Protecting our marine and coastal ecosystems is crucially important for maintaining our planet’s health and is even more important in this historic moment in which we are living, when human activities are causing great environmental challenges. Industrialization, technological advances, energy production and the pollution resulting from all these elements, among others, cause the deterioration of our resources, especially the marine and coastal ones. Because of this, acting to prevent further damage is imperative. The first step in achieving this is educating people about this from a young age. This way, they form an environmental consciousness since childhood and will hopefully grow into a more sustainable and responsible way of life.

Keeping this in mind, the University of Puerto Rico’s Sea Grant Program designed three educational guides about the ecosystems comprised of mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs. These guides will aid the teacher instructing groups about these topics. As part of our educational efforts, we also perform training sessions to help teachers understand the ways in which they can use this curricular material.

Recently, from July 16 through 18, 2018, the Program took part in a residential training session held in La Parguera, Lajas, Puerto Rico. During this workshop, docent staff had the chance to learn about each one of these marine ecosystems and perform activities related to them, so they could then replicate thee activities with their students in the classroom.

During the morning on the first day, we worked with the mangrove forest guide. The teachers, along with learning information about the ecosystem, saw the places in Puerto Rico in which mangrove forests thrive through acting out a story read as a group. In the afternoon on that same day, they studied the different types of sea grass found in our archipelago. To understand just how important this ecosystem is, educators played a game called Go hide!, which they enjoyed very much. As an end to the day’s activity, they performed a lab activity using a Secchi disk to determine water turbidity and the areas more conducive to seagrass growth.

On the second day, during the morning, the teachers studied the coral reef guide. They learned about coral polyps by making an edible one. They also held a laboratory activity to identify different types of coral, drew a comic strip, went on a virtual dive, saw the different types of coral reefs and determined where these organisms could grow using a bathymetric map. In the afternoon, they received a demonstration about the tools and services provided by CariCOOS to measure currents, surf conditions and other parameter they can use with their students and in their daily lives. Finally, they were visited by several teachers who have been using these guides in their classrooms and had a round table discussion about their experiences, give their recommendations and answer any questions the docents had about integrating the guides into their classes. We would like to extend our deepest thanks to Brenda Estévez, Denys Ríos, Shirley Droz and Maggie Rosas for their valuable input into the workshop and for always being able and willing to collaborate with us. We would also like to thank Adolfo González for his help during the CariCOOS lecture.

During the third and last day of the residential training session, the teachers went on a field trip in which they observed firsthand each of the ecosystems studied. The trip began in Magueyes Island (home of the Department of Marine Sciences), boated around several of La Parguera’s mangrove cays, went snorkeling and observed the organisms living in the area. They finished by analyzing several topics featured in the guides and talked about how they would integrate the themes into their classrooms.

It was a very enriching experience, both for the teachers as well as for us. We hope that the tools provided during this training will be of great use when taking this message, promoting protection and conservation for our marine and coastal resources. Keep moving forward!

By Delmis del C. Alicea Segarra, EdD
Photo credit: Efra Figueroa
Translated by Wilmarie Cruz Franceschi, MA

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