Most Bahamians take the ocean and its inhabitants for granted, perhaps because the vast and powerful ocean seems so invincible. Sadly, what most people don’t know is that the sea is just as vulnerable to harm by human activities as any other environmental realm. In many cases, the dangers are imminent because so little is known about the impact of damaging activities and whether or not the ocean has the capacity to recover. This is why Dolphin Encounters’ non-profit division – Project B.E.A.C.H (Bahamas Education Association for Cetacean Health) is so deeply committed to the conservation of the ocean and its marine life. We recognize that the ocean is our life support system and the cornerstone of what makes this planet function the way it does, and for the past several years have sought to promote conservation efforts by boosting marine learning in our local schools.
Bahamian waters are brimming with a wide array of fish, coral, and countless other marine animals and marine plant-life, but like anything else, it is vulnerable to overexploitation. This is why it is especially crucial at this time to teach young students the importance of protecting and treasuring these waters. According to Dolphin Encounters’ Assistant Director of Marine Mammals/Director of Education Annette Dempsey, two of the most common misconceptions that Dolphin Encounters addresses every day are that the ocean has an unlimited resource, and that it is a scary place.
“Marine awareness is really urgent now in order to protect the species and habitats. We need to do this so that we can continue to rely on the ocean for our daily resources, which include what we eat as well as ecotourism,” she said. “Our kids get their feet wet learning about some of the incredible animals that live in the ocean, the fear is replaced with fascination and that inspires conservation to be personal.”
Dolphin Encounters offers nine unique programs that give students and educators the opportunity to learn about marine mammals and the oceans in which they live. The programs are: Beach Buddies, Dolphin Adventure, Marine Assembly Program, Marine Exploration Labs, Ocean Puppet Pals, Project Green, Reef Rangers, Sea Lab (an educational facility built by Dolphin Encounters exclusively for the educational programs). In this program, students hear presentations, explore the touch tank, take part in activities on the beach or by the rock shores or attend a sea lion presentation. There is also the Marine Resource Lab. Each program meets the Bahamas Department of Education and the National Science Teachers Association standards. Students and teachers head over to Blue Lagoon Island for an interesting marine education and appreciation learning session, which takes place in an informal setting.
The Marine Resource Seminar provides local educators with first-hand marine education. The program is specifically tailored for teachers, and the goal is to fully immerse educators in an intense program so that they can take it back to the classroom and share it with their students. Teachers spend a half-day on Blue Lagoon Island participating in learning sessions, useful class activities and an up-close encounter with one of our dolphins. At the end of the program, all participating teachers receive a Marine Resource Handbook, which is filled with lesson plans, and also provides an opportunity to pair classroom curriculum from the handbook with educational field trips offered by Dolphin Encounters – Project B.E.A.C.H. Education Officer (Primary Science) in the Ministry of Education, Portia Sweeting said most of the students respond positively to the programs.
“Most of them learn best through interactive learning versus traditional learning. It’s easier for them to retain the information they learn if they’re hands on. They get so excited, and it’s something they enjoy doing, so it makes learning fun,” she said.
“They don’t ever forget a Reef Rangers program or a Project B.E.A.C.H program. They always remember what we want them to remember. It’s like subliminal teaching.”
The Marine Assembly Program is an exciting program that is available to local students free of charge. The program offers grade-specific versions of the Assembly Program (K-2, Grades 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12) and makes them available to schools throughout the country. Educators select from several topics, including Marine Careers, Amazing Marine Mammals, Deep Sea Exploration, Crazy Coral Reefs or Marine Debris, and Sea Lions: Meet Our Pinniped Pals. Each topic addresses steps we can take to preserve and protect our oceans and coasts and discusses the negative impact not doing so can have on our marine life. This program fosters student participation.
The Reef Rangers program is open exclusively to public school students whose teachers have already participated in the Marine Resource Seminar. Students attending the Reef Ranger program are given a private dolphin lecture and a chance to interact with the dolphins first-hand. During the learning session they are taught about our oceans, marine life and its inhabitants. To date, over nine thousand students have participated in this exciting program that teaches kids about marine mammals and the importance of protecting the ocean for dolphins and all sea creatures.
The Sea Camp program is an exciting full-day experience that offers a great mix of marine activities. The kids start out by meeting the ocean’s best and friendliest ambassadors – the dolphins – and are later escorted over to the Sea Lab to explore the mysteries of the ocean through a variety of activities. Lunch is included in this program, as well as an orientation, encounter, hat photo, sea tag awards and marine activities. Teachers also receive a free education kit and certificate.
