How do you engage students in coral reef conservation without getting them wet?
Fish at the Suva Fish Market in Fiji (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)
Researchers and education specialists from the Field Museum of Chicago, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area (FLMMA) Network have recently launched a pilot interactive digital learning project called: "Conservation Connection: From the West Side to the West Pacific." The program, winner of the 2010 MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition, links high school students from the VOISE Academy of inner city Chicago with students from the Marist Brothers School in Suva, Fiji.
Marist Brothers Student with flip camera (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)
Through WhyReef, an online virtual coral reef world, students learn how to identify coral reef species, build food webs and evaluate the effects of different reef threats. In addition, the Chicago and Fiji students can directly interact with each other through online blogs and sharing photography and video projects about coral reef issues on FijiReef, which operates much like the ever-popular Facebook. This is a particularly exciting opportunity for Fiji students who may not have ever been previously exposed to technology such as digital cameras and video recorders which are nearly omnipresent in the United States.
Keith Ellenbogen with Marist Brothers students
In the 21st century, learning how to communicate through digital media is an essential tool. Not only does this program teach students about coral reef conservation issues, they learn how to script, produce and film their own documentaries about reef species, threats and management strategies. How lucky, then, that we have Keith, a real live professional photographer who was more than happy to provide videography tips to the Marist students.
Stacy Jupiter with Marist Brothers students at the Suva Fish Market in Fiji (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)
After a brief demonstration, we loaded up the students in a mini-bus and took them straight down to the fish market at Suva Wharf to practice their newly acquired skills. Their task was to interview the fish vendors about what kind of fish they sell, where they are caught, and how fishing conditions have changed in the past ten years.
Marist Brothers students interviewing vendors at the Suva Fish Market in Fiji
(Photos: Keith Ellenbogen)
Without hesitation, the boys approached the men and women sitting behind their colorful catch to discover that the fish have come in from all around Fiji, particularly from the areas of Lau and Kadavu. Meanwhile, I tried to get the boys to think critically about the conservation message of their footage and other WCS and FLMMA staff filled in the interviews with fun facts about the fish on offer, such as what part of pufferfish are toxic (answer: the liver and sometimes the skin).
Marist Brothers students with Keith Ellenbogen and Stacy Jupiter
At the end of the day, all of the kids left smiling, excited to have practical experience outside of the classroom. Who knows, perhaps we have set some of these boys on a path to become documentary filmmakers, reporters or marine biologists? Only the future knows what is in store, but equipped with knowledge and skills, these students will hopefully have many doors open for them in years to come.
-Stacy Jupiter, PhD