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Marvellous Mangroves from the Brac to China

Published on Friday, December 11, 2009 Email To Friend    Print Version


Brac educator and author Martin Keeley (left) with Javy Zhang (centre) and restoration director Mr Chen Zheng at one of the replanting operations that is part of the China’s Zhanjiang National Mangrove Nature Reserve

Cayman’s Marvellous Mangroves teachers’ guide will be going to China, says Brac educator and author Martin Keeley.

First developed for Cayman 11 years ago under Mr Keeley’s direction, and now incorporated into the primary school curriculum, this science-based teachers’ guide has been developed for more than six countries worldwide, and now the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been added to that list.

Mr Keeley, who has just returned from the PRC, says agreement has been reached with the Zhanjiang Mangrove Reserve in the southeast of the country to translate and adapt the curriculum for use in that region.

“The Zhanjiang Reserve controls a total of over 7,000 hectares of mangroves spread along the 1,556 kilometers of the peninsula’s coastline of this subtropical region of Guangdong Province. This is the largest area of mangroves in China,” Mr Keeley, who is Brac Campus Director for UCCI, explained.

“The Reserve has recently completed an extensive programme of research, restoration and rehabilitation of mangrove resources in the area,” he said.

Working in conjunction with the Dutch government for the past seven years, the Reserve, as the mangrove directorate is called, has become an established institution with a brand new central headquarters near Zhanjiang, which contains extensive educational resources visited by both the public and school groups.

“However, they have not been able to incorporate an educational programme into the school system,” Mr Keeley said, “and this is why they want to adapt Marvellous Mangroves.”

During his four-day visit to the region, Mr Keeley was shown several of the areas under the control of the Reserve, including a research centre and major plantations, as well as an area of former shrimp farms that is being completely restored.

“What impressed me,” he said, “is the way in which the Reserve works with local communities to help ensure that their subsistence reliability on seafood found in mangroves is maintained. Many local people use the mangroves to provide everything from fish to sandworms, mudworms, crabs and snails.”

“And, yes, they are delicious,“ he added with a smile. “Of course, they have to be cooked the Chinese way, but some are considered a delicacy as well as a staple food.”

Mr Keeley, who is also education director for the international NGO, the Mangrove Action Project, said adapting Marvellous Mangroves will not be easy. The education system in China is very structured and hands-on teaching is a relative rarity. However, about a dozen teachers – some with their children – attended a presentation and an impromptu workshop he gave on the third day of his visit.

These teachers, he said, were very enthusiastic and will provide a core group, who will work with scientists, administrators and educational staff from the Reserve, as well as professors like Dr Hanwell-Dong, a mangrove forestry expert, from Guangdong Ocean University and representatives from the local education department on the development of the resources.

“It’s very exciting,” Mr Keeley said, “The Reserve is a well-established government institution and therefore has the ability to bring in the people necessary to make this project happen.”

He expects the timeline and work-plan to be clearly established this fall, once the initial translation has taken place, and plans at least one more visit to China to work in a consulting capacity with the people working on the adaptation, as well as toconduct a teachers’ workshop showing how to implement the curriculum resources. However, the project is still in need of major funding, he added.

The Marvellous Mangroves project is primarily volunteer-based, though some of the people working for the various organisations internationally are paid as part of their jobs to initiate and implement the programme in their countries. In China, for example, this will be part of the job for those people working with the Zhanjiang Mangrove Reserve, but outside specialists in local flora and fauna as well as artists and editors will be hired on a project basis.

In Grand Cayman, where Mr Keeley ran the programme in local primary schools for 10 years, his associate Marnie Laing has taken over the job, with the continued backing of CUC.

On the Brac, Mr Keeley taught ecology, with a focus on the island’s mangroves and wetlands, in both the high school and the primary schools. He now teaches it as part of the Environmental Science curriculum at UCCI. He is also available, where possible, to take local school students on field trips.
 
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