Environmental Education in Praia do Forte

Originally posted on Monday, June 21st, 2010 at http://mbmtravel.tumblr.com

The first afternoon in Praia do Forte was spent with Tamar’s regional coordinator for environmental education, Valeria.  Amanda and I sat down to talk in front of Tamar’s stage, which I already recognized from videos of various shows that had been put on there.  Now, there was a puppet show going on, directed and played by kids.  Valeria explained that the kids were part of a program called Tamarzinhos, which takes in 15 new kids from the community every year and involves them in an intensive course in environmental education taught by Tamar. The kids spend half of their days (the half that’s not spent in school) in and out of their classroom at the Tamar base learning about marine biology and participating in activities with Tamar researcher and the community.  They assist in monitoring of turtles, community environmental education campaigns, and even learn how to give tours of the visitor’s center and eventually give the tour of the entire facility to tourists.  The puppet show we were watching was part of an assignment that they were given; the Tamarzinhos were instructed to go home and listen to the stories of their grandparents and elders in the community (mostly fishermen) and turn one of them into a puppet show to put on to the public.  This not only served as both an educational tool for the Tamarzinhos and the public, but also as a form of cultural preservation; keeping stories and knowledge alive that would otherwise be lost with the passing of a generation.  This was just one of many examples of the interchange of ideas between the local community and Tamar.

Over the course of the week, I tagged along on jobs whenever I could.  One of the most memorable ones was a trip to Jacuipe, whose purpose was to perform a routine presentation at an elementary school assembly.  The presentation taught the kids about the life cycle of a turtle and the threats they face on the beaches and offshore.  In accordance with the most prominent threats to turtles on that specific beach, an emphasis was placed on quad-biking and driving on the beach, which can destroy nests and prevent turtles from laying them in the first place.  The kids were all very enthusiastic and attentive, asked good questions, and drew some pretty cool and accurate drawings of the life cycle and threats to turtles during the interactive portion of the assembly.  These school visits are a key part of Tamar’s environmental education and outreach efforts.

Later that week we visited the town of Arembepe, nearby Jacuipe, which has a Tamar visitor’s station and research station.  When we arrived, the Tamar teachers were surrounded by 20 or 30 kids, deep in an activity involving races, answering questions to win prizes, and team building exercises.  In addition to environmental education, Tamar’s escolinha (little school) in Arembepe sits next to two large gardens, in which the kids learn to raise and care for crops, which are given out to the community when they’re ripe.  This extracurricular program here is a less intensive version of Tamarzinhos in Praia do Forte.  It started as an effort to try and get kids off of the streets, away from negative social pressures, such as drugs and domestic violence, which are problematic in Arembepe.

We saw similar activities with children at a hotel which was recently built to the north of Praia do Forte.  Tamar worked with the hotel management since the very beginning of the hotel’s construction to establish their presence early on.  Tamar now has a small visitor’s center and base in the hotel, conducts educational activities with children staying at the hotel, and has several signs posted at beach entrances reminding guests about the importance of this beach to marine turtles.

Another key part of any conservation effort is direct contact and communication with the local community. One of the most interesting and insightful experiences in Praia do Forte was a town hall meeting that Tamar and the municipal government had organized with the city’s many street vendors.  The meeting opened with a Tamar representative giving a talk about the global and local impact of plastic waste on beaches.  She urged the vendors to be mindful in cleaning up after themselves at the end of the day and insisting that their customers deposit trash in appropriate receptacles (Praia do Forte supports aluminum, plastic, and glass recycling).  The presentation was received mostly with complaints: not enough trash cans, “my patrons are the ones dropping trash, why should I clean up their mess”, and many brought up points that were completely irrelevant to the conversation.  A few people, however, volunteered to clean up their own trash and others’ as well.  Tamar’s representative reiterated that they were all part of a community and if each did their part to ensure the cleanliness of their beaches, the whole community, natural and anthropogenic, would benefit as a whole.

The outreach efforts we observed Praia do Forte seemed to be very appropriately suited to their situation.  This Tamar base is also very important in the scope of its influence since its visitor’s center receives almost a million tourists a year, educating mostly Brasileiros from other parts of the country about Tamar’s extensive conservation efforts.  Aside from the impressive integration that Tamar has achieved with the community and local economy (Fleischer, 2009), their emphasis on education at a young age seems to be effectively instilling a conservation ethic and environmental awareness within the next generation.  I’m excited to be able to compare Praia do Forte’s situation with that of other Tamar bases.

Comments

  1. mikecohen says:

    That sounds terrific. What a great way of combining environmental education with what looks to be community building at the same time.