Kids get together to save our seas
The quarters clink in the jar, and cookies fly off the table at Huff Elementary School in Redwood City, Calif. Laura Mabbott's fifth-graders are having a bake sale to protect a coral reef thousands of miles away. "If reefs 3,000 miles away die out," says student Nina Maksimova, "we are wounded."Skip to next paragraph
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The John Gray Recyclers are busy, too. These high school students live in the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. They've collected small mountains of trash from island beaches, organized recycling programs, written songs about the ocean, and raised money to save the endangered Cayman blue iguana. "I feel my generation is the conserving generation," says high-schooler Cathrine Welds in an e-mail.
An ocean away on the Pacific island of Guam, students are just as committed. The Marine Mania Club at George Washington High School is organizing its own beach cleanup. The "Maniacs" also monitor sea-turtle nests, plant trees to keep soil from washing over reefs, and collect "ghost" fishing nets lost by fishermen. The lost nets can entangle and kill turtles, fish, and dolphins.
"Being in Marine Mania is a way for me to give back to the environment," says Felix Santiago via e-mail. "When we work together" adds fellow student Joseph Barrett, "it no longer seems like work."
Ms. Mabbott's fifth-graders, the John Gray Recyclers, and the Marine Maniacs are just a few of the kids worldwide who will celebrate this Earth Day (April 22) as "Dive In To Earth Day."
Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970 to remind people to care for the environment. "But most Earth Day events take place on land," says Brian Huse, director of the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) in San Francisco. Dive In To Earth Day began in 2000 "to ensure that the 70 percent of the earth that is covered by water is not forgotten."
Since 2000, some 1,000 Dive In To Earth Day events have been held in 89 countries. Students, dive clubs, aquariums, and conservation groups organize fish surveys, underwater cleanups, art contests, and more. The day reminds people how much we depend on oceans and how much they need protection.
You probably know that plants produce oxygen for us to breathe. But you may not know that most of that oxygen is generated not by land plants, but by immense numbers of phytoplankton (tiny marine plants) floating in the ocean. Oceans slow global warming by absorbing greenhouse gases humans pump into the atmosphere. And oceans provide food for billions of people.
Humans can harm even huge oceans without noticing or understanding the damage they're doing. "People just think of the ocean as a free food outlet or a trash can," says fifth-grader Andy Haughey.
Global warming kills reef-building corals, which are sensitive to small changes in temperature. Fertilizer, pesticides, untreated sewage, and garbage can kill sealife. Overfishing has eliminated 90 percent of all large fish like tuna, swordfish, and cod. "Many people don't see what's going on under the sea," says fifth-grader Amanda Sibrian. "It can take years until people come to say, 'Why can't we catch any more big fish?' "
Some kids get involved in marine conservation because they've seen problems first-hand. Cayman Islander Cathrine Welds says her eyes were opened when she saw a Cayman reef smashed by a yacht anchor. "It was a sad and shocking scene when I snorkeled out there and saw the damage," she says via e-mail.
A Cayman beach cleanup helped classmate Melissa Smith see the need for action: "We filled 13 huge garbage bags," she says, "and we had just the week before conducted a cleanup!"
The California students study different islands around the world and learn how our environment connects us. "Everyone has heard the phrase, 'no man is an island,' " Mabbott says. "The kids learn that no island is an island, either."
A few years ago, Mabbott asked her fifth-graders to raise $5 each to contribute to Seacology, an environmental group based in Berkeley, Calif., that works with islanders around the world. But her students wanted to do more - much more. Last year they raised $3,650. Besides having bake sales at recess, they washed cars, sold T-shirts, and asked for donations instead of presents at birthdays. This year they've raised more than $3,000. The money will pay for a village kindergarten in Fiji. In exchange, villagers will make part of their fishing grounds a marine reserve.
The students have made a difference. Duane Silverstein, Seacology's executive director, says Mabbott's class "set the example." Other schools heard about Mabbott's fifth-graders and were inspired to help, too. Word even reached the John Gray Recyclers in the Cayman Islands.
The Recyclers have their own reefs to protect. But the Cayman students wanted to help Fijians, too. "We are helping to preserve reefs in Fiji because we ... have come to realize that the world around us is like one huge chain," writes teenager Jeremy Forbes, president of the Recyclers. "We are all linked together."