It’s a program that’s designed to bring the ocean to the classroom. Since its inception, the Dolphin Encounters Reef Rangers program has trained thousands of local public school students to become conscious marine ambassadors for the ocean. What started out as an idea to raise awareness on marine matters beginning with teachers has since become a coveted educational tool. The Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF), the brainchild behind the idea, continues to partner with Dolphin Encounters to bring this marine educational program to the classroom. Each year BREEF selects 30 teachers from over 200 schools to participate in the program. The foundation also funds a two-week seminar. This network of teachers is especially crucial, as educators use many of the programs as core components in their science curriculum.
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 the Bahamas’ 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 aim of the program is to train students to become the next generation of marine ambassadors for the ocean. Once on Blue Lagoon Island, the kids receive their very own private dolphin orientation. During the informational session, they learn about the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, their behavioral patterns, what they eat and their basic physiology. The kids also learn how the dolphins are cared for, and how the animal trainers train them new behaviors.
“It’s one thing to read a textbook about dolphins, and it’s a completely other thing to actually get to experience them up close. There is no substitution for this type of learning,” said Ranaldo Smith, educational assistant for Dolphin Encounters.
“There’s something to be said about hands-on learning. A child will be more inclined to do everything in his or her power to protect these animals if they can attach a real face to it. Every time they think about dolphins they’ll remember one of ours. They become their pets; the only difference is they don’t get to take our dolphins home with them.”
Assistant Director of Marine Mammals at Dolphin Encounters, Annette Dempsey says the kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from these programs.
“The teachers also gain a new respect for marine life. They are just as excited about these programs as the kids,” she said. “They learn things they never knew before, they get to enjoy the learning sessions with the kids and when they return to the classroom, there’s always something to talk about; they spend a lot of time reflecting on the experience.”
“We always get great feedback from the teachers, and they always have fun activities lined-up for their kids to do once they get back in the classroom. There’s a lot to be said about these programs.”
The students also get to experience the animals up close and personal. During the dolphin interaction, the trainers test the kids’ knowledge of dolphins, conservation and the ocean. Once the interaction is complete, students are free to roam Blue Lagoon Island by themselves and visit the sea lion area, the touch tank, our new loggerhead turtle, or watch the other dolphins train. Many of the kids will assist the trainers in feeding and hydrating the dolphins. At the end of the program each child receives an official Reef Ranger T-shirt, a Marine Activity Kit and a Sea Tag award. Students also get to take home a free photography of them kissing one of our adorable dolphins.
Dolphin Encounters has a wide range of educational programs that have been instrumental in entertaining and educating schoolchildren over the years. The company’s non-profit Project B.E.A.C.H (Bahamas Education Association for Cetacean Health) program provides unique opportunities to Bahamian students and teachers for marine education and appreciation. The program has even received the Cacique Award – the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism’s highest award for excellence in tourism.
The programs – Beach Buddies, Marine Resource Seminar, Dolphin Adventure, Sea Lab, Sea Camp, Ocean Odyssey Camp, Aqua Explorers Camp, Student Internship Camp, Ocean Puppet Pals, Marine Assembly Program, and Reef Rangers have the full support of the following agencies: B.R.E.E.F, The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, The Bahamas Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Bahamas Ministry of Education and the Bahamas National Pride Association. Dolphin Encounters non-profit division, Project B.E.A.C.H has garnered the Ministry of Tourism’s highest award of excellence, the Cacique Award, for its work.