During first week of May, scientists from 12 different countries met for the first Data Buoy Cooperation Panel (DBCP) Pacific Islands Training Workshop on Ocean Observations and Data Applications in Koror, Palau. The purpose of the weeklong workshop was to create partnerships throughout the Pacific Islands to increase the amount of ocean observations available in the area and identify where these observations are needed.
A secondary goal was to engage the community to make sure Palauan residents understood why the scientists chose their home for the meeting and how improved ocean observations could benefit their community.
As part of engaging the community, the scientists participating in the workshop were invited to attend an event, “Loyal Stars Class of 2015 Career Night,” where the eighth graders from Koror Elementary School talked about their experiences of being a government employee for the day. The students shadowed an employee (all levels from governor to secretary) for the morning and then took over the job for one hour in the afternoon.
The students also shared what they had learned after finishing a unit about the ocean in school. As part of the unit, entitled “The Ocean: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” the students studied all of the native marine species surrounding their island home. At the end of the lesson, the students created a large mural painting depicting all of the species they studied. “The ocean is our home and we have to learn about it to take care of it,” an eighth grade boy said.
Drs. Antoine De Ramon N’Yeurt (The University of the South Pacific, Fiji), Jim Potemra (University of Hawaii, PACIOOS) and Emily Smith (NOAA/Climate Observation Division) were able to attend the ceremony as representatives.
“I very much enjoyed meeting with the students and teachers at the eighth grade event,” Dr. Potemra said, “It was great to both hear the presentations by the students but also to see the impressive mural created by the younger students. Of course you'd expect people living in remote, ‘large ocean states’ such as Palau would be intimately connected to their ocean environment, and of course this was the case. It's still nice to see that they don't take this for granted, and that children are taught this at such an early age.”
A first grade class at the school learned that the scientists had visited their school and did not want to be left out of the activities. They requested a visit from Dr. Smith. Smith met with the first graders to explain why the scientists were meeting in Palau. Then she asked the first graders why the ocean was important to them.
Most of the students answered “food,” and proceeded to list all the things that they eat. Fish was the first answer, but crabs, octopus, and turtle were named, demonstrating the diversity of available food. The students were also asked to draw a picture illustrating why the ocean is important to Palauans. (You can browse through the students' illustrations in the gallery below.)
Apart from food, the culture of Palau is greatly dependent upon the ocean for their cultural practices. The women wear jewelry made from shells and other materials found on the beaches. The men go fishing together to feed their families, but also to talk and pass on their oral heritage. Understanding the importance of this heritage can help scientists as they work with the community to find out the best practices for ocean observations.
At the end of the workshop, Dr. Sidney Thurston of NOAA/Climate Observation Division and Smith, along with Minister of Culture Baklai Temengil, had the opportunity to meet with High Chief Reklai of Melekeok State to discuss Palau’s interest in better ocean observations. High Chief Reklai recognized that “climate change is a global problem that needs a global solution,” pointing to how more frequent extreme weather events are affecting his people along with coral bleaching events and warmer waters. He was supportive of the proposal to increase the number of observations in the Pacific Islands and wanted to know how he could help.
This entire experience shows how scientists working with the local community can get support for future projects that will benefit research and community members. The community is already affected by climate change and is working to preserve their heritage, while adapting to the changes already occurring.
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