Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Shark Stanley & Sharks4Kids in St. Eustatius

The Dutch Caribbean islands of St. Eustatius (often shortened to Statia), Saba and Sint Maarten all hosted Shark Weeks this summer. The main goal of these conservation themed weeks was to promote the creation of new shark sanctuaries throughout the Caribbean. The team from STENAPA (St Eustatius National Parks Foundation), led by education and outreach coordinator Claire Blair, hosted an epic week of movies, student activities and even hosted a Shark Stanley day. Duncan and I were supposed to take part in the event, but Hurricane Erika arranged our schedule and sent us back to Florida after less than 24 hours in Sint Maarten. We were scheduled to attend Sea and Learn on Saba in October, so we decided to visit Statia as part of this trip and do a sort of Shark Week 2.0 with the students.

Bethel Methodist School
 We hit the ground running.  Claire and marine park manager Jessica Berkel picked us up from the airport and and we headed straight to CSNI (Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute at St Eustatius) for a special edition of the monthly Science Café. Duncan and I gave a presentation about the role of media and science in shark conservation. We had a much larger crowd than expected and thoroughly enjoyed the conversations that followed. It was clear from the minute we arrived: Statia has some shark lovers!

Golden Rock Roman Catholic School
The next day we started our busy tour of the local schools. In the morning we visited both the Golden Rock Roman Catholic School and Bethel Methodist School speaking to students in grades 1-6. During Shark Week, STENAPA had hosted a coloring and art contest for the students and Claire escorted us to each school to award prizes from the contest.

In the afternoon we visited the Mega D Youth Foundation and spoke to a group of students ranging form elementary to high school. I am always fascinated by the questions students ask and just how much they actually know about sharks. It is inspiring to see them excited and eager to take part in shark conservation. Many of the students we spoke with had seen a shark, which gives them a personal connection. Seeing an animal in the wild can be very powerful in changing the way people perceive sharks, so starting kids off at a young age can have a life long impact.

We rounded out the day with a community presentation at Super Burger and were again pleasantly surprised by the crowd. Kids and adults joined us and engaging conservations were once again had after our talk. I love visiting schools, but it is equally important to engage with the community. These are the people making decisions, supporting regulations and promoting tourism and protecting the local environment. It also gives the community a chance to get to know the people speaking at the schools, our mission and why we do what we do.

The next day started earlier because we had a flight to catch in the afternoon. We visited the two other primary schools on the island, Lynch Plantation Seventh Day Adventist School and Governor de Graaf School. Claire gave away more prizes for incredible artwork and Mr. Sharky made an appearance after arriving in my bag (which decided to stay in Sint Maarten a day longer than I did) that morning. It always makes my heart happy seeing gets get excited and want their pictures with the shark. It makes sharks seem fun and we are all about replacing fear with fun and fascination. Getting kids excited and interested increases the likelihood of their continued positive outlook towards sharks as they grow up.

We had a wonderful trip and met some really passionate people making incredible efforts to protect the environment. Special thanks to STENAPA, CNSI, Shark Stanley and Shark Defenders. Collaboration can be a beautiful thing and working with Shark Stanley has been an incredible opportunity and a wonderful tool in our outreach programs.

Guest blog by Jillian Morris. Jillian is the founder and president of Sharks4Kids, a shark education organization based in Florida. She has a behavioral biology degree and is a professional videographer and photographer who spends most of her time on the island of Bimini, The Bahamas swimming with sharks. You can follow Jillian on Twitter.


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