Coral reefs are majestic undersea wonders that contain some of the most unique and mysterious creatures I have ever observed. Ever since my first encounter with one while snorkeling, the natural awe and intrigue I feel in the presence of these incredible ecosystems has never left me. Throughout my education I have learned about the biology, the functions, and the benefits of coral reefs, and the natural and anthropogenic activities that threaten them. But it wasn’t until I started teaching about coral reefs on the Global Reef Expedition (GRE) that I truly understood the interconnectedness between people and the reefs. It was an insight gained not through a textbook, but, rather, from listening to, speaking with, and directly engaging those whose lives—and livelihoods—are impacted by coral reefs.
During the GRE Fiji mission, we launched our first large-scale education and outreach program that coincided with the scientific research taking place. Before we could proceed, however, we first needed to meet with the chiefs of the local villages to discuss our scientific and educational objectives, as well as seek their approval to continue in our mission. With the helpful guidance of our local liaisons and education partners, Roko Josefa Cinavilakeba and Laitia Raloa, we were able to have fruitful discussions with the chiefs of each village, after which the science team was granted permission to continue in their research. The education team, after continued discussions with the chief and other community members, were able to establish a schedule for coral reef education seminars for the schools and local communities.