Programs Aim To Use Kids To Help Save Florida Reef | county
KEY LARGO – Patxi Pastor’s heart bleeds for damage to the “epic” Florida Reef Tract which begins in Dry Tortugas and borders the Florida Keys before continuing to near Port St. Lucie.
Pastor, president of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, believes students in the Monroe County School District will be absolutely essential to one day righting the damage caused by pollution, inappropriate actions and inaction to protect it.
He said if the kids of the Florida Keys experienced the allure of aqua blue waters and life beneath its surface, they would feel compelled to come to his aid. And local students will begin marine education programs at MarineLab in Key Largo this summer, while school district administrators are excited to send 15 teachers to the foundation’s education summit this fall. .
“We want all the kids in Florida to end up having these great water experiences,” said Pastor. “We are at zero point for coral reefs. “
Graphics from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection detail that the only reported impact of the stony coral tissue loss disease near the Keys in 2014 was in the waters off northern Miami- Dade – near the highest population density along the reef. Now only the Marquesas Keys reef area, well west of Key West, is not part of the reported infected area of the reef.
“I’m passionate about the epic Florida Reef Tract,” Pastor said, “and it’s only 5% left. I was using 10%, and now it’s 5. Oh, my God. horrible. Very few left. And we had one of the most beautiful and colorful reefs in the world. Florida is uniquely qualified to be the reef capital of the world.
“We have to fix the problem with these kids. It’s not really a choice. We need to give them the tools to potentially bring about remarkable change. There is stewardship. If they have an emotional connection with him, they will want to protect him. (Jacques) Cousteau always said that.
“So if you can make it relevant and provide some level of encouragement on the urgency. And the opportunity to tie that into an economy driven by tourism, the diving capital of the world, and sustainability when it comes to those first two lines of defense: mangroves and coral reefs. And we’re going to be hit again (by hurricane-force winds). The mentality of children to understand this is so important. “
Pollution is wreaking havoc on reefs and mangroves with powerful storms and even seemingly beneficial projects such as beach restoration.
“Due to the replenishment of many beaches, many reefs were buried as people brought in sand,” Pastor said. “There are some fantastic dives from Palm Beach County all the way to Cuba which is an interesting study because they didn’t use any fertilizer because of politics. So they used natural fertilizers and have fantastic reef systems because they haven’t changed the chemistry.
“So, going back to our idea of ’ambassadors’, our kids can now connect globally. It’s exciting with the Internet. So that’s cool. A kid in Cuba might talk to a kid in Key West or Key Largo and say, “Hey, I have an idea. Go check it out. My photo is different from yours. ‘ They’re going to come to some pretty cool conclusions.
He said kindergarten to grade 12 students can become the university marine biologists of tomorrow and potential agents of change.
“We have some exciting things going on with reef restoration,” said Pastor, “and the opportunity now to simulate spawning and create little baby corals. They are little animals by the way. a really cool thing and it could potentially change all of that. It goes from labs to cutting the corals, and they grow. And you can put them back into the ecosystem, and they become the new coral system.
“And what better place for our children to be the pioneers of this. And there is a business model out there that will boost business, economy and investment, bring money and jobs to the Keys. This is how we all need to come together to make this remarkable change.
He compared it to correcting issues that existed in his youth that no one paid much attention to at the time: “seat belts, cigarettes and recycling”.
The pastor noted that there are children in County Monroe who are afraid of the Atlantic Ocean. He said many others have never been on a boat despite living in the Keys. And Pastor says that even those who know the waves and the seas are generally unaware of the importance of reef conservation and the possibilities of maritime careers.
This is where the foundation he represents comes in. It has a $ 1.5 million education program that was offered to Monroe County School District leaders and board members at their meeting earlier this month in Key West.
“Why not make the children of County Monroe global ambassadors for our oceans? The pastor asked, rhetorically, during his visual presentation to Superintendent of Schools Theresa Axford, representatives from the county’s five school districts and others.
“We were very lucky to have received a lot of money, and we are here to give it. It is about giving it to the future and giving it to the children. And we thank some of our new sponsors. Florida Power & Light has just arrived with a sponsorship of $ 450,000. SeaWorld Rescue, I think, has saved almost 40,000 marine animals. They gave us about $ 400,000. So if you look at the mix of the private sector and the corporate sector, this is a fantastic public-private partnership.
“We’ve raised about a million and a half dollars to give away, and we want to sponsor teachers and provide experiences for your children. So we would love to work with you… It has enormous potential to bring us all together.
Well-known maritime artist and environmentalist Dr Guy Harvey founded the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation with 10 board members in 2008. It originally focused on financial aid for science projects delayed due to canals. complicated financing. This mission has grown to include educational initiatives and more. Harvey has a doctorate. in Fisheries Management from the University of the West Indies, Jamaica.
Pastor said the educational program includes a “sawgrass and seagrass” study that links the conservation of the Everglades with that of the ocean and Gulf of Mexico. He said he was inspired by Layton mayor Bruce Halle, who accompanied him to the board meeting because “he also has a passion for children and education.”
Halle said of the marine education program: “It’s a good thing to start, and we don’t even have to pay for it.
Pastor added, “There is only one Everglades, and our children occupy a unique position between these two marine and freshwater ecosystems. It’s pretty cool. “
All of these waters and the life below have one deterrent element in common.
“The only element in the middle of it all is urban density,” Pastor said. “This is us and how we affect it.
“Our kids should be the rock stars leading this conversation. We have therefore established a partnership with the Department of Education (Florida).
He said the “final piece of the puzzle” is the design of Marine Science 101, which incorporates the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s marine sanctuaries program. It offers 150 hours of free program for schools with PDFs and videos included. Water quality monitoring, shark tracking around the world and more are offered.
“If we can connect the emotional connection of children to the habitat,” said Pastor, “and protect homes from animals, they begin to understand the behaviors. Statistics tell us right now that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
“So we have a problem. But we’re gonna work it out with these kids. It all has to do with the experiences and the exit of the children. One of Dr. Harvey’s secret weapons is his beautiful daughter, Jessica.
He said that when girls see her “ride a whale shark or tag a mako shark,” they see possibilities for themselves in marine science.
Pastor said that “the richness of these experiences” is linked to attracting young students to water-related jobs and careers.
“It doesn’t have to be (as) a marine biologist or a boat captain,” he said. “But they have to see it to want to be.”
Teacher training is a very important step, noted Pastor, and Axford has pledged 15 teachers from Monroe County to attend the foundation’s education summit this fall. Governor Ron DeSantis will deliver opening remarks and Harvey will be the keynote speaker.
“We are preparing for every student, Kindergarten to Grade 12, to have an oceanic experience,” said Axford. “We can’t wait to move forward.
The pastor said he hoped every student “at least once a year will get something spectacular from the ocean.”
He added: “This is the dream.”
“Welcoming educators is part of the great revelation,” Pastor explained. “We’re ready in September with the first 50 ‘train the trainers’, and we’re going to do it right at MarineLab, and we have the funds.”
The pastor said Broward County provided the pilot program in the past school year, adding that the COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in many “virtual tours.”
He added, “But I want to wet these kids in salt water.”
There will be a summer camp at MarineLab for the children of Monroe County scheduled for late July, and the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter Summer Camp will be held on Friday, June 25 and August 4, according to Ginette Hughes, director. General of MarineLab and the Foundation for the Development of Marine Resources.
Plans are underway for county school board members to visit MarineLab, an academic partner of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, and Axford added that county educators have already visited the facilities there.
“This is a gem for County Monroe,” added Pastor.
The future marine scientists who provide a future for the Florida Reef Tract are what it is.