Engaging youth to conserve coastal and marine environments.

Author:Forsberg, Kerstin
 
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As I write this article, my country, Peru, is experiencing one of its greatest natural disasters of all time. Due to a phenomenon known locally as the coastal El Nino, intense warm ocean currents have caused heavy rainfall in some parts of the country, which led to flooding and landslides that have severely impacted the lives of over a million people.

Many assert that these types of natural phenomena can be intensified by climate change, while sceptics claim that there is still not enough data to justify this. By now, however, there should be a consensus that humanity intrinsically depends on the ocean, and it is thus our obligation to protect it. The ocean is our planet's main life source. Two out of three breaths we take are oxygenated by the ocean. It defines our climate and provides food security. A healthy ocean guarantees subsistence and survival. We would think that such a critical notion should be embraced and preached by all, but that is not the case.

The severe disregard that people show the ocean came to my attention at an early age. In 2007,1 was a 22-year-old undergraduate student researching threatened sea turtles in northern Peru. After observing the increasing mortality of these species, I approached schools in fishing communities to inquire about their initiatives in marine education. To my surprise, these issues were not being addressed by the local education system.

Soon after, realizing that there was an urgent need to connect people to the ocean, I founded Planeta Oceano, a non-profit organization that empowers coastal communities through marine conservation, research, education and sustainable economic development. We also established the Marine Educators Network, with over 50 schools in Peru, to incorporate marine issues into education systems in a crosscutting manner. With this network we have built capacity in educational institutions, developed game-based learning and engaged thousands of students in youth-led initiatives that positively impact their communities.

The network also provides youth with training in marine conservation, project development and leadership. Participants identify local environmental challenges, and receive technical and financial support to work towards solutions. To date, over 400 young people have been engaged in youth-led initiatives ranging from mangrove reforestation to advocating for sustainable fisheries, among others.

In addition to this incubator of young conservationists, we have...

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