“Teachers are very supportive once they participate because they can see how the formal and hands-on learning really make the education issues stick with the kids and excite them to learn more,” said Dempsey.
One of our most popular and exiting programs is the Sea Lab, which takes kids on a new ocean adventure every trip. Teachers choose from exciting ocean related topics such as, creatures of the deep, dangerous predators, dolphins and whales, crazy coral reefs, and more. Our staff then puts together two hours of fun, jam-packed activities for the students.
Marine debris is unsightly and unsafe. Unfortunately, the only ones who can put an end to this problem are the very same people who are causing it. A beach littered with trash is not only a depressing sight, but is dangerous to both people and marine life. The Dolphin Encounters – Project B.E.A.C.H. sponsoredBeach Buddies Program, helps students and teachers coordinate a safe, educational and fun event that teaches the importance of a clean beach environment. Dolphin Encounters – Project B.E.A.C.H. believes that continued efforts to monitor the amounts of trash found on our local beaches will help create a cleaner, safer marine environment for everyone.
The Ocean Conservancy program brings out student volunteers to participate in the annual ÔInternational Coastal Cleanup Day (ICCD), which is the world’s largest one-day volunteer event aimed at stemming pollution of the marine environment. Volunteers have turned-out in record numbers over the years to clear the coast of garbage. Participants collect refuse from beaches and lakefronts.
Project Green is a unique recycling program launched by the Bahamas National Pride Association, Ministry of Tourism, and Dolphin Encounters – Project B.E.A.C.H several years ago to help keep the Bahamas clean and “green.” The goal is to recycle large oil containers to make trash receptacles for private and public areas. It’s a program that definitely brings out the kids’ creative side as students paint several cleaned oil containers with eco-friendly pictures and slogans. When the new receptacles are complete they are placed on school grounds, beaches and parks. Prior to each Project Green event, students are given materials and resources from the Ocean Conservancy that they in turn can use to create important environmental messages.
“With over a thousand kids participating in Beach Buddies and Project Green programs each year, the conservation programs have made a visible difference in our community with more organizations pursuing cleaner beaches and proper trash disposal,” said Dempsey.
“Every program we offer includes conservation as a topic that directs kids into actions that protect the ocean. Of course the most popular programs are those that include our special ocean ambassadors – the dolphins.”
The Marine Exploration Lab (MEL) program sets the marine education wheels in motion. This program boosts classroom lesson plans with exiting field trip activities. Students participate in a number of marine-related activities that have been collected from marine educators throughout the world. For most children, the opportunity to come face-to-face with the dolphins in their natural habitat and learn about coral reef conservation is an unforgettable experience.
Puppetry is one of the oldest forms of entertainment, and has been amusing children for centuries. However, we know that puppet shows must be specifically crafted in order to grab and keep students’ attention, and this is exactly what we’ve done. Our Ocean Puppet Pals program was specifically designed to introduce children in kindergarten to grade 2 to the wonders of the ocean through the use of colourful puppets. During a one-hour outreach program, we go into the classroom and put on a fun puppet show on marine life. Teachers select the show they want their students to see. The show deals with marine mammals, coral reef wildlife, deep sea creatures, and open ocean animals and includes hands-on activities. Students learn about different marine mammal habitats, find out which animals live in the deep sea, and what makes them ideally suited to live there.
The Dolphin Adventure is open to all schools and teachers K-12 and is a wonderful introduction to dolphins and the marine environment. Students learn about these fascinating mammals and the ocean during the shallow water encounter program. Participating students are given an orientation, a dolphin encounter, hat, photo, sea tag awards, a marine activity kit and a facility tour. Teachers also receive a free education kit to promote post-trip curriculum activities.
Project B.E.A.C.H has received several financial contributors over the years, but according to Dempsey, the program has garnered countless donations of paint, food, water supplies, and trash cans. Additionally, thousands of dollars in prizes have been donated for the annual poster competition.
Education is a crucial defense in preserving and protecting our beautiful environment. Dolphin Encounters – Project B.E.A.C.H.’s education programs provide unique opportunities for marine education. The programs have the full support of the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF), The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, and the Ministry of Education. Dolphin Encounters – Project B.E.A.C.H. has also established the Salvador Scholarship Fund to cultivate an appreciation and respect for the marine environment in young students attending public schools.
“If a company really wanted to make a direct impact on marine education for children, donating to the scholarship fund would do it. The fund pays half the program cost for public and Family Island schools to participate,” adds Dempsey.
The non-profit Dolphin Encounters – Project B.E.A.C.H. programs are supported by the kind donations of major corporations and private citizens. To sponsor a program or to make a donation, please call Annette Dempsey at 242/394-2200