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…

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.

We be J.A.M.I.N. Again!

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I see the twinkle of anticipation in my colleagues’ eyes as they hold up their phones waiting to record me filling my lungs to say, “Gooooood moooorning, Port Antonio High School!” My colleagues at Alligator Head Foundation beam and I grin back at them and wink. We have all waited two and a half years for this moment. This long-awaited welcome officially marks the start of the Jamaica Awareness of Mangroves in Nature (J.A.M.I.N.) and it feels good to be J.A.M.I.N. again.

The last time I was in Jamaica implementing J.A.M.I.N. was in early February 2020, before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. When the pandemic hit, none of us imagined that it would be years until we could implement the program again. It crushed me when we had to cancel the remainder of the 2020-21 academic year and then again, the following year. Now, we renew program again with more enthusiasm than ever.

Our partners at the Alligator Head Foundation and the University of the West Indies Discovery Bay Marine Lab are by my side aiding me in implementing the program. I couldn’t be more overjoyed to be working with them again. We fell right back into routine with each other as if no time had passed at all.

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…

Mangrove Tannin: The Power of Healing

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Throughout human history, compounds found in plants and animals have been used to heal an array of medical conditions. Traditional medicine, sometimes referred to as “bush” or “folk” medicine, was used to treat ailments prior to the emergence of modern medicine. Many of these customs are still being practiced today. The healing properties of mangroves were first discovered by those practicing traditional medicine. Like with modern-day medicine, many of its uses were discovered through trial and error. When a cure worked, the knowledge and information was passed along from generation to generation.

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.

Students Tackle World Water Crisis

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Water quality monitoring is extremely important in keeping mangroves healthy. That is why we teamed up with EarthEcho International to have students in our B.A.M. and J.A.M.I.N. programs participate in the EarthEcho Water Challenge. The water quality data (such as salinity, water temperature, and dissolved oxygen content) that they collect, will be shared with other students from around the world.

J.A.M.I.N. Program Expands to Rural Jamaica

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“Miss, a wa mek im move so?” (Miss, why is it moving like this?) A high school student asks me, holding a sea cucumber while it slowly forms to her hand, squishing her own face in uncertainty. I show her the bottom of the animal where its tube feet retract, sensing a threat. I am thrilled to witness her wonder and disgust.

I, Ali, am an Environment Sector Peace Corps Volunteer living nearby in rural Jamaica, and I’ve been assisting the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation (LOF) and Alligator Head Foundation (AHF) with the implementation of the Jamaican Awareness of Mangroves in Nature (J.A.M.I.N.) program. I’m excited to participate in this newly formed partnership that has allowed LOF to expand the J.A.M.I.N. program to the Portland area, a rural parish on the eastern side of Jamaica.