Our Public and Community Engagement Coordinator, Freyja Thomson-Alberts, tells us how the Ocean Conservation Trust aims to make the Ocean an inclusive place for everyone.

The Ocean has a long history of being a place for human wellbeing. Since Victorian times, people have used so called ‘blue prescription’ escapes to the sea as a way to improve both physical and mental wellbeing. However, this experience isn’t something that is available to everyone in society.

The Ocean for All programme is an initiative aimed at connecting people to the Ocean who wouldn’t be able to reach it otherwise. Many of the people we have worked with are residents in care homes, patients on hospital wards or day centre users – people who face huge barriers in getting to experience the Ocean. Taking a helping hand from innovative technology, we are able to take the Ocean experience to them, using virtual reality headsets with footage from the tanks of the National Marine Aquarium and Plymouth Sound National Marine Park. Users get to meet Friday, our cheeky green turtle, or swim amongst recently restored seagrass beds, whilst in the comfort of their group setting.

These sessions also spark important reminiscence behaviour for groups we work with. Many of the users have positive memories of the Ocean, from holidays, eating fish and chips by the sea or through the jobs they had when they were younger. Whilst chatting to each other and our Ocean Discovery Rangers, you can see happiness being shared whilst thinking about the past. One conversation came about whilst showing someone a crab moult, who then talked about her family’s involvement in the crab industry, a story she has never told to staff working in the day centre. The use of tactile artefacts provides a great initial platform to inspire these conversations, getting the group to work together to figure out what animal the artefact came from (and provide some great photo opportunities!).

Since the projects creation in 2019, we have helped over 500 people from all sorts of backgrounds connect to the Ocean. We asked activity coordinators at the different facilities to leave us feedback on behalf of the groups, scoring both wellbeing and knowledge. Across the project, we have found that over 80% of people said they had fun, with 90% saying they had discovered something new about the Ocean.

Shania, from Memory Matters CIC said, “All of the group were really involved the session and found it useful to learn new things about the Ocean”, whilst another group leader said “…all members were able to participate and enjoy the session and be inspired by what they saw via the VR technology and handling the artefacts…”.

Everyone should have the opportunity to feel connected to the Ocean and experience the wellbeing benefits that it can bring. Using a bit of technology, we are able to break down barriers and make these connections, creating new memories and stoking old ones. Ultimately making the Ocean an inclusive place.

If you work or volunteer somewhere where your residents would enjoy a fun dose of vitamin sea then us an email on community@oceanconservationtrust.org