Amy Heemsoth, of the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation and creator of the BAM programme, with the Camp Abaco students.
By EDRINEKIA GIBSON
FORTY-five students planted 135 baby mangrove trees in Camp Abaco last week after growing them in their classrooms throughout this school year.
The students, from Abaco Central High School and Forest Heights Academy, and their teachers, participated in a pilot programme called the Bahamas Awareness of Mangroves (BAM), a project about mangrove education and restoration.
The BAM programme was created by Amy Heemsoth, of the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, in partnership with Friends of the Environment. Their main goal is “to deliver a message about conservation, and to help continue education about mangrove ecosystems here with Bahamian high school students,” said Ms Heemsoth, the Director of Education at the Foundation.
“A lot of times when you’re trying to promote conservation, it has to start with the youth,” she said. “They’re our future generation that’s going to protect our resources, and help conserve them for the best.”
In the first phase of the project, at the beginning of the school year, the tenth-grade students visited the restoration site at Camp Abaco, where they collected propagules, or mangrove seedlings, to grow and study throughout the year.
Back in the classrooms, they planted those seedlings in three different mediums - sand, pebbles and mangrove mud - and were able to take measurements and collect data weekly.
“They are actually doing a controlled experiment in the classrooms throughout those seven months,” said Ms Heemsoth.
“By the end, they’re going to be graphing this information and finding out which of these different types of media were these propagules or seedlings growing best in.”
Ms Heemsoth and her team returned to the classrooms in February to initiate the second phase of the project, which is bringing in animals that live in the mangrove forest like crabs, fish, and snails, to teach the students about food webs.
“All of this fits right into their curriculum, which is perfect because the teachers are going to be teaching it anyway, and this is just a way for us to reinforce the information that they’re learning, or sometimes it’s the case that we’re bringing new information in,” she said.
James Richard, principal at Forest Heights Academy, said the programme has been very beneficial to his students, and the hands-on approach has helped immensely with the learning process.
“They got a lot of first-hand field experience, and they were able to learn quite a bit about our local ecosystem,” he said. “It’s a highly structured programme, so rather than just going out and seeing the mangrove wetland, they were able to learn a lot of deep information about it. The benefit this year, over previous years, was the structure of the programme and having the outside presenters come in and lead the field trips.”
Mr Richard believes the process has fostered responsibility and ownership within his students. “It’s the first time they’ve been involved in a long term research project. So I think it’s caused them to gain some responsibility, as well as some knowledge.”
Ms Heemsoth said she hopes that by educating students about the mangrove ecosystem, that they’ll understand its importance and want to conserve it.
“The number one thing is to become stewards of the mangrove ecosystem, and all of the surrounding ecosystems that are connected to it,” she said. “That’s the big hope. That they’ll carry that message of stewardship back to their families, and it will continue to spread.”
While there are no plans to expand the programme, it will return with a few developments for the next school year.