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Natural And Cultural Heritage In The National Schools

Updated: Jul 30, 2018

By Eleanor Turner SDG 14 and 15 - Native Biodiversity and Marine Heritage in Education

Clean seas Volvo Ocean race boat – Turn the Tide on Plastic Image: Eleanor Turner

My name is Eleanor Turner and through my work as a Research Assistant on the CoDesRes Iveragh project, along with my team members, I am working to raise awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals and how actions on a community scale can have a global impact.

I am also fortunate enough to work with Sea Synergy, a marine awareness and activity centre based in Waterville. Through my work with Sea Synergy, I visit primary schools throughout Kerry delivering the Explorers Education programme funded by the Marine Institute. This programme works to increase ocean literacy by raising awareness of Ireland’s maritime heritage and marine biodiversity.

As a heritage expert on the Heritage in Schools programme funded through the Heritage Council, I also get to visit primary schools to talk about native biodiversity and marine heritage. These two schools’ programmes led me to working with Sneem National School and Tahilla National School early in the 2017/2018 school year. The workshops with both schools centred around marine biodiversity. The students in both schools raised the issue of plastic pollution and the harm it causes to marine life, showing real concern for how they can make a positive change on to mitigate this problem.

The students I met in Sneem School participated in the Explorers Education modules on marine biodiversity and Ireland's whales and dolphins. They learnt how all around Ireland's coastline, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group administer a stranding’s program whereby local volunteers are trained to assist live stranded marine mammals or to gather information on any animals washed up. Through this research, they have conducted several autopsies on cetaceans and discovered the cause of death was linked to plastic ingested by the animal.

The realisation of the outcomes of plastic pollution in the ocean really hit home for this young group of ocean stewards, who after completing the modules went one step further to raise awareness within their community of the damage our single use plastics are causing, creating an 18-foot-long plastic whale from reclaimed materials along with a smaller 6 foot plastic fish, plastic jellyfish, turtle shells and colourful sea creatures they marched through Sneem on St. Patricks Day spreading the message on the extent of the problem and how this young generation are facing it head on, making changes in their daily lives to reduce plastic consumption and protect the oceans.

On the morning I spent with the students at Tahilla National School through the Heritage in Schools programme, we worked through the effects plastic pollution is having on our native biodiversity. These students had previously completed the Explorers Education programme and so were building on their knowledge of the marine ecosystems and human impacts on those systems. Using worksheets developed by Lucy Hunt for the Volvo Ocean Race Sustainability Education programme, we looked at how much plastic we use, what kind of plastic can be recycled, and how we can prevent this from damaging our marine environment.

This conversation created a real connection with the class and the need to turn the tide on plastic, leading them to recreate the Clean Seas Volvo Ocean race boat – Turn the Tide on Plastic as their float for the Sneem St. Patricks Day parade. This boat crewed by the Ocean Heroes from Tahilla joined the Plastic Whale in sharing their message of hope in the fight against ocean plastic pollution and the move towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

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