Over the last four weeks Reef Ecologic has been working with the Stars Foundation at Heatley Secondary College to educate a cohort of year 9 students about coral reefs and inspire them to care about these amazing ecosystems. Reef Ecologic outreach coordinator Nathan Cook has led the program providing background information on coral reefs, their health and the role we can all play in protecting its ongoing health and resilience.

A key component of these Reef Resilience Workshops has been the combination of discussions on reef health and personal health. Wellness coordinator Tracey Cook has been providing self care guidance to help the students deal with the stressors of everyday life as a teenager, especially in 2020 which has been a challenging year for all students. “Building resilience in themselves is a crucial first step to address before the students can consider directing energy towards preserving our environment” Tracey said.

The sessions were interspersed with a mix of theoretical and practical activities to ensure they remained engaged and interested. “It was pretty clear that many students lost interest if theoretical elements were the primary focus of activities so we tried to make sure there were some meaningful hands on interactions throughout the sessions” Nathan said.

Hands On Activities

The students participated in a simulated reef survey counting fish and invertebrates to assess the health of the reef. We laid a tape measure to simulate a transect line across the deck and named it ‘Stars Heatly Reef’ and randomly placed images of reef fish, invertebrates and other indicators of reef health. The students worked in pairs to ‘survey’ the simulated reef at their high school.

Active Reef Restoration

Another activity used to improve the health of reefs is an active reef restoration technique known as ‘coral gardening’.  Coral gardening, similar to gardening at home, involves the collection of small segments of live coral and relocating it to help damaged reefs. This is often done by creating coral nurseries. With the students we simulated setting up two types of coral nurseries, coral discs and rope nurseries, to help regrow a reef. The coral discs were a clear winner. “My favourtie activity throughout the program was putting the putty in the cement to make the coral nurseries” year 9 student Saquita Mooka said. “It was really good learning about the different types of corals and how it can help reefs recover. “

Developing Leadership Skills

Another activity involved conducting interviews with the students to help them develop tier public speaking skills and confidence. ‘One of the elements many students at that age lack is confidence’ coordinator Nathan Cook said. ‘We work hard to encourage students to take advantage of opportunities to share their voice and opinions with the world asking the students to present answers and responses in front of the class. We also worked on interview skills, how to answer questions and provide clear concise responses.”

Improving Stewardship in the Future

Throughout 2020 most of the workshops have been classroom based. The aim in the future is to get the students out in the field and hopefully on the Reef itself to put some of these new found skills into practice. Connecting with nature is crucial for people, especially students to realise that we are a part of nature and not something distinct from it. By highlighting this connection we hope we can inspire the students to take a more active role in stewardship activities and its conservation.

These workshops are being delivered as part of the Integrated Coral Reef Citizen Science Program is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.Read more at www.reefecologic.org/project/gbrf-community/