November 3, 2019

Ocean or oceans? A campaign to drop the S

Posted by Laura Guertin

Ocean literacy is key to understanding and protecting our planet. There is only one ocean and our language should reflect this. Will you join us and #droptheS? — from One Ocean


Do you say “ocean” or “oceans” when referring to the body of water that covers 71% of our planet? Although some people think this is a non-question, other individuals will have a strong reaction (a reaction against saying “oceans” in the plural form, that is). On NOAA’s Ocean Facts page, the question is answered by stating there is only one global ocean with named ocean basins (see the NOAA animation below).

Let’s look at some examples of where we see the use of the term ocean.

When looking at the Ocean Literacy Principles, the first principle and fundamental concepts are stated as The Earth has one big ocean with many features.

In the United States, we celebrate National Ocean Month. Actually, when this annual June celebration started in 2006, it was for only a week as National Ocean Week, then it was called National Oceans Month from 2007-2016, and now it is referred to as National Ocean Month 2017 to the present (see my blog post on Presidential proclamations of National Ocean Month).

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation hosts the annual ocean policy conference Capitol Hill Ocean Week in June. And AGU’s biannual Ocean Sciences Meeting is also without the “s” at the end.

So what’s the big deal about ocean vs. oceans? Where are we seeing this? And why was there an entire video created to push for us to “Drop the S”? (The video was created by The Marine CoLABoration, an organization founded in 2016 to increase collaborative action and explore how to communicate why the ocean matters more effectively.)


If you look at some recent tweets, you start seeing the issue….


Yes, our global celebration on June 8th, approved by resolution 63/111 by the UN General Assembly, is designated as World Oceans Day. Although we are still months away from June 8th, keep an eye and ear out for the official name and see if it changes. In the meantime, think about what we are communicating to our audiences, from students to seniors, and what they are hearing, when we use the “s” at the end of the word ocean.