Connecting Children With The Ocean - Seaful
Ocean Advocate and dryrobe® Ambassador, Cal Major is on an important mission to help connect more people to our oceans. After completing her incredible Scotland Ocean Nation expedition in the summer of 2021, it became evident to Cal that getting people familiar with our oceans and educating them about marine life is a powerful tool in improving our treatment and preservation of biodiversity.
With her charity Seaful, Cal returned to the Isle of Arran where she first began her paddle around Scotland, inviting a group of inner city school children from Knightswood Primary school in Glasgow, to take part in snorkelling and explore rockpooling around its beautiful coast.
We were proud to be involved in Seaful’s pilot scheme by providing dryrobe® Advance changing robes and changing mats for the children to stay warm and dry after their time in the water.
Here, Cal shares the unexpected outcome of Seaful’s pilot session, how her connection with the school has developed and why connecting people with the ocean and learning about biodiversity is so important...
Paddleboarding around Scotland this summer, I heard the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” so many times. Especially when visiting the Isle of Arran, one of the first stops on my trip. Arran’s waters are home to Scotland’s first No Take Zone. A No Take Zone, or NTZ, is a special area of marine protection where no living thing can be removed, a huge win for conservation efforts to restore the ocean habitats to the richness of life that thrived before industrial fishing was allowed in fragile inshore areas. (For more information visit www.ourseas.scot)
Chatting to my friends at COAST (the Community of Arran Seabed Trust) who are the charity who successfully campaigned for this designation, it appeared that one of the biggest issues they come up against in galvanising public support is the perspective that the life in our ocean is out of sight and out of mind. How can we be expected to care about something we feel no connection to, have never seen, or don’t even know is there.
I realised this is where Seaful could help, and so 3 months later, after finishing my paddleboarding expedition around Scotland, I returned to the Isle of Arran to take a group of inner city school children from Glasgow there for the first time. Arran is just an hour’s drive and an hour’s ferry ride from Knightswood Primary school, who very kindly agreed to be a part of our pilot session. They identified eight 10/11 year old children who had never been to Arran to come snorkelling with us.
We didn’t have long with them on the island before their ferry back that evening, and so I had planned the day to the minute. We envisaged 20 minutes of snorkelling being enough in the cold water for these children who had never been in the sea here before! So I also planned rockpooling, films, discussions and plenty of time for lunch.
Some of the children were understandably nervous; one or two even said they didn’t want to go snorkelling. Fair enough, they saw the ocean in Scotland as somewhere dark and cold and intimidating.
We eased them into the session by looking at all the life in the marine tanks in the COAST visitor centre. Alien creatures - crabs, anemones, shrimps, starfish - all interacting with their multicoloured seabed habitat - maerl, rocks, seaweed.
We took the first group in the water for their 20 minute snorkelling session. Some of the group were so excited to get in, splashing around and having fun from the word go! A couple of the group who had been wary of getting in from the get go were more timid, and we spent some time with them in the shallows getting them used to the snorkels and masks. But before long, we were all out in the bay, looking at all the life below us - identifying crabs, marvelling at how the seaweed felt to touch, finding starfish amongst the rocks... 20 minutes soon turned into an hour and we struggled to get the kids out of the water, they were enjoying themselves so much! The second group had meanwhile been on the beach, rockpooling. A similar story emerged when we got them into the water - 20 minutes soon flew by, and we were all disappointed to have to get out.
My meticulous plan went out of the window, as the entire session was spent in the sea. No lessons were needed, no formal education that day, just the experience of being there. The children were beaming from ear to ear, excited at what they had seen. We understand that this isn’t always going to be the case for every child we take to the sea; we understand that for some that fear and dislike of the water is deeply ingrained, and we aren’t trying to convert people to our way of thinking. We are simply offering the opportunity to experience the ocean in a safe way, to offer that potential for a connection, to see what’s really there, and what’s worth protecting.
After our session, I asked one of the girls what it had felt like for her to go snorkelling that day. She replied:
“It was amazing! I loved it so much, but it also made me sad, because now I know what’s living there, I feel angry that we’re treating the ocean like a trash can.”
It was the most important thing that had been said all day, because it solidified just how powerful actually getting people into the sea can be for creating that connection and sense of stewardship.
A couple of months later, I had the great pleasure of speaking to the whole year group about the importance of biodiversity in the ocean - what it means, how we protect it and how it is relevant to us. They children drew pictures about what biodiversity means to them, which we displayed at COP26 where I spoke at an event about the preservation of biodiversity in the development of offshore wind. Their passion and openness to learn is inspiring, and we are so looking forward to building on our pilot project with Knightswood Primary School, and COAST on Arran, in 2022.
Huge thank you to dryrobe® for providing change robes and changing mats for the children. We would not have been able to run this session without them, as they became our outdoor changing facilities! We were able to run the session confident that we’d be able to keep the children warm after being in the sea, even when 20 minutes became an hour.
Huge thank you to Arran COAST, who facilitated the entire day, and who share our passion of connecting the public to our amazing underwater world. A special thank you to Jenny Stark for helping to organise the session, and for getting in the water and sharing her passion with us all, making this session unforgettable for those children.
Next year we plan to expand the Vitamin Sea Project locations to North Devon, Ullapool/Inverness, Chelmarsh and the Midcounties area, and Oban.
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Photos by James Appleton