The ocean is also subject to severe influxes of nitrogen- and phosphorous-based nutrients from industrial agriculture and wastewater treatment facilities. These added nutrients help facilitate oxygen-depleting algal blooms, which have caused more than 400 large "dead zones" around the world – areas where water is so oxygen-poor that fisheries are threatened. In all, some 245,000 square kilometers of ocean have been affected by this phenomenon (known as hypoxia). Some of the largest hypoxic areas are in the East China Sea offshore from the Yangtze River; on the US side of the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi River; and in the Baltic Sea off Scandinavia and Russia.
With increasing pressures on the Earth's oceans, EJN's Ocean Media Initiative has undertaken activities around the globe to bolster the capacity of journalists and media organizations to report on these critical issues. Here's some of our latest:
- In 2023, we launched a one-year global project to implement activities that will increase both the quality and quantity of ocean-related stories in the media – and build the capacity of journalists to improve their coverage of the many forms of marine pollution. The ocean, already under stress from climate change, is the ultimate sink for many pollutants, including plastics, chemicals, oil, degrading debris (e.g. leaching from plastic or decomposing organic material) and other waste. As part of this project EJN will organize a multi-day virtual training workshop and award ~8 journalists with story grants. This portion of EJN’s ongoing Ocean Media Initiative is supported by the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation.
- In 2022, we launched a one-year global project to highlight the importance of the high seas and the effort to boost management and conservation, particularly in areas beyond national jurisdiction. As part of this project EJN will organize two webinars and award 10 journalists with story grants to report on the high seas. This portion of EJN’s ongoing Ocean Media Initiative is supported by the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation.
- In 2022, we also launched a six-month project, Reporting on the Ocean in the Pacific Islands, to build the capacity of local journalists and media outlets in the region to raise public awareness of ocean protection. With support from the Waitt Foundation, EJN will organize a virtual media workshop, implement a story grants program and support peer-to-peer learning and knowledge exchange.
- Throughout 2021 EJN launched a number of activities to align with the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, a campaign to reverse the decline in ocean health and improve scientific support for sustainable ocean development. Already we've hosted a series of ocean webinars providing guidance for reporters on topics such as how emerging technology is being used to detect oceanic crime and on the sustainability of fisheries in Lusophone countries. We also awarded funding to several journalists to report on ocean issues relevant to UN Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Below Water. This work will build up to the second UN Ocean Conference, expected to take place later in 2022, to which EJN will bring 11 journalist Fellows from around the world to report on the proceedings.
- The emerging role of AI in fighting oceanic crime
- Pescas, sustentabilidade e jornalismo (webinar in Portuguese)
- To support better coverage of marine issues in the Indian Ocean, EJN will host a Marine Science Workshop for reporters of all experience levels from across the Indian Ocean region. We selected the 15 journalists who will be participating in that workshop prior to the coronavirus pandemic and will eventually be convening with them in the Maldives once it's safe to do so to learn from expert ocean scientists, as well as experienced environmental reporters affiliated with EJN.
We have been running a project on sustainable fisheries in India with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts and are preparing to launch phase 2 of that project, which will include global and regional webinars on fisheries subsidies issues. This work is taking place as the World Trade Organization is negotiating a new international agreement that seeks to work with member states on addressing harmful subsidies and perverse incentives.
To help fill the need for better reporting on ocean and fisheries issues, address coverage gaps and assist reporters in communicating the often complex topics associated with them, EJN produced an online guide called "Covering the Seas: An Online Toolkit." Developed with the support of the Packard Foundation and written by noted author Paul Greenberg, this issue guide takes an in-depth look at the state of the fisheries industry, the rapidly growing aquaculture business, the oceans’ environmental stressors and explores potential solutions for a sustainable seafood trade. The guide is also available in English, Chinese, Indonesian and Japanese. Since its creation, the guide has proven a key resource in supporting media coverage on ocean issues and was used by journalists during a story grant program around the Global Ocean Commission report launch.
This work is an extension of earlier ocean activities we supported around the globe.
- In Indonesia, EJN helped to launch the Society of Indonesian Environmental Journalists (SIEJ) and then supported it to run a series of successful projects that increased the quantity and quality of environmental coverage in this crucial archipelagic country. To date, these activities have resulted in: the training and capacity-building for over 462 journalists on oceans and fisheries issues; the production of at least 347 stories; an expansion of SIEJ membership to over 400 individual journalists; and the establishment of Ekuatorial, a data journalism and news-mapping platform. To learn more, you can download our report, Indonesia Marine and Fisheries Media Mapping Study, which provides quantitative and qualitative analysis on the coverage of ocean and fisheries issues by Indonesian media outlets.
- EJN has been working with journalists in China since 2006 on a suite of issues, including sustainable fisheries. In 2012, EJN brought eight Chinese journalists to the Seafood Summit in Hong Kong, where they received training from journalists and seafood experts, embarked on an intensive three-day field trip in southern China, and filed stories to their home media organizations. EJN also commissioned a media analysis of fisheries issues carried out by researchers at Hong Kong University, who analyzed Chinese publications and carried out in-depth interviews with Chinese media leaders to identify ocean-related topics that drew the most coverage, gaps and flaws in coverage and the differences in positive and negative coverage between the aforementioned journalists at the Seafood Summit. Finally, EJN organized a three-day forum that brought together six journalists and six researchers to learn about the demands of the two disciplines – both focused on communicating science but with very different audiences.
- EJN partnered with Comms Inc in 2015 to organize a workshop in Chile on marine-protected areas and ocean conservation in the region. The 13 selected journalists received training from some of the best scientists and journalists in the marine field and had the opportunity to learn more about the political debate over the creation of new marine-protected areas.
With the support of the Adessium Foundation, EJN worked with local journalists and journalism networks, media outlets and other international NGOs to boost coverage of IUU fisheries issues in West Africa. The project included a workshop for local journalists in Ghana carried out in September 2017 and another in Senegal in 2018. We also commissioned stories, including some investigative reports, by journalists from all around coastal West Africa. More details can be found here.
In Europe, EJN carried out an Adessium-supported project on reforming the EU Common Fisheries Policy during 2011-12 that involved workshops in Ireland, France and Germany. We also commissioned a series of stories that were carried out by European journalists on the need for better fisheries management in the EU. More details can be found here.
EJN has worked with partners in Japan to build capacity among Japanese media on ocean and fisheries issues. More specifically, we collaborated with the Japan Association of Science and Technology Journalists to develop a Japanese version of our "Covering the Seas" toolkit and localize it for Japanese issues. EJN also took part in a meeting of Japanese innovators working on sustainable seafood initiatives organized by the Packard Foundation at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where we presented an initial version of the toolkit and worked on plans to spread news and information about ocean and fisheries issues to Japanese audiences.
- In 2016, EJN took a global look at the future of marine conservation by commissioning a series of reports to explore disruptive innovations. These stories provided a multi-dimensional, global look at the technologies, policies and people that are creating a new future for the world's oceans. These stories were then featured on our Future Oceans microsite.