PR: Bermuda coral online brings the reef to thousands globally

Coral Live 2017 Hero Lawrence Primary School, London
Lawrence Primary School, London, UK

“What is the biggest fish you’ve ever seen?” and “Have you discovered any new species of coral?” were just two of the 3,565 questions answered by a team of marine scientists and educators during a marathon drive to engage young people around the world in the wonders and importance of the coral ecosystem.

XL Catlin Coral Live is a new initiative that brings together a coalition of organisations based in Bermuda, running for the first time this November. BIOS (Bermuda Institute of Oceans Sciences), BAMZ (Bermuda, Aquarium, Museum and Zoo), BZS (Bermuda Zoological Society) and local telecoms company TNL (Telecommunications Network Limited) all volunteered staff time and facilities to educate young people about the wonders of coral. Although other current initiatives target local schools and children, this was the first time these partners had come together to share Bermuda’s expertise in marine science and its abundant marine habitats more widely.

During two weeks of live talks, the initiative reached over 10,000 students in 150 schools across 30 countries. Overseas students and teachers interacted through live video links via Google Hangouts and YouTube Live with the likes of Dr Samantha de Putron currently researching the resilience of coral to environmental stresses at BIOS and Choy Aming, aquarist, shark tagger and star of Discovery’s Ocean Vets. In total, nine Bermuda-based marine experts shared their experiences, knowledge and anecdotes.

Many of these live interactive sessions took place from the BZS Trunk Island nature reserve in Harrington Sound. A new Bluewave connection system supplied by TNL meant that Natural History Museum Curator, Dr Robbie Smith and BZS educator Dr Alex Amat were able to show live specimens living near the shore such as sea puddings and sea urchins. Students also learned how these protected inshore waters provided an important nursery habitat for Bermuda’s reef dwelling lobsters and fish.

Other classes were introduced to the coral laboratories and experimental tanks at BIOS, comparing a variety of coral specimens with living examples outside. The marvel of Bermuda’s high latitude reefs was also brought to light in the MAGIC room with large scale projections of the ocean currents that make the waters around Bermuda warm enough to sustain coral reefs. “It was wonderful to get questions from all over the world, and exciting to have no idea what the next question was going to be,” remarked Tim Noyes, research specialist in the Coral Reef Ecology and Optics Lab at BIOS.

The experience clearly inspired students and teachers alike. “I just have to say, thank you so much for that opportunity! My students could have kept going for another 30 mins! They were so engaged and so impressed at all the knowledge he had. It was such a cool experience,” commented Mallory Potts a middle school teacher from Montana.

For the team at the Bermuda Aquarium, the experience opened up new avenues to engage those students who could not come to the aquarium in person. Dr Robbie Smith said, “It was very interesting to see a new, but simple and effective, way to bring Bermuda’s marine environment to such a large audience in such an immediate form, which seemed to engage and excite the students.

The mix of current science and Bermuda’s marine environment create a new way of delivering science education.

“It was rewarding to talk to students from all over the world about my research,” Dr Samantha De Putron, Marine Biologist and Ecologist at BIOS, said. “I think it was inspiring for students to hear from an actual scientist conducting modern research. While in school, students usually only learn what scientists have done in the past, not having the chance to speak with living scientists conducting modern research.”

The event came at a time when the coral ecosystem is facing multiple threats including coral bleaching. Many students wanted to know whether what they were seeing on the news was actually happening and what could be done to save and protect the reef. BZS Educator Dr Alex Amat made the link between atmospheric carbon dioxide and coral bleaching, reminding students not to think, “I’m just one little person and I can’t make a difference,” and urging them to “take a bike to school” and conserve energy.

Chris Flook, Small Boats & Docks Supervisor at BIOS took a broader tack inviting young people watching to take an interest in nature and “Go out and flip rocks. Be curious. It doesn’t have to be a coral reef. It can be your own backyard. Never not be a rock turner.”

These messages resonated with the audience in their classrooms with Christina Palmieri, a teacher in Canada, enthusing, “Students are even more inspired now to be advocates for the environment. One student said even said that their vocation to one day be a marine biologist had been confirmed.”

XL Catlin Coral Live is sponsored by XL Catlin and operated by UK-based education organisation, Digital Explorer. Researchers from the University of Exeter and Centre Scientific de Monaco joined their colleagues from Bermuda to educate and engage the next generation, with further workshops being held in local elementary and middle schools.

For recordings of some of the broadcast live sessions, see the YouTube playlist.

20 November 2017