Shark education and conservation in Freeport, Grand Bahama

Jillian speaking to students at Lucaya International School. PHOTO CREDIT: Duncan Brake.
Jillian speaking to students at Lucaya International School. PHOTO CREDIT: Duncan Brake.

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]ARTHCARE is an environmental education NGO (non-governmental organization) that works on current environmental issues facing the nation of the Bahamas. Founder Gail Woon invited my husband and I to Grand Bahamas to do an activity with her Eco Kids Club. We also organized multiple school trips to really make the most of our Sharks4Kids shark education tour of the island.

We arrived early Thursday morning on November 12 and we hit the ground running. We headed right to Tabernacle Christian Academy to speak to almost 100 4, 5, 6 and 7th grade students. We then presented at the Rotary Club of Freeport and finished off the afternoon with the grade 7-12 science club at Bishop Michael Eldon School. That evening we presented at a town meeting hosted by EARTHCARE at Pelican Bay Hotel.

Friday we spent the morning visiting elementary and high school students at the Lucaya International School and returned to the Tabernacle Christian Academy to speak to grade 9 students who are working on a conservation project. On Saturday we did a presentation for the Eco Kids and several parents before heading out for a shark-viewing trip with Reef Tours. The kids were able to see nurse and Caribbean reef sharks, which they were absolutely ecstatic about. This was followed up by a shark quiz and shark cupcakes in the square at Port Lucaya; a very FIN-tastic day of shark education. Every student received a Shark Stanley (Shark Defenders) sticker, a Sharks4Kids sticker and some shark fact postcards. Prizes included shark pins, bracelets and posters all from Shark Defenders, who are working to spread the word for shark sanctuaries around the world.

Our presentations covered a wide range of age appropriate topics including shark science, shark anatomy and biology, shark tagging, filming and photographing sharks and diving with sharks. All of the lessons also focused on the importance of shark ecotourism in the Bahamas and the existence of the Shark Sanctuary.

The Bahamas Shark Sanctuary is one of only 12 in the world and it was established in 2011. Within this 243,244 square mile protected region targeted fishing of sharks is illegal. A 2011 estimation valued a live shark in the Bahamas to be worth around $250,000 in its lifetime. PEW Charitable Trusts and the Cape Eleuthera Institute are currently undergoing a study to look at more recent figures and this number will no doubt be even higher.

The Bahamas is arguably the shark diving capital of the world and tourism created because of these animals brings millions of dollars in revenue into the country each year. Our hope in visiting schools throughout the Bahamas is to provide information to these students about the importance and value of these incredible animals. I created Sharks4Kids because I genuinely believe kids will save sharks. They provide me with hope and inspiration every single day and they are the ones who will protect oceans around the world.

Special thanks to Gail Woon, EARTHCARE, Pelican Bay Hotel and Flamingo Air. We look forward to future visits!