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worldwide coral reef conservation through research, education, outreach, and restoration

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How kids set up their own MPA on Saint-Barthélemy

When Heike Dumjahn and her colleagues from the Territorial Agency for the Environment on the Caribbean island Saint-Barthélemy read SECORE’s kids comic for the first time, they fell in love with our Coral Heroes and decided to use it for their school program. The only challenge: The islanders speak French, so the educators became translators.

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School kids at a beach lesson with Heike Dumjahn and colleague Karl Questel; photo Agence Territoriale de l'Environnement

SECORE: Heike, what was your motivation to translate the comic magazine into French?

When we first found the "Coral Heroes" - Comic online, we were just so delighted by the little characters and the overall design―the setting could be so much in our waters just around Saint-Barthélemy! Reading it, we realized that it also had a real scientific message and it came to our mind that we might use it for educational purposes in our schools.

One of the missions of the Agence Territoriale de l'Environnement (engl.: Territorial Agency for the Environment) is outreach, raising awareness, and education of young people. We work a lot with the schools of Saint-Barthélemy and we have one special program in connection to local reefs and their flora and fauna: It is called “Aire Marine Educative" (AME; 'Marine Education Area') and two classes of 9-year-old children participate each year. They choose an area outside our Marine Park, explore and discover it for a year and propose a conservation measure to the community or a regulation for their area―for example the installation of information boards, surveys, and whatever seems important to them. Within their AME-area they can discover some elkhorn corals, brain corals and other reef creatures presented in the comic. We are really excited and can’t wait to present Al Moose and his friends to them!

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Left: snorklers scouting for an AME-project ('Marine Education Area'); middle: a surprise on the beach – baby turtle; right: kids carneval with corals; photos Agence Territoriale de l'Environnement

How do people living on Saint Barthélemy benefit from the local reefs? Which reef services are important for the local economy?

Saint-Barthélemy's first source of income is tourism! As it is a very small island―21 square-kilometers only―people from the island as well as tourists love to spend their time on the water or underwater. They go catamaran or sailboat cruising, or ride speedboats to discover beaches or other islands. They all invite us to put on snorkeling gear and discover nurse sharks, turtles, fish, and their friends! Scuba diving is a very common activity on Saint-Barthélemy, and we are lucky to dive with reef sharks, hawksbill turtles, and eagle rays!

Speaking from your experiences: Is there a raising awareness of the importance of reefs and do people care about them?

People in Saint-Barthélemy are more and more involved and aware of environmental issues in general and of corals and reef protection in particular. After the big hurricanes during the last few years, which have devasted Saint-Barthélemy and also other islands in the Caribbean Sea, people tend to become more and more aware of the effects of global warming, but also of the protecting role of the reefs surrounding our island. It is our responsibility to explain and to show how to protect our direct environment, which is our home! We have more than one environmental association involved in coral protection. One is working on artificial reef structures, another one on coral nurseries. We are lucky to have only traditional fishing methods in Saint-Barthélemy, industrial fishing is not allowed―but for sure, improvement is always possible!

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A wonderful, scenic Caribbean island: Saint-Barthélemy; photo Agence Territoriale de l'Environnement

How are you going to use the comic?

We are going to promote the online version of the comic, but we would also like to introduce the printed version of it at school during our workshops with the children of different ages. We talk about local reefs with all children at the age of 12 to 13, as it is part of their program to discover the different ecological environments of Saint-Barthélemy at school. Luckily, we have the possibility to take them out on a snorkeling trip in the Marine Park for a real experience of what a reef might look like. At the same time, we discover the local coral nursery, placed in the Marine Park and this hints to the problems coral reefs face today and how to protect them. We would love to spend even more time (e.g. in class, after the field trip) with the pupils to discuss the biology of corals, the threats coral reefs face today and what can be done to protect them.

Heike, we thank you and your team for translating Coral Heroes into French and being part of letting the Heroes travel around the world!

All seven language versions of our kids comic “Coral Heroes – Adventures on the Reefs of Towabonga” can be found here. We provide a low-resolution web-version of the magazine and a high-resolution print version for those who want to hand-out paper copies to print the magazine at their own cost.

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A glimpse under water – staghorn corals and reef fish in the reefs of Saint-Barthélemy; photo Agence Territoriale de l'Environnement

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SECORE's lead partners are:

Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
California Academy of Science
Columbus Zoo
The Nature Conservancy

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