Young marine scientist fosters innovation for a healthy and sustainable ocean

In this conversation, Valentina Lovat gives an overview of the work she has done to increase ocean literacy. Prior to working as an Ocean Literacy consultant, Valentina was an intern at the IOC-UNESCO project office at the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe. She completed her postgraduate studies in Marine Sciences and is currently studying Management with a focus on Sustainable Business and Innovation. A co-founder of Kiwi the Explorer, a platform for young explorers, she is actively working in the enhancement of natural, cultural and immaterial heritage in collaboration with Italian designers. She has collaborated with Worldrise, an Italian non-profit organisation that deals with the enhancement and protection of marine environment, as a Creative Communications Coordinator.

What is the inspiration behind your interest in marine science and ocean literacy?

It comes from my personal experience with the sea. Before focusing on Ocean Literacy, I focused my studies on understanding the importance of apex predators for both the health of the local ecosystem and the local economy for community development. In this path, I realised the importance of sharing experiences, behaviours and knowledge with others to drive a lasting change by making them more aware of the impact of their daily actions on the ocean. I also hoped to make them aware of the importance that the ocean holds for their daily life, including economy and wellbeing. For this reason, I decided to dedicate my life towards advocating for the importance of the ocean and hopefully prompting change in life-as-usual and business-as-usual, to foster innovation to move the world forward in the right direction.

What has been your experience working as a woman in ocean literacy? What would you say to young women and girls interested in this field?

I highly recommend a career in Ocean Literacy because it opens your mind up significantly and you will never stop learning. It allows you to understand a multitude of different sectors and topics. Working in Ocean Literacy does not mean sacrificing your passion for research, instead it means being able to explain and make the data and findings accessible to the society.

Sometimes, being a woman in this career can be challenging. I experienced gender inequalities very early on whilst working as a volunteer. Though unfortunate, it made me aware and thus, more equipped to deal with future situations that may occur. However, it must be noted that being a woman never stopped me. The most important advice I would give to every young woman starting a career in marine sciences and research is to be determined and humble and also to critically analyse the environment. I would urge them to trust themselves and never stop dreaming perhaps by setting clear and small objectives to achieve in their day to day lives.

Furthermore, it is important to be curious, to read and inform yourself on the main challenges and opportunities within the marine field, you should find the right sources to deepen your understanding. You should be open to collaborations and volunteering activities; they are the perfect opportunities to learn about what others think, how people behave and act, and critically they provide a way to get into the field. Collaborating with others is also fundamental to move the world towards social and environmental sustainability. Whether collaborating or just volunteering, it is crucial to openly receive and give feedbacks.

Ocean Literacy is dynamic, it implies communication and in-field experience. My favourite features are the sharing of best practices and the experience of learning in the field. I also really enjoy getting in touch with people, communities and projects to understand what already exists, what is needed, what is working and how to improve. The digital space opened a lot of new possibilities and got me in touch with new projects and young people working for the ocean.

How important is ocean literacy, especially for young people? What role does innovation play in the sustainable management of the ocean?

New generations are the future leaders and innovators thus, Ocean Literacy is fundamental for future generations. Yet, rather ironically, the ocean is not included in school programmes, despite being the engine and regulator of climate and weather. Climate change is the most significant challenge that the world currently faces and will continue to face for the years to come. In fact, more than half of the global GDP depends on a healthy ocean.

If we want to deal with climate change and move towards a sustainable future, we firstly have to understand the role of the ocean and begin to consider it as part of our daily life. The business models applied these days are not sustainable; they are unable to deal with today’s problems and manage the resources in a feasible way. We need the economy and businesses to develop our society, but we have to drive them towards new opportunities and better models to apply.

For example, the current fishing model is not sustainable. It needs to change so it can meet the demands of not only our growing population but also for the future generations to come. The energy industry needs to find new opportunities to satisfy the global demand without accelerating climate change. Some of these solutions relate to the management of ocean resources. Ocean Literacy accelerates the innovation process by providing knowledge, awareness and connecting different industries to foster research and discover new opportunities.

What’s next for your career?

I would like to create a network of different businesses to foster innovation, especially in urban environments, tourism and fashion industry. Meanwhile, I hope to educate and empower the next generations on new opportunities such as the circular economy, the potential of algae, the importance of marine conservation and new energy technologies. In this way I would be helping them develop the communication skills they need for the future. As I said before, collaboration is fundamental to move the world towards social and environmental sustainability and drive crucial changes from business-as-usual and life-as-usual.