Thursday, April 18, 2024

One Classroom at a Time 

by Nikole Elli | February 24, 2022

The green-clumped forests along the coasts and river mouths act as a buffer for the islands of a vulnerable country against typhoons such as ours. According to Matthew Chalmers of Sentient Media, mangroves are trees and shrubs that grow in saltwater in the tropics. Being the only trees that can tolerate salt water, they can block salt with their roots and excrete excess salt through their leaves. Mangrove forests can easily be spotted on some coastal barangays of our province. Others are even easier to be found on the side of the highway during road trips to the north. 

Although mangroves may seem in green abundance when clumped together, the truth is that these areas face the risk of being deforested. While it may be a big leap to try and solve this problem altogether, it may still help to start small efforts. This is the case of a non-government organization based in Zamboanguita, Negros Oriental – the Big Blue Network.

The Big Blue Network’s Efforts

Arriving in Negros four years ago, the Big Blue Network began working with the local science high school and local officials. They realized that it was more effective to teach the next generation and began teaching Grade 10 students about marine ecosystems conservation. It is easier for the students to communicate with the community and present their research projects and explain the need for conservation.

Annalies Andringa, the organization’s education consultant, explained that before the pandemic hit, the Big Blue Network held one-hour sessions every week during the students’ research classes. In addition to discussions about marine ecosystems, they help the students develop skills that will help them with their research projects and other academic courses.

She added that the organization’s efforts did not end with classroom activities. On Saturdays, with parental permission and teacher support, students also went out to the ecosystems to conduct fieldwork, and they even taught students how to snorkel!

Photo Credit: Annelies Andringa; Students conducting field work before the pandemic

Photo credit: Annelies Andringa

However, as schools closed, the organization adapted its program to the “new normal” module mode of learning for the students. Nowadays, students are given the choice to do research projects from home, but they are still assisted by the organization in whatever way necessary. 

According to the organizers, these efforts are also well-supported by the local government unit. In fact, Zamboanguita is one of the few municipalities which has its own independent Coastal Resource Management Office. 

Challenges Encountered During Pandemic

Currently, they are in the process of growing mangrove seedlings in a nursery to be replanted after a year. There is also limited fieldwork conducted by the team since student participation is relatively limited. On top of this constraint, they face other challenges in their undertakings to plant more mangroves for strengthening their marine ecosystem conservation efforts. Mapping out and asking for permission to plant these seedlings can be challenging, especially when it concerns privately-owned land. The areas where they may replant the mangroves is restricted since mangroves only live in intertidal zones – the point at which the sea meets the land during high tide and low tide. 

Despite these challenges, the organization’s efforts seemed to have paid off as one student from their pioneering batch took interest in taking up a degree in marine biology and still helps the team during fieldwork. He is currently a freshman student at Silliman University. 

Certainly, one can always read about grand promises and big leaps to save the world through environmental conservation, but it is always the small steps of effort that win. For Big Blue Network, it’s the small effort to change the world, one classroom at a time.

References:

Chalmers, M. (2021, March 5). Mangroves: What Are They and Where are Mangroves Found? Sentient Media. https://sentientmedia.org/mangroves/

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