Learning about the ‘lungs of the world’ onboard SV Pelican1


Written by Jane Burns
CERES Education Outreach Manager

Last month CERES Outreach were fortunate to spend a day on the S.V Pelican1, a 62-foot sailing catamaran working as a scientific research vessel and for people and communities to gather on board for knowledge sharing and experiences at sea.

S.V. Pelican1 is a story ship – whose journeys are not just physical dalliances across the ocean, but journeys through cultural, traditional and scientific seascapes of immense beauty and importance.

We are here to keep ‘Sea Country’ alive.

The purpose of the day was to focus on biodiversity and the development of auditing tools for the ResourceSmart Schools program. Sustainability Victoria sponsored the day and brought together over 30 organisations and teachers to participate in a rich program about biodiversity in marine and land environments.

Spending a day aboard S.V Pelican1 was an excellent way to be a captive audience to educators, land managers and scientists talking about biodiversity, species conservation and habitat protection. Current issues of ocean acidification, microplastics, and habitat and species decline, compel us to understand and take action to address these threats to the ocean, the ‘lungs of the world’.

The biodiversity workshop kicked off with marine educator Harry Briedhahl using an engagement tool we often use in CERES water education. A large plastic globe tossed between the group gives the opportunity to catch the world and introduce yourself, your organization and what you would like to get out of the day. Holding the globe, you note where your right thumb lands and say whether it’s land or water. As the introductions continue we note how many times we touch the sea and the land, with the sea quickly overtaking the land scores.

This activity shows us what percentage of earth is water and how this is an ecosystem that sustains us and we rely on. Relating to the globe we can understand that 97 percent of the Earth’s water in the ocean covers 70 percent of the surface of the water of our planet. Of the remaining water, two percent is in frozen glaciers and ice caps and the freshwater that so much life depends upon, only makes up 1% of the water in the world – just a tiny drop on the earth that support us all.

As a group we talked about the water cycle as one of the great ecological systems on the planet and the delicate balance where quantities of rainfall are matched by climate to create the rivers, lakes and oceans, creating the source for the cycle to begin over again. It is astounding to think that all the water on earth is all the water we’ll ever have and that it is being used over and over … and has done for thousands of millennia.

Sitting there on the boat was time to reflect on the largest biomass in the world, the three-dimensional marine biosphere that is the ocean and talking about ocean biodiversity and the healthy environment in which it depends was an essential way to frame the day ahead.

We played an ocean quiz and the correct answer for the deep point of the ocean at 7 miles went to an oceanographer in the group. The rest of us could perhaps understand these depths through the explorations of James Cameron, producer of Titanic and Avatar, who in 2012 ventured solo down to the deepest point in the ocean known as Challenger Deep. Cameron is only the third person ever to go there and this feat has been compared to landing on the moon. Education resources were created to bring the excitement of the journey in a single-seat submersible named DEEPSEA CHALLENGER and the awe of the ocean into the classroom.

Thinking about the enormity of the ocean through water versus land mass, and the depths that few have been to, we can also marvel that all sea water contains life. And it is the tiniest marine plants, the phytoplankton that forms the most efficient food energy system on the planet. Every animal in the sea from the big whales, the blue, humpback and whale shark to all animals indirectly up the food chain, are nourished by these tiny plants.

But as the ocean warms as a result of high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reacting with sea water, the pH balance in the ocean is being overwhelmed by acid changes. The acidification of ocean, rivers and lakes has only been identified for about a decade, yet the impacts on marine life, the whole ecosystem and our food supply is likely to be the most significant impact of a changing climate.

In Tim Flannery’s latest book, Atmostphere of Hope, he points out that the problem arises from the rate of change. If atmospheric CO2 levels rise slowly, the oceans can compensate by absorbing the extra carbonic acid created by the CO2. But the current rate of CO2 increase is the fastest in Earth’s entire recorded history…. with oceans 30% more acidic today than before the Industrial Revolution.

The dramatic changes to ocean as a result of human induced climate change may be hard to understand because we can’t “see” the impact in the same way we can see deforestation. But perhaps we will take further notice when we feel the impacts of how our food supply is being affected by atmospheric acidification of the ocean created by our CO2 pollution.

Another impact on our food supply and the ecosystem that sustains this, are plastics. Our activities on land and the plastic waste that gets washed or littered into our waterways and coast breaks down into micro plastics and forms part of the food web, effectively becoming part of our food supply.

Along with the alarming knowledge that we are consuming the very oil-based plastic waste that we created, the build up and pollution in the ocean is to such extent that the ecosystem is disrupted for all living creatures and plants.

Microplastics is an area of research and education that forms part of the sea projects on the S.V Pelican1. Marine research has been conducted from the S.V Pelican1 since 2004 in areas such as Blue Whales, Sperm Whales, coral bleaching. Irrawadi Dolphins, Cetacean surveys, water quality, sediment surveys, seagrass studies, and traditional knowledge of the sea. Many of the research areas can be seen on Pelican TV and are informative and useful video resources that can be used in the classroom.

Here in Victoria, their annual Two Bays program has sought to raise awareness of the extensive natural and cultural values of Victoria’s Port Phillip and Western Port Bays since 2006. The program aims to connect communities with their local coastal and marine environments and recognises that this ‘can be a challenge due to lack of access and low ocean literacy, though it is well known community engagement is essential to improving catchments and inspiring better-integrated management’.

Coastal communities are invited aboard and engage with the work conducted by a collaborative group of scientists and researchers who make up the Two Bays team.

The connections to schools in working with the Two Bays program is through a curriculum developed on the 7 principles of Ocean Literacy which means the understanding the ocean’s influence on you and your influence on the ocean. The curriculum combined with information and data collected through the project is available for use by schools and community groups.

Award winning environmental educator Andrew Vance wrote the Two Bays curriculum, which is designed to develop a keener awareness of the traditional uses of national marine parks and knowledge of the indigenous peoples of Port Phillip and Western Port Bays. This curriculum will be on the Pelican Expeditions website soon and enquiries can be directed to Natalie Davey saltwater@pacific.net.au. The directors of the S.V Pelican are now working on creating the Crocodile Curriculum from their ten years of work with Hope Vale and some other coastal communities on Cape York.

Thank you to Sustainability Victoria and the crew of S.V Pelican1 for a memorable and informative day. What better way to learn about ocean literacy than sailing in Port Phillip Bay, even with four seasons in one day!

By CERES Education – Outreach Team|2017-11-06T18:32:41+10:00March 9th, 2016|0 Comments
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