As the MV Kalabia travels from village to village in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago, the boat usually receives a warm reception from communities, though it isn’t delivering food, medical supplies or cell phones. Instead, it brings a more enduring gift: an education for local children that teaches the true value of natural systems for healthy human lives.
Educating the Next Generation
Raja Ampat is often cited as the “crown jewel” of marine biodiversity in the Bird’s Head Seascape. More than 1,000 species of coral reef fishes and 70 percent of the world’s total coral species reside across almost 1,500 islands and reefs. Yet the reef’s abundance has led to its biggest threats; if overfishing, pollution and destructive fishing practices continue, this treasure trove of unique species and essential ecosystems could soon disappear, leaving millions of people without food and livelihoods.
“One case where we witnessed the children putting their learning into action was in the village of Kabare; as soon as they saw garbage which had been tossed overboard from a large passenger ship, they spontaneously organized a garbage clean-up alongside the Kalabia team.”—Warda Amir, Kalabia education team
Since 2004, Conservation International (CI) has been working with the local government and communities, Indonesia’s Department of Marine Affairs and Fisheries and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to create a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in Raja Ampat, covering 1.2 million hectares (almost 3 million acres).
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Although older fishermen and village leaders have been generally supportive of the new MPAs, younger people are more likely to engage in high-yield yet unsustainable practices like dynamite fishing, posing a serious threat to the long-term vitality of the region’s fisheries and ecosystems. In order to achieve truly sustainable resource management, the support and enthusiasm will have to come from the young people of this generation and the next.
In the words of Rosita (Mona) Tariola, member of the Kalabia’s education team, “As long as understanding about marine conservation begins with the youth, then future destruction can be avoided, starting now.”
From Tuna Boat to Floating Classroom
So how do you begin to build knowledge and awareness of marine conservation among thousands of children spread out in tiny villages across many islands? By bringing the classroom to them.
In 2007, CI and TNC joined forces to convert a 34-meter (112-foot) tuna long-lining vessel into a mobile “floating classroom.” Christened the MV Kalabia, the boat is equipped with a classroom, library, performance space and other facilities, including two dingys for excursions to nearby mangroves and reefs. The vessel was launched in February 2008.
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Every three days, the Kalabia docks in a new village, bringing a new group of 10-50 children aboard. Through games, excursions and other interactive activities, students learn about the coral, mangrove and seagrass ecosystems where they live; how these habitats support the health of all species, including humans; and what they can do to fight the forces that threaten these ecosystems.
© Angela Beer
In poverty-stricken villages where school supplies are scarce, the Kalabia provides a rare and exciting opportunity for children to learn through unique lessons and resources. In one example project, students make puppets from trash they have collected on a nearby beach and put on puppet shows to creatively illustrate environmental messages. One of the Kalabia’s most popular activities is snorkeling, where the children have the chance to see the difference between a healthy and degraded reef with their own eyes.
After completing the program, students bring their course workbooks home, where many share their new-found knowledge with family and friends.
A Change in Behavior
So far, the Kalabia has reached more than 3,300 young people in 55 villages of the Raja Ampat and Kaimana regions. Behavioral changes in the region have already been observed by local residents.
“There have been several stories of participants advocating community members to both change fishing practices and release turtles planned for consumption. There are also several cases of communities ostracizing fishermen who use destructive practices,” says CI consultant Angela Beer.
Much of the Kalabia program’s success can be attributed to the motivation of its education team. Born and raised in the region, the education officers’ understanding of local culture and language has informed their teaching style and success at communicating important conservation messages with kids.
Warda Amir, one of the education team members, has also observed positive results from the initiative. “One case where we witnessed the children putting their learning into action was in the village of Kabare; as soon as they saw garbage which had been tossed overboard from a large passenger ship, they spontaneously organized a garbage clean-up alongside the Kalabia team.”
Community support for the program has spurred the governor of West Papua province to express interest in replicating the program in other areas of the Bird’s Head Seascape. The Kalabia team is also working to design a new educational curriculum for teachers and other adults. As the program expands and reaches new audiences, the future of life in Raja Ampat will look increasingly bright.
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