A multidisciplinary approach integrating science and society in marine forests regeneration for ocean management and protection

 

OCEAN CITIZEN aims at developing an innovative and sustainable protocol for coastal restoration and conservation, replicable and specifically designed for different marine ecozones.

The project

 

OCEAN CITIZEN is a European project focused on marine restoration, co-funded by the European Union through the Horizon Europe framework. Bringing together 21 partners from 10 countries across Europe and the Middle East, the project aims to improve the health of marine ecosystems, enhance carbon sequestration, and protect biodiversity.

From 2023 to 2027, OCEAN CITIZEN plans to implement and scale up a replicable protocol to restore marine environments. This approach combines an ecological perspective with community involvement to benefit the environment, bring economic advantages, and make local communities more resilient.

The OCEAN CITIZEN project adopts a novel approach by testing cutting-edge restoration tools across five pilot sites, including 3D-printed artificial reefs, floating reefs and Integrated multi-trophic aquaculture

Main objectives

 

  1. Define blueprints of replicable protocols for underwater coastal restoration.
  2. Consolidate and evaluate an ecosystem-based business model for marine preservation.

 

These objectives are intended to generate the following outcomes:

Environmental:

  • Successfully restoring degraded Marine Forests.
  • Delivering nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation.
  • Adopting protocols to measure the coastal restoration and management impact.

Social:

  • Boosting an ocean-literate society.
  • Engaging local communities.
  • Contributing to existing legislation on restoration and conservation practices in underwater coastal areas.

Economic:

  • Promoting blue growth opportunities.
  • Business protocols that capitalise of Marine Forests.

Our role

As co-leaders of the “Management, Citizen Engagement, and Communication” Work Package, at SUBMON, we manage the project’s communication and social media presence and lead the Education and Citizen Science components. Furthermore, we support local engagement and the creation of synergies. 

Poster about the project, presented at the Ocean Decade Conference 2024.

Communication activities

1. Comprehensive and holistic Communication and Dissemination plan

SUBMON developed a comprehensive and holistic Communication and Dissemination plan for OCEAN CITIZEN. The C&D plan is a strategic document that describes OCEAN CITIZEN’s approach regarding the communication and dissemination of the project. It outlines its goals and objectives and lays out the target audience, key messages and communication channels necessary to effectively communicate about the project, its context, and its results to both specialised stakeholders and the general public. Its ultimate goal is to generate widespread awareness about the project and the environmental and socioeconomic issues it addresses.

Recognising the essential role of communication in the success of projects like this, all the project partners understood the importance of starting the communication plan early in the project. This plan serves as a crucial link between the project’s goals, research, and activities and the larger European population and local communities in the pilot areas.

The first step to developing the C&D plan was a co-creative process involving all the project partners.

2. Co-creative process

Our communication strategy was developed through a co-creative process involving workshops with all project partners and stakeholders. This involved meetings with partners and workshops to collectively assess the project’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT analysis). Following this initial analysis, we conducted workshops to identify the primary target audiences and develop key messages tailored to each audience segment.

This multidisciplinary approach ensured that every opinion was taken into account, fostering a sense of ownership and belonging within the communication plan. By including everyone in the process, we facilitated a comfortable environment for all stakeholders to engage with and contribute to the communication strategies, resulting in increased involvement and commitment.

OCEAN CITIZEN partners during the management meeting in Lecce 2023.
Leptogorgia viminalis, one of the species mentioned to explain the ecological succession process, which inspired the project’s storytelling.  – Laura Busquier (UGI).

3. Content plan management

The next step was to design a content plan for the entire project. This plan ensures that our messaging remains current and aligned with project objectives, maximising engagement and impact.

In the content plan, we have gone beyond simply reporting on project activities. We have proactively curated content that we believe will be compelling to our audience. This includes providing context about the project, such as information about our partners and the various pilot sites. Additionally, we have incorporated educational content designed to inform and engage our audience. All the content plan has been guided and inspired by our creative storytelling approach.

4. Creative storytelling approach

In alignment with the plan, we have developed a storytelling approach inspired by the process of ecological succession, where project milestones seamlessly blend into our communication strategy. This narrative framework has allowed us to engage our audience emotionally and effectively convey the project’s objectives and achievements.

Through various channels, such as our website and social media platforms, we share compelling narratives and use visual aids like comics or videos to engage our audience and convey our message in an engaging and memorable manner.

Education and Citizen Science activities

SUBMON will lead the Education and Citizen Science components of the OCEAN CITIZEN project, with the aim of promoting Ocean Literacy and raising awareness of Marine Forests.

Our work will focus on integrating restoration programs into an educational model based on practical applications and results derived from scientific research and project-specific protocols.

This involves creating a professional educational program that encompasses both the theory and practice of restoration protocols. The objective is to train non-scientists as Underwater Marine Gardeners capable of conducting restoration activities and leading citizen scientists.

Specific activities will include:

  • Developing visual guides for key species to accompany the citizen science activities in the pilot sites.
  • Organising a “Train-the-Trainers” course, where members from each project’s restoration pilot test area will be trained on restoration protocols and procedures.
  • Creating a Citizen Science initiative in the framework of Marine Animal Forest restoration, which will be integrated into existing platforms to prevent data atomisation, enhance visibility, and foster cooperation among similar projects.
  • Elaborating education materials on restoration methodology and monitoring protocols. These materials, adapted for non-scientific citizens, will be presented through a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platform.
  • Connecting with other citizen science and restoration programs under the European and international frameworks.

Sinergies

Networking with other European-funded projects is crucial for the OCEAN CITIZEN consortium. A significant effort is dedicated to connecting with similar projects and teams to exchange ideas and best practices, identify synergies, and maximise efficiency.

This approach enables us to explore opportunities beyond the project’s boundaries and adapt to new circumstances. By constantly looking for new collaborations and synergies, we want to amplify the strength and impact of our messages.

So far, we have had the opportunity to connect with other Horizon Europe projects, such as ANERIS, to establish shared frameworks for future collaborative activities. OCEAN CITIZEN partners have also participated in a webinar series titled “Planning for Citizen Participation in Mission Ocean & Waters”, organised by the Horizon Europe project PREP4BLUE. 

In this sense, it is worth mentioning that the OCEAN CITIZEN project is part of the EU Mission “Restore our Ocean and Waters,” which aims to protect and restore the health of our ocean and waters through research and innovation, citizen engagement, and blue investments.