University of Belize students touch their first shark and marvel at the animal’s skin. Photo: Tony Rath.
Our children are the future stewards of nature. To engage and empower them to become fearless champions of marine wildlife we created the MAR kids program. We introduce local children to sharks and rays through classroom and field experiences to help them to understand the animal’s importance for the ecosystem while dispelling fears they might have of sharks. Sharks and rays are a terrific lens through which to teach students about marine science, become familiar with the principles of species and habitat conservation including marine protected area creation and sustainable fishing and smart seafood consumption. We are increasingly building in swimming skills as many of the children participating in MAR kids do not know how to swim.
A student enthusiastically collects data on sharks and rays at Hol Chan’s Shark Ray Alley. Photo: Rachel Graham.
Creating Marine Wildlife Ambassadors
Helping the public to adapt their mindset to reduced marine resources, support smart and sustainable seafood consumption underpin marine conservation efforts and give a greater Voice to Big fish. MarAlliance engages the public regularly through public events, TV, presentations and social media (Facebook pages: MarAlliance, Belize Shark Project, MarAlliance Cabo Verde, Tiburones de Honduras, Tiburones de Cuba) to curry support for the protection of sharks and rays and other marine wildlife and their critical habitats. Through a host of public events tailored messaging collectively reaches over 30,000 people in Belize nationwide and many more globally. These events allow us to bring information, educational materials, and actual scientific equipment out into the community. Based on the success of these events, we have expanded our outreach to Honduras, Mexico, and Cabo Verde and soon several other countries in the hopes of changing attitudes and fostering in the public a conservation ethos for marine wildlife. These voices are just starting the conversation and the call to action. When your voice chimes in too, our joint message carries further and our conservation impacts are greater.
Mechanisms for Participatory Decision-Making
Creating mechanisms that enable decision-making with key stakeholders involved such as participatory committees with strong Government engagement is critical to enabling marine wildlife issues to be tabled during management and policy decision-making. MarAlliance holds a seat on a range of national committees for sites and species including founding three National Shark Advisory Committees. We are a member of both the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and an official observer to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). Yet we find that pulling decision-makers away from their meetings and desks to join us in the field effectively ensures that much needed conversations take place, notably with fishers and other partners who often have limited access to higher-level decision-makers. We have hosted several such field-based meetings to catalyze cross-border conversations and greater conservation measures for large marine wildlife.