Connecting Students to Nature

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The sun is blazing intensely in a cloudless sky, and the lack of a breeze makes the sulfur, rotten egg-like smell even more intense. It feels like 95°F (35°C) and I am sweating profusely as I trudge through the mangroves, one of my favorite marine ecosystems. It feels like home to me.

After two and a half years of putting the J.A.M.I.N. program on hold, I am quickly reminded how much I missed not only teaching and interacting with students face-to-face, but also being in the mangroves. The same feelings happen to me every time I venture into this amazing ecosystem: feelings of curiosity, awe, and respect, mixed with a sense of calm tranquility. And it is these same kinds of feelings we hope to foster in our students while they participate in our program…

Time Out for Turtles – Part 2

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I meet my colleagues at Alligator Head Foundation (AHF) at 7am to gather materials that will help us to monitor sea turtle nests. Despite the early morning hour, there is a contagious enthusiasm in all who are going to search for sea turtle nests. We pile into two vehicles and drive to the beach.

We drive down a gravel road getting the first glimpse of the Jamaican turquoise blue water glimmering in the sunlight. Gathering our supplies, we walk across a wooden plank straddling a small ravine that leads to a small sandy beach in a quiet little cove, which is a perfect location for sea turtles to lay their eggs.

Francine Cousins, a conservation officer at Alligator Head Foundation looks for turtle tracks that could lead us to a nest. The weekend’s tides have washed away the evidence, so she grabs a thin rounded stick and looks for disturbed areas of sand. When she finds one, she gently begins poking her stick through the sand, feeling for areas where the sand easily gives way. She methodically and repeatedly pokes the sand until she strikes gold. She finds an area where the stick easily slides through the sand. Alligator Head Foundation’s employees, Floyd and Kymani anxiously, but carefully, begin removing the sand until a tiny round white egg, the size of a golf ball, appears…

Time Out for Turtles – Part 1

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103…104…105…,” Denise says as the sea turtle egg count ends. Occasionally, when I’m in Jamaica for the J.A.M.I.N. program, I get to volunteer to help my partners at the Alligator Head Foundation (AHF). One morning, it was a privilege to be invited to help monitor sea turtle nests on a beach in Portland.

There are seven species of sea turtles in the world. Four of these species are found in Jamaica – hawksbill, green, loggerhead, and leatherbacks. Globally, sea turtle populations are in decline. Sea turtles in Jamaica face threats including improper planning and development of beaches, illegally poaching eggs and adult turtles, and predators such as dogs, mongoose, and ants consuming eggs and hatchlings.

Welcome, Saskia! KSLOF welcomes a master’s student to study our Mangrove Education & Restoration Program

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Six months ago, I was certain that I would be travelling to Indonesia to research mangrove crabs for my master’s thesis. The project was funded, and I was prepared to leave for Indonesia when suddenly, I received information that local fishermen could not catch enough crabs for me to conduct research. At such a late date, this was incredibly stressful news!

Around this time, I began to wonder if I could picture myself in the biological sciences or if I should make a step towards the field of social science. During my travels around the world, I was always interested (and often shocked) to observe the interaction between humans and nature. A few years ago, I travelled to southeast Asia to study whale shark populations. While studying these majestic creatures, I noticed the interactions occurring between tourists and the whale sharks. I had moments where I was frustrated, angry, and emotional, seeing whale sharks startle tourists who would fearfully kick and hit the whale sharks. Not only did I get angry at the tourists but at the local people working in this industry; however, after getting to know the locals and seeing their dismal economic situation, I began to think differently. I wanted to understand local people and their problems. I realized that in order to make a difference, you need to incorporate social sciences into environmental science, so that both can find a way to live in harmony.

A New Mangrove Conservation Program: Mangrove DEALs

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In 2018, we partnered with Alligator Head Foundation to implement our Jamaica Awareness of Mangroves in Nature (J.A.M.I.N.) program in Port Antonio, Jamaica. Through this program, we have educated teachers and youth about the mangrove ecosystem. Although this initiative has …

J.A.M.I.N. Students First to Investigate for Mangrove Disease in Port Antonio

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Giggles, chatter, and the sound of squeaking rubber boots echoed through the mangrove forest surrounding Alligator Head Foundation, where second year J.A.M.I.N. students from Port Antonio and Titchfield High Schools trudged through the thick mangrove mud to reach their square quadrats. Inside the quadrats, they used scientific equipment to collect data for a variety of environmental parameters such as salinity, dissolved oxygen, and mangrove tree height. They also gathered red mangrove leaves that contain necrotic (dead) tissue. The students later conducted an investigation to see if these leaves contained the presence of a disease-causing fungus.

Titchfield High School – A Window into History

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The last time I was at Titchfield High School in Port Antonio, Jamaica, I took a moment to look out the window at the old cannons that line the walls separating the school from the clear turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean. I was there with my colleagues from Alligator Head Foundation to implement the J.A.M.I.N. program. It’s hard not to let my imagination run wild, wondering what happened on this spot centuries ago when, long before it became a high school, it was a well-armed British defensive structure called Fort George. And so, the story begins…

Reflections After 5 Years of J.A.M.I.N.

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There are too many good memories to share, but I want to reflect on a few of the more unforgettable ones from my last five years implementing the J.A.M.I.N. program. And I don’t need to look at the data collected from our surveys to know that the program is reaching students and teachers in a meaningful way. Whether the gesture is great or small, what has most convinced me that we are making a difference is the appreciation, interest, and eagerness expressed by our students and teachers in Jamaica.