As the Smith College Coral Reef Ed-Ventures Program enters its 14th year, students are gearing up for another unforgettable summer providing environmental education youth camps in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, Belize.
This year’s participants are Alyssa Stanek ’13, a psychology and education and child study major; Kayla Clark ’14, sociology); Sarah Tucker ’13, biological sciences; Kiara Gomez ’14, geosciences; Dena Greenstreet ’15, education and child study and liberal studies; and Sarah Alper ’15, sociology.
The students, along with David Smith, professor of biological sciences, Al Curran, professor emeritus of geosciences, and Denise Lello, research associate in biological sciences, will team with staff at Hol Chan Marine Reserve to provide educational summer programs for local youth.
The student teachers guide nearly 100 Belizean schoolchildren, aged 7 to 11, in a two-week, inquiry-based program about coral reefs. Also offered is a one-week program for youth aged 12 and above, during which the students produce a final project to share with their community.
The programs integrate exploration of the local reef and coastal environments through the study of marine science, and make connections to the existing curricula of the Belizean schools. Smith students will also engage in research in conjunction with Smith faculty, to survey the abundant populations of invertebrates on the reef and to map and monitor mangroves and sea grass beds.
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which extends more than 600 miles along the coasts of southern Mexico, Belize, and northern Honduras, is the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. Ambergris Caye, a small island off the northeast coast of Belize, merits its title of Belize’s premier vacation destination due to its proximity to the reef. Ambergris Caye depends on the reef ecologically as well as economically, because a healthy coral reef and its adjacent sea grass beds and mangrove communities are needed to support tourism, provide storm protection, and sustain fisheries.
Prompted by concerns about the increasing amount of uncontrolled diving and fishing on and near the reef, Belize established the Hol Chan Marine Reserve in 1987. In partnership with Hol Chan staff, the Coral Reef Ed-Ventures Program uses education to heighten community awareness about the important economic, ecological, and aesthetic benefits that coral reefs provide to Belize.
During the camp, the Smith students use a wide variety of active-learning techniques and creative materials to teach children concepts about reef ecology, including field trips, crafts, skits, games, and other hands-on activities. The program seeks to inspire conservation and sustainable use of coastal resources by providing children an opportunity to learn how healthy reefs function, how various organisms interact with the reef, what threats to the reef ecosystem exist, and how to protect it.
The Coral Reef Ed-Ventures Program is sponsored by Smith’s Environmental Science & Policy Program.