Corals and Crayons: Half Term Outreach with Seeking Survivors

After my brief stint working at Bristol Aquarium, I didn’t think I’d ever willingly step into an aquarium during the February half term again. But somehow, earlier this month, I found myself doing just that, all in the name of coral reef conservation.

Seeking Survivors is a charity working in Costa Rica and Plymouth focusing on coral research. In Costa Rica they carry out monitoring of reef sites in the field. In Plymouth they are based at the National Marine Aquarium, where they use anemones with symbiotic algae as a model system for studying corals.

(For those who don’t know: corals are animals which are closely related to anemones, but they have symbiotic zooxanthellae, photosynthesising algae that help to provide them with food. Some anemones also have these algae, and are easier to rear in the lab for experimental work than coral systems.)

Seeking Survivors uses these anemones to study disease and immunology and apply this to global coral health.

They also carry out outreach activities in Plymouth, including having a stand at the NMA during the half term! There were a lot of NGOs represented around the aquarium during the week. In the afternoon we were able to go to a talk and introduce our organisations, and for the rest of the day we were talking to aquarium visitors, while using colouring in sheets of fish to entertain kids.

Not that long ago speaking to all of these people would have terrified me, so it’s nice to know that these things do get easier!

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to educate a child who is taking their colouring in Very Seriously, but it definitely posed some challenges! Some were interested though, and their parents were too.

We were trying to introduce people to the basic biology of corals (lots of people don’t know they’re animals!) and their importance (corals are home to over 25% of marine life although they cover less than 1% of the oceans) before starting on the challenges facing these ecosystems. For example, sea temperature cause corals to eject their symbiotic algae, leading to coral bleaching, pollution can introduce disease or create a barrier between corals and sunlight, harmful fishing practices destroy reefs, etc. All the fun things kids want to talk about on holiday…

That said, I was really impressed by the number of people who were already clued up on their marine conservation and keen to tell me how they went on beach cleans, had cut down on eating meat, etc. A lot of adults had definitely been pushed this way by their children, which is not exactly a surprise if you watch the news!

Like any time I spend with children, it left me feeling exhausted, but hopeful. I’m looking forward to helping out with some more Seeking Survivors events in the future!


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