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Dominican Primary School Students Take Research Cruise to Finish Ocean Curriculum

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Roseau, DOMINICA – 22 June 2011 – More than 150 students from seven Dominican primary schools this month completed an innovative Ministry of Education-sanctioned ocean science curriculum called Floating Classrooms. For the program’s culmination, each student now has the chance to participate in a custom-designed, educational ocean excursion on vessels owned and captained by Dominican members of CARIBwhale, the association of Caribbean whale-watch operators.

After four months of in-school study and learning activities about the importance of protecting Dominica’s marine environment for the country’s aesthetic and economic future, each school group gets to embark on a 2.5-hour “research cruise,” which includes hands-on lessons and observation about ocean creatures, diving gear and marine habitat protection.

An innovative public-private partnership designed as a model for other Caribbean islands, Floating Classrooms is supported by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), a global nonprofit with more than a decade of conservation experience in Dominica and Eastern Caribbean islands. From June 16 through 24, a total of seven boat excursions for Floating Classrooms 2011 have embarked (or will do so) from the Roseau Ferry Terminal on vessels operated by CARIBwhale member such as Dive Dominica.

Activities on the boat – which are team taught by CARIBwhale member Marcus Johnbaptiste of Dive Dominica, the Dominican school teachers and IFAW staff – include not only watching for whales and dolphins, but also listening to their sounds which are detected by a submerged hydrophone; using an underwater camera to observe marine life around the boat such as barricudas, sea turtles and lots of fish, as well as coral reefs and sponges; examining SCUBA diving equipment and trying on flippers; and holding marine life such as a crab and snails (which then are released back into their natural habitat unharmed). Each excursion also includes a lesson in boat safety and preventing marine debris.

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The government of Dominica demonstrated its commitment to protecting marine mammals by refusing to support a pro-whaling agenda at the 2008 International Whaling Commission meeting; the 2011 meeting is scheduled for early next month in Jersey, a small island of the United Kingdom just north of Normandy, France. Floating Classrooms – by integrating ocean literacy principles into Dominica’s primary school curriculum standards – carries this commitment a step further: it prepares and inspires students not only to protect whales and their ocean habitat, but also to consider careers in science or ecotourism.

“At their age, I’d never been out on the water or seen a whale, even though I grew up in Roseau beside the sea,” said Mr. Johnbaptiste, 24, a six-year veteran at Dive Dominica who began working on the whale-watch crew four years ago and has been captaining excursions since 2008. “I had never considered working in tourism as a career. My peers and I just wanted to be firemen or policemen. These children are lucky to be exposed to other options at such a young age, especially since tourism represents such a significant portion of Dominica’s economy.”

Teachers and school administrators who implemented the Floating Classrooms in-school lessons and activities this year include (alphabetically by school): Mrs. Marvlyn Xavier, fifth-grade classroom teacher, Grand Bay Primary School; Ms. Genevieve Bannis, from Grand Fond Primary School; Mrs. Verna Frederick, principal, and Ms. Ingrid Alie, teacher, at Jones Beaupierre Primary School in La Plaine; Ms. Muriel John, a teacher at Salybia Primary School; Mrs. Felixia Jervier, a fifth-grade teacher at Soufrière Primary School; Mr. Nick St. Claire, a science teacher at St. John’s Primary School in Portsmouth; and Ms. Anthea Felix, a science teacher at St. Luke’s Primary School in Point Michel.

“At one point last year, a giant sea turtle was found on the beach and community members called Forestry to rescue it,” said Mrs. Jervier of Soufrière Primary School, one of two primary schools that launched the full-scale Floating Classrooms curriculum in 2010 as part of a pilot program. “When the children came to school the next day, they were very excited to tell me all about it because we’d just done a Floating Classrooms lesson on sea turtles.”

Mrs. Jervier said her students fulfilled math, science and social studies national education requirements while studying Floating Classroom lessons. “They didn’t want a week to pass without a Floating Classrooms unit, and would ask about it if a few days went by without doing a lesson in it.”

Teachers of most Floating Classroom school groups organized a beach clean-up this semester, where children saw firsthand how much litter can accumulate and blow out to sea. Through a grant from the Disney Friends for Change’s Project Green, a pro-social “green” initiative launched in the summer of 2009, each Floating Classroom participant and teacher will receive two cloth reusable bags. The bags, which feature a fish jumping just off Dominica’s shore, serve as a reminder to help minimize marine debris by cutting back on the number of plastic shopping bags sent to Dominica’s landfills.

About the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) – Founded in 1969, IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare) saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Photos and video available at www.ifawimages.com.

For more information, contact Arienne Perryman, Dive Dominica (CARIBwhale member), 767-235-2188, dive@cwdom.dm.

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