You are here

Cool Seas Road Show inspires care for oceans

The Telegraph
By Cheryl-Samantha Owen
05 Aug 2008

From Cornwall to Scotland, the Isle of Man to Ireland, kids as young as four years old are learning that British seas are just as cool as those in the tropics, in fact more so.

I visited Andy Starbuck earlier this month to find out what the Cool Seas Road Show (CSRS) was all about, and arriving from a world of environmental doom and gloom, I left the classroom feeling inspired by the power our future generations hold to save our seas.

The Save Our Seas Foundation (SOSF) together with the Marine Conservation Society is a major sponsor of the initiative.

SOSF implements and supports diverse scientific research and education projects focused on the marine environment, particularly focused on sharks and rays.

The CSRS is an educational presentation designed to raise public awareness of our oceans and the diversity of marine life off our shores.

County councils encourage it as part of a greater environmental education program within local schools, and each council often emphasizses a particular theme, which Andy highlights in the show.

Priceless expressions of wonder and delight light up on both children and teachers as they enter their school hall filled with life-size and life-like models.

Starbuck presents the show several times a day at one school, adapting it in length and content for the different age groups.

A prop maker for TV and theatre before turning his hands towards sea creatures, Starbuck makes and hand paints all the inflatable marine models used in the CSRS.

The school halls are normally not large enough to accommodate all his creations, but on my visit included a juvenile and adult bottlenose dolphin, a common dolphin, a porpoise, a minke whale, a grey seal with her pup, a leatherback turtle, turtle hatchlings, a basking shark and a great white shark!

The students were thrilled to learn that cold water contains more variation of life than warm water, that most of these creatures live in British waters, and that there is a good chance that they could see some of them if they took the time to watch from their own town pier.

Working his way around the hall Starbuck teaches the kids facts about each charismatic animal on display. Wide-eyed, the kids gasp at the size of a mother bottlenose dolphin compared to her small calf and learn to distinguish between the different species through their markings and dorsal fins. Starbuck encourages the children to reconsider their ideas of marine life, such as considering dolphins to be not so unlike us, mammals, rather than "fishy creatures."

The sharks are undoubtedly the boys' favourites, but they were all surprised to learn that falling coconuts kill more people each year, and that even though one pupil could fit in its mouth, a basking shark is a harmless plankton eating fish.

I talked to some of the pupils after each session and with over 100 million sharks killed each year by humans it was refreshing to see perceptions changed at such a young age. One boy announcing to me that he "was not so worried about sharks anymore!"

After being introduced to each species the students are taught how the animals depend on a multitude of smaller creatures, from smaller sharks and fish to jellyfish, plankton and algae, and that these are all needed to make up our amazing and complex cool seas ecosystem.

Audience participation allows several children "on stage" to run through a series of role-plays, including acting out conservation workers helping turtles hatching. The pupils love it; they learn how vulnerable the hatchlings are and it illustrates how we can all make a positive difference towards saving our seas if we all work together.

The show, however, was not made in fairyland and the children are taught some of the adverse effects humans have on our blue planet, especially regarding litter. Analysing a collection of plastic rubbish, including plastic bottles, bags and empty helium balloons, found on a nearby beach and explaining how it could kill turtles and dolphins, the kids soon realise that rubbish does not miraculously disappear.

During two weeks in Brighton, Starbuck presented to 3,200 pupils, and in a typical year he presents to 20,000 children.

"It is important to encourage the kids to carry on learning and to explore their own marine environment, and the experience lasts a lifetime," says Andy. In fact Andy met an 18 year-old work experience student in one of the schools who remembered the CSRS at her school when she was only five.

In addition, the Cool Seas books expose friends and parents to the cool seas, and the children take home a very powerful weapon: "Pester power", which educates and coerces parents towards marine conservation and awareness.

Although 71 per cent of our planet is covered in salt water and the UK is surrounded by this watery world, some children have never stuck their head beneath the waves, let alone understand that this fragile world goes far deeper than the visual, blue and grey rolling waves upon the surface.

"The CSRS enables kids a hands on exploration of a world that is for most part, off limits; this helps kids experience, understand and gain a greater appreciation of the marine environment, which is why SOSF is proud to be involved," says Chris Clarke, director of the SOSF.