The Harbour School

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Let’s get Sciencey

  • Marine Science
Maxine Cutracci, Marine Science Specialist and Science Coordinator

We are living in hard times. The coronavirus pandemic has caused the world to come to a halt and left each of us feeling a little powerless...full of doubt and apprehension for our loved ones.

Since February, the pandemic has been a constant, everyday topic all round the world. Conspiracy theories have also increased exponentially, amplified by the viral nature of social media. More than ever, we realize how important it is to be able to distinguish the reliability of the news and information we see and read on the Internet. This pandemic has highlighted the importance of understanding the science and knowledge required for decision making and policy. We now realize how some basic science knowledge is absolutely necessary in order to understand our environment and to be able to critically analyse the news we receive. 

I was trained in biology and took it for granted that most people had some knowledge of basic biology. I thought it was common knowledge that people knew what bacteria and viruses are and that they are very different from each other. I thought people understood that viruses needed a host to be able to survive, that because humans rely on animals so much today, that because our overpopulated cities encroach on the natural habitats of animals, it shouldn’t seem so strange that a virus can spread from one organism to another given these conditions. I realised I had been wrong to assume that such basic understanding of biology was common knowledge and that in fact, many were either uninformed or misinformed. Many strongly believed that Covid-19 was made in a lab, that it is a biological weapon developed for political reasons.

Environmental scientists and microbiologists know that pathogens do not respect species boundaries and the majority of them are yet to be discovered. Research suggests that by reducing natural habitats and biodiversity, together with changing behaviour, we add to the risk of diseases spilling over from animals to humans and as a result, animal-borne outbreaks are on the rise.

We live in a new geological era, the Anthropocene, that is characterized by humanity’s strong impact on Earth’s natural systems. In the last several decades, with the sharp increase in human population, the health of our planet has sharply declined. Sometimes we forget that every life on this planet is interconnected with the environment, that what we do to the world reverberates back to us. In order to understand these challenges and safeguard our well being, it is necessary to collaborate across disciplines and nations. 

This brings us to the question of what can we do as a school to ensure our students are informed and empowered with the knowledge required to help nurse our planet back to health? 

A new discipline called Planetary Health is emerging. It is defined as “the health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems on which it depends” and it focuses on the connections between the prosperity of humans, other living things, and entire ecosystems. At THS, we try our best to build a connection with nature and educate students from Prep to G12 to become the next generation of planetary scientists.
Our Green committee members have recently started an amazing new initiative. The new Youth Green club is where interested students get together every Tuesday to discuss green initiatives to implement at THS, discuss different ways for us to grow as a community, and start the change that our society needs. Change starts from small steps and raising awareness can make a big difference. Our Green student ambassadors will work together to learn about ways to be more environmentally friendly, reduce waste, save energy, grow awareness and appreciation of the importance of nature. 

We have a very strong STEAM curriculum at school. Our STEAM committee members are experts in diverse science disciplines and many come from strong scientific backgrounds. We are trying to integrate science as much as possible and teach students how to read data on a graph, read a table and critically analyse information. If we do this right, our students will grow to be adults capable of discerning fact from fiction, read and analyse data and ask questions in order to validate the truth in the information they read. 

We also have a very strong marine science program. At THS, marine science is integrated into the school curriculum connecting various science topics to the ocean. Why is this important? The United Nations has proclaimed a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) to reverse the cycle of decline in ocean health and ensure that ocean science can fully support countries in creating improved conditions for sustainable development of the world’s oceans.

The ocean, which covers 70 per cent of our planet, regulates the climate and supports the livelihoods of over three billion people, is our ally in the fight against climate change and a source of significant cultural, aesthetic and recreational values (UN, United Nations, 2017).
Unfortunately, the First World Ocean Assessment released in 2016 found that much of the ocean is now seriously degraded and is expected to get worse in the future. This is why we need to educate ourselves and our students about the marine environment, invest in their curiosity and creativity, try our best to increase their interest in ocean science and all sciences.
 

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