Mission Blue is proud to partner with Sharks4Kids!
By: Jillian Morris
At Sharks4Kids, our goal is to create the next generation of shark advocates through education, outreach and adventure. We take students underwater to see sharks first-hand and combine all three aspects of our program to provide an incredible, eye-opening experience.
We spend a lot of time in the Bahamas which is considered a sanctuary for sharks and the “shark diving capital of the world.” It’s extremely important for local students to see these remarkable animals up close and understand why sharks are valuable not only for the environment, but also the economy. Kids are the future guardians for these animals and making a connection to them is critical for future conservation efforts.
Bimini Scuba Center is a local diver operator that helps us take students out to explore their ocean home. We snorkel with several species of elasmobranch (or cartilaginous fish) including Caribbean reef sharks, nurse sharks and southern stingrays. For many of the students, it’s their first time on a boat even though they live on an island. The trip becomes more of an expedition and we never know what we will see! Whether it’s wild dolphins or a dozen eagle rays cruising over the shallows; the ocean always puts on a beautiful show.
The expeditions are a great time for us to speak to the students about shark conservation and global citizenry. The kids are very lucky because we have the ocean in our backyard, but we also teach them about the importance of conservation habits and why the sharks in these waters are critical for healthy oceans around the world.
After providing a general introduction to sharks of the Bahamas, we introduce them to the shark sanctuary. We cover what it means, why it matters and how to preserve it. We then arrive on site to a special area where southern stingrays are found in abundance. The students can wade to shore where anywhere from 5-15 southern stingrays will gather around us. It’s a great introduction to the world of elasmobranchs and we often dispel myths about their spine and capabilities with it. We usually get shrieks and screams, but very quickly the students are sliding masks onto their faces and snorkeling around with the rays. We see nurse sharks and small blacknose sharks swimming around us as well, which makes the snorkeling experience even more exciting. We literally watch the fear become fascination and it’s one of the most rewarding experiences I am blessed to have in my life.
Our next stop is a Caribbean reef shark spot. Depending on the age of the students, we either watch from the boat or do a non-baited (no bait in the water) snorkel. Caribbean reef sharks are the stars of multiple dive sites throughout the Bahamas and are one of the most common species encountered. They are truly iconic in shark ecotourism, so they are an ideal species to introduce students to. Here again, we see fear evolve into awe and appreciation. After snorkeling the students always have dozens of questions and want to learn how to dive while doing their part to save these animals. It’s extremely powerful when you think of how quickly ideas and feelings about something can change, simply by having your own connection to it.
The students are able to see for themselves why people from all over the world travel to the Bahamas to see sharks and turn into advocates for their ocean home. Grassroots efforts are vital when truly making an impact with conservation efforts and being in the water is an integral part of creating the next generation of shark and ocean ambassadors.