Marine conservationist Guy Harvey has been introducing schoolchildren throughout the Cayman Islands to the underwater world without even getting wet.
Starting last month, Mr. Harvey has been visiting primary, middle and high schools to talk to pupils about some of the key species in Cayman, including sharks, lionfish, groupers and stingrays.
“It is really important to instil a respect for the ocean at a young age because once they reach a certain age they … become inflexible and have their beliefs and getting them at a young age to respect the ocean and have some base knowledge can be life changing, especially living on an island,” said Stacie Sybersma, who is working with Mr. Harvey to arrange the school visits.
Despite living on an island with what many divers describe as some of the best diving in the region, the ocean does not always beckon Cayman’s children.
“It’s the first question I ask when I go into a class,” Mr. Harvey said. “If they’re old enough, [I ask] ‘How many of you have undertaken a scuba diving course?’, and a few hands go up. ‘How many of you enjoy snorkelling or going in the water?’ and it’s a low percentage, which is a shame.
“It shows you the need for getting people in the water more and trying to make an effort and make it fun for them to swim and go look at the animals, because the animals are fun, not just from an aesthetic point of view – the colours and shapes and so on from an artistic point of view – but from the ecological perspective and why they are valuable to the country, not only as extant animals but from a socioeconomic point of view.”
In his visits to the schools, Mr. Harvey said the hands-on demonstrations of how to carefully handle lionfish and the cutting off of the fish’s venomous spines and fins were proving to be the biggest hit among the children.
He has made several movies featuring some of the creatures found in our local oceans, including sharks and groupers, to highlight the environmental and human threats against the animals. “That was firing a shotgun at the problem, this is more of a rifle bullet where we go to the schools and classes and actually spend time with the kids,” he said.
Mr. Harvey is covering four main issues during the school visits – stingrays, lionfish, the proposed expansion of marine parks and tracking of large pelagic fish, including billfish and sharks.
“That’s what we’re squeezing into these 45-minute presentations,” he said.
They are visiting a dozen schools throughout the Cayman Islands.
At the recent Living Green show, Mr. Harvey was also educating the public on lionfish – their prevalence and impact on marine reef life, but also how to clean and fillet them and cook them up into tasty dishes.