Marquesan School Children: Guardians of the Bay

“We are starting with the kids. They are our future.”

Kristian Beadle, captain of The Green Coconut Run’s Aldebaran, listened as Marquesan local Pascal explained his dilemma. The Green Coconut Run, a cooperative between adventurous friends, was established with two main goals: as a community sailing adventure, and as a way to promote ocean conservation. Their most recent sailing adventure has taken them to the banks of French Polynesia, where they have stumbled upon a uniquely inspiring project that ties into their second goal. So they’ve decided to help.

Pascal hosted the Green Coconut Run’s crew, introducing them to the Marquesan islands and the culture that dwells there. Part of this culture is the marine life that is suffering due to a combination of overfishing and initial lack of diverse marine life. The local nonprofit Motu Haka is trying to solve this problem in order to qualify as a World Heritage Site through the United Nations. Of this effort, the Educational Marine Managed Area (EMMA) was born.

EMMA works with local school children to help manage marine reserves in their communities. Pascal explained, “To say ‘you can’t fish here or there’ is contentious; and furthermore we don’t have expertise in this field. So we need to look to the next generation. We wanted our kids to get experience managing protected areas while learning an appreciation for the ocean.” Children are in charge of one of six marine life “hotspots” on each of the neighboring islands, and these locations provide an educational facility as they learn the impact of marine life on their island.

There is no formal enforcement, but since these policies are coming from the island’s children instead of bureaucracy, the islanders respect and even support the fishing limitations, and inform visitors of the rules as they approach the island. “You’re not supposed to fish inside the bay, that is the kid’s reserve. You can fish outside the bay though,” a spear fisherman explained to the Green Coconut Run when they arrived. This grassroots effort seems to be effective in finding the balance between the needs of ecology and fisherman.

The model has been so successful, in fact, that a group of 10 island children were invited to an global conference in Chile in September to present their ideas to a panel of scientists. Pascal would accompany the children, but they would be the ones to speak on the behalf of the initiative. They would be staying at two schools that had offered to host them: one on Easter Island, and another in Chile. However, the French Polynesian education ministry just recently informed the group that their accommodations weren’t approved. Now the group is short $7,000 due to hotel and accommodation expenses.

This project was the perfect example of what the Green Coconut Run hoped to achieve: come across amazing projects that they could help support and share with the world. They are asking for donations in two differents forms. The first, a raffle for local items from each Marquesan island like a wooden carving of a tiki, a red Marquesan nut necklace, black pearls, and more. Tickets cost $20 for one or $50 for three. The raffle will occur on August 19th at 3pm PST via a Facebook live stream, streaming directly from French Polynesia. The second, a donation of $100 or $250 directly to the kid’s reserve. The Green Coconut Run also encourages you to share on social media to spread awareness.

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