‘Atlantic’ Highlights European Ocean Citizenship in Irish Schools

As the shadow of Brexit looms, and the uncertainty around the future of our shared fishing grounds intensifies, the political implications for Ireland have come into sharp focus. Our relationship with the European Union at local, national and international level is being seriously questioned. Nowhere are the stakes higher or matters more divisive than with our ocean resources. The prospect of the UK leaving the Common Fisheries Area coupled with the ecological threats from overfishing and climate change are causing massive worry around our coast. There is a growing realisation that we, as a nation, need to understand better and appreciate fully the 90% of our sovereign territory that is underwater – or pay the price for our ignorance.

Coinciding with the build-up to the British general election in June, the award-winning documentary ‘Atlantic’ is bringing discussions of community, citizenship, ownership and responsibility of our ocean into classrooms and lecture theatres, reflecting issues arising not simply in student textbooks but in the lives of ordinary men and women whose livelihoods are tied to the ocean.

The strategy for this initiative is to enrich student engagement with topics that affect people and communities. The successful run of ‘Atlantic’ over the past year – with hundreds of screenings worldwide as well as numerous awards – attests to the capacity of this film to tell the stories of the people directly affected. Letting them share their personal journeys on the big screen enables audiences to empathise more with the experience of those living with the sea, with their perilous reality.

Directed by Risteard Ó Domhnaill (The Pipe, 2010), the thought-provoking documentary ‘Atlantic’ lays bare the challenges and contradictions that coastal-dwellers and politicians face as we attempt to navigate a future filled with both immense possibility and dire pitfalls. ‘Atlantic’ does not preach or seek to answer questions to which there is no simple answer. It does not demonise nor does it romanticise those whose interests collide on the high seas. Instead, ‘Atlantic’ provides the observer with information and a gripping storyline to help them fully engage and take ownership of an issue that is the responsibility of every person in Ireland.

The greatest challenge to our society and to people who are seeing their communities disintegrate before their eyes is apathy. What ‘Atlantic’ hopes to inspire is a belief that people can make a difference, a belief that, while politics is often flawed, we can take ownership of it and make it work. One person can make a difference.




‘Atlantic’ follows the fortunes of three small fishing communities as they struggle to maintain their way of life in the face of mounting economic and ecological challenges. It explores the driving forces of political maneuvering, corporate responsibility and community empowerment.


In Norway, fishermen and their resource have historically been aggressively protected by national authorities. But as oil fields dwindle and the country now looks to add to its reserves, Arctic cod fisherman Bjørnar Nicolaisen is campaigning against seismic testing by the oil explorers criss-crossing his fishing grounds. On the outer edges of Norway’s five-star economy, seismic blasting is threatening to blow Bjørnar’s livelihood out of the water. The conflict between industry and ecology, large corporate profits and community benefit is very much part of the Geography curriculum and a discussion point across many subjects at third-level, from Humanities to Science.


 “God almighty…nothing is as bad as seeing your community dying.” However, his sons Michael and Andrew, who work offshore on the rigs, are eager to maintain this tradition and to work the family licence, in spite of their father’s reluctance to have them endure the hardships that offshore fishing brings. It is a dilemma for the young men. They depend on oil rig work to raise their families in the village, yet the problems that oil development has brought threatens everything they were brought up to love. Students benefit from learning about the complexities and contradictions of life, through which most people try to navigate the best way they can.

On the west coast of Ireland, Jerry Early has seen the heart ripped out of his island after a ban on drift-netting for wild salmon. As he fights to regain his fishing rights, he’s up against a government that appears to heed only the European Union. The circumstances could be dire if he defies the new order of the ocean, but Jerry feels he has a moral duty to face up to powerful interests before it’s too late.  The management of ocean resources that was agreed upon our accession to the European Economic Community in 1973 is relayed here alongside the human consequences of those political decisions, including the illegal activities of EU-subsidised supertrawlers that catch and dump massive amounts of fish with seeming impunity. When Jerry refuses to throw back a now-dead salmon that has swum into his net, he becomes the subject of a court battle with the state in which his right to work his net is at stake. For secondary students of History and Geography, this story brings to life what can otherwise be a very complex and academic section of the course, and infuses it with a passion among students that they will recall long after the exams have passed.




Following an initial crowdfunding drive that raised €56,000, breaking all previously held records on fundraising platform FundIt.ie, ‘Atlantic’ has been riding a wave of community support. Over 200 screenings of the documentary have been held in local communities and parliaments around Ireland, Europe, the USA, Canada and Oceania. With support from the Irish Film Board, CBC Canada, the Newfoundland & Labrador Film Development Corporation and the Nordnorsk Filmsenter, ‘Atlantic’ is now reaching a global audience and beginning to have a profound impact.


Achieving much acclaim both nationally and internally,  ‘Atlantic’ has brought its message to festivals around the world – from DOXA in Vancouver, Canada, to Planet in Focus (Toronto)  – winning multiple awards including ‘Best Documentary‘ at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (ADIFF) 2016 and ‘Best Environmental Documentary’ at the prestigious Chagrin Film Festival in the USA.


In 2016, ‘Atlantic’ was selected by the Irish Film Institute (IFI) to feature in the Documentary section of their 2016/17 secondary schools programme, which aims to make educational and relevant content available to schools around the country. With screenings in school classrooms, theatres and local venues, ‘Atlantic’ engages student audiences around the topics of marine awareness, education and engagement with the sea.


Further extending its educational remit, ‘Atlantic’ was awarded funding from the Marine Institute of Ireland via its Ocean Awareness Grants. The grants are made available to initiatives that are deemed to promote ocean literacy. In the context of Brexit, it is notable that the grants are provided to progress objectives including the EU Blue Growth Strategy and EU Strategy for the Atlantic, their purpose being to educate and drive awareness of the value of Ireland’s ocean resources and engage communities around our maritime assets.



Director Risteard Ó Domhnaill on the impact of Atlantic on Irish schoolchildren

“Having screened ‘Atlantic’ to students the length and breadth of the country, I have been amazed by the level of complexity and insightfulness of their questions. I have to admit that I underestimated their ability to follow such a complex story with so much condensed information, and to be able to recall and question in such detail. I believe that, if we put our faith in the next generation and trust them a little more, we will not regret it!”


More Information:

For more information on how topics around ocean literacy and our natural resources are relevant to your curriculum or subject – or to request a screening for your school or educational institute – visit https://theatlanticstream.com/education/


IFI Schools Programme: http://ifi.ie/learn/schools-programme/


Marine Institute Ocean Awareness Grants: https://www.marine.ie/Home/site-area/research-funding/research-funding/ocean-awareness-grants-2016


Call in EU Parliament for increased legislation of the activity of supertrawlers:


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