By Ine Dorresteijn
Education is often seen as an important tool for conservation. It raises awareness to environmental problems and (re-)connects people with nature. People and nature are more often disconnected in our modern globalized world. Education can help to re-establish links between people and nature.
In intact social-ecological systems people and nature are still tightly linked. People living in these systems accept and understand the importance but also the hazards of nature, and —at the same time— benefit from nature’s goods and services. During my master studies, I was lucky to encounter such system when I spent time on the Pribilof Islands, a remote group of volcanic islands in the middle of the Bering Sea. The islands support large seabird colonies and fur seal rookeries and are often referred to as “The Galapagos of the North”.
The two larger islands, St. Paul and St. George, host a small human population, the majority being native Aleuts. Historically the remote islands were uninhabited; however, during the 18th century Russian explorers forced Aleut people from islands further south to move to the Pribilof Islands to harvest fur seals. Due to its remoteness, the Pribilof population has always been very dependent on local natural resources such as seabirds, seals, and fish, for food and clothes. Up to today, subsistence harvest occurs, but is very limited due the presence of a shop. Nevertheless, the value of seabirds and other wildlife remains as they still play an important role in the Pribilovian culture. To maintain the value of wildlife in their culture, the communities of St. Paul and St. George together with some of my seabird research colleagues, started a project that enhances the connection between the youth on the Pribilof Islands and seabirds.
I find the Seabird Youth Network (SYN), seabirdyouth.org, a good example of how communities and scientists can work together to connect people and nature. The project includes both lessons on seabirds that can be used in classrooms, but also organizes seabird camps where children get hands-on scientific experience, are close to nature, and of course have ample opportunities to enjoy nature. If you are excited about nature education, I would definitely recommend checking out their website. I believe that education is an important tool for conservation that should be encouraged, and I think it is wonderful that “busy” scientists and community members spend their time creating such initiatives!