The ocean is the main physical characteristic that defines our planet, making the Earth habitable. It covers over 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface, produces more than 50 per cent of the oxygen in the atmosphere, regulates weather and climate, supports a vast diversity of life both on land and sea and provides food for people all over our planet.
Yet, years of exploitation of marine resources, pollution, coastal urbanization and climate change have led to destruction of marine ecosystems, resulting in the deterioration of ocean health and, consequently, of human health.
In K to 12 classrooms all over the world, learning about the ocean and human’s dependence on it as well as research on the effectiveness of marine education programs are severely lacking. A student cannot be science or environmentally literate without being literate in ocean and aquatic concepts and how educational research has paid little attention to teaching and learning ocean and aquatic science concepts in contrast to other areas of science such as chemistry, physics, and biology (Payne and Zimmerman, 2010).
In North America, ocean literacy was established as a science education criteria for K-12 only in 2015. In Asia, it is found only in a small handful of institutions, including The Harbour School. Last month, we attended the 3rd Asian Marine Educators Association (AMEA) conference in Qingdao, China as keynote speakers. We presented on The Harbour School’s Marine Science Center and how the implementation of live aquaria in a school can be used as a tool to teach ocean literacy - the understanding of the ocean's influence on us and our influence on the ocean. AMEA’s main aim is to help students become ocean literate, to be aware of the importance of the ocean to life on our planet and learn how to make informed and responsible decisions regarding the ocean and its resources.
Hong Kong relies on the ocean for its trade and economy, food, transportation, recreation and more. However, local awareness and knowledge of its marine environment is very low. Marine science and education are seen less important than the three traditional sciences taught at school and struggles to find a place in school curriculum even as climate change, pollution and overfishing pose an existential threat to our species. In this area of education, The Harbour School is a perfect example of how Marine Science should be taught at schools in order to foster education in this area.
AMEA was formed in 2015 as a result of a discussion among Asian participants at the National Marine Educators Association (NMEA) in the U.S. Participants from Asia agreed on the need for an organised marine educators’ group in the region to produce and disseminate marine education resources. Asia is so multicultural that it needed special resources tailored to its particular characteristics.
The conference was very interesting. We met ocean literacy experts from the U.S and various professors from China, Japan, Taiwan and Korea. Everyone presented on their projects and shared tips and strategies on how they enhance ocean literacy in schools through research, summer camps, games and virtual reality. We presented on the many activities spearheaded by the MSC in the last academic year including the results of a survey we conducted this year.
Since our opening, we have organized many field trips to explore various marine ecosystems in Hong Kong, collaborated with non-profit organisations with environmental concerns and conducted summer camps with students from other schools.
We are helping teachers incorporate ocean topics to the curriculum in order to extend students’ interest in the ocean. We have related an ocean topic to every Science unit for each Grade, for example adding echolocation of marine mammals when learning about sound waves, or electrical animals when learning about electricity.
Back in June, we conducted a survey within the school to evaluate the effectiveness of our marine science center. Students who regularly visit the center to understand the importance of ocean literacy, have now a higher interest in science and realized that everything is connected to the ocean and we depend on it for our survival.
We are also very honored to be appointed board members of AMEA and marine science Center manager Sarah Taylor, is the new chair of the Education and Training committee. We look forward to many exciting future collaborations and projects with AMEA for the next two years.