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Instilling ocean stewardship in younger generations

A recent survey found that children aged 5 – 18 have a more positive outlook on the marine environment than adults. Could educating youngsters on the plight of our oceans be the key to transgenerational conservation projects?

Marine conservation on a global scale is an immense challenge. Achieving long-term conservation goals involves the education of multiple demographics in order to sustain conservation targets. The incorporation of continuous education of students, including practical field experience, can alter their perception of the sea. Without knowledge of the marine environment, the young will be less willing to protect and preserve it for years to come. To mitigate this, environmental education programmes are used to increase ocean awareness and encourage pro-environmental action. Multiple studies even cite an increase in parents’ environmental awareness via their children, providing ocean optimism for future generations.

Children often make excellent citizen scientists, they are intrinsically curious and brilliant at following precise directions, in some cases even better than adults. Their school attendance allows scientists to recruit large class groups to undertake great amounts of data collection, whilst encouraging children to be enthused about science.

Multiple projects make use of ‘young citizen scientists’ to collect data. For example, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) employs children to make cloud observations in a project called S’COOL. This information allows NASA to match the weather conditions with observations from their satellites to ensure they are functioning correctly.

Bringing nature into the classroom can kindle a fascination and passion for the diversity of life on earth and can motivate a sense of responsibility to safeguard it.”

Sir David Attenborough

However, the sole collection of data by children is not enough and is not the fundamental goal of citizen science. The ultimate objective is to engage them in curiosity-based learning to encourage responsibility for the environment they live in. To accomplish this, staff at the Seattle Aquarium encourage students to participate in ‘belly biology’ where they are fully immersed in data collection on nearshore ecosystems. The data is then published on the aquarium’s website as part of a 15-year monitoring study. This long-term process has helped inform policy decisions and fill gaps in baseline data. In addition, it provides confirmation for the children that the data they collect is truly making a difference.

Ocean Discovery Safari

The Ocean Discovery Safari is a project by Seas4Life where children sail down major Kenyan waterways on a traditional dhow boat. Comprising five different levels, Seas4Life give the child accreditation for each level in an ‘Ocean Passport’. This initiative targets children between 10 and 12 years old to increase public understanding of the marine environment and the functioning of marine ecosystems. Young people are given the ability to define a healthy ecosystem through dynamic classes which stimulate the ‘explorers’ to even adventure to research stations or lodges. The initiative focuses on small groups to allow for individual interests to be tailored.

With an abundance coral reefs in their back garden, the main focus of the safaris in on coral reef ecology, including threats facing the reef, different coral types, and identifying key indicator species of overall reef health. This combined with beach clean-ups allows children to make connections between how their actions may affect the animals they learn about. The overarching learning objective is to enhance a greater understanding of our ocean and the ever-changing effect it has on us, and we have on it. Igniting this passion for the sea aims to have a knock-on effect, further ensuring the protection of vital ecosystems in the future.

The Seas4Life Trust aims to protect and rebuild our most impacted marine habitats via increasing public awareness and advocating for an interconnected network of protected areas along the Kenyan coastline. The Pelorus Foundation has teamed up with Seas4Life to promote the sea check concept, a project that aims to establish a baseline for healthy functioning marine habitats.