In environmental education, Fieldwork, Mangroves, Ocean Camp

Engaging the youth through MCP’s Sea Camp!

This summer, after almost two months of preparation, MCP held two of our first ever, three-day Sea Camps! We opened the application process for the first Sea Camp to diverse, local youths who were interested in learning about the marine environment. Whilst for the second Sea Camp, we involved a local orphanage based in Dumaguete. In total, we had 32 amazing and energetic teenagers with us for the two consecutive Sea Camps! Most of the activities were the same between the two camps; however, in the second camp, we focussed more on alternative livelihoods. We taught them how to make pillows out of old hessian sacks and cotton from one of our trees and invited a social enterprise, Lumago, to teach the campers how to upcycle used paper into jewelery.

The primary goal of the camps was to introduce the basics of various coastal ecosystems and understand their importance in our waters. Through awareness raising, they also learned why we need to take care of these ecosystems and act as environmental stewards for the world we live in. By understanding their purpose in this planet, they learned to love, appreciate and share their knowledge to their families and friends.
During the first camp, we teamed up with experienced camp facilitators, Jackie and Julia, from EECO (Experiential Education Conservation Organization) and 2 of their own youth camp graduates to help run the programme and empower our campers. Their knowledge and experience were invaluable for making the campers feel at home and engaged with all of our lessons.

Day one started with an introduction to the program, “getting to know you” games and “ice breakers”, which helped bond the campers and sowed the seeds for lifelong friendships. Then we presented the three main coastal ecosystems (mangroves, seagrass and coral reefs) at different stations around the MCP base, where the campers had 20 minutes per ecosystem to learn as much as they could! The topics were very simple to understand and we incorporated educational games focused on each ecosystem afterwards, to help solidify everything in their long term memories. To top it all off, we went out to the mangroves in Siaton so they could experience the forest first-hand. It was the perfect end to the day with a little meditation to embrace all of their experiences so far.

The campers started early on the second day to walk around the botanical garden and relieve all of the tension in their muscles. They even played volleyball as early as 6:30 am! After filling their stomachs with full Filipino breakfast, we travelled to Dauin Marine Protected Area (MPA) where we conducted a beach clean-up and a simple brand audit. A brand audit is a method by which a person lists down all the manufacturers and brand of each plastic packaging. The sea campers were distributed into three groups and each had their own plastic packaging from the beach clean. They found out that the top three offenders were Universal Robina (e.g. Mang Juan), Liwayway (e.g. Oishi) and Prifood (e.g. Supercrunch). The campers learned that these plastics near the beach will break down into smaller pieces, will be eaten by the fishes and, in turn, eaten by humans. They all mentioned that they never used to think much about their actions but that they now wanted to change their behaviour and influence their families to use less single use plastics and dispose of their trash properly.Volunteers and kids gathering at the guardhouse

It was a hot day so all of the campers couldn’t wait to jump into the ocean. Each camper was paired with an MCP volunteer who taught them how to use a mask and snorkel and showed them the beautiful coral reefs Dauin MPA has to offer. They were taught lots of signs so they could signal to their buddies which fish and corals they saw underwater! After 30 minutes, they all came out with big, happy smiles from ear to ear!

Of course, their day did not end yet. We introduced them to the word “Marine Protected Area”. This was important to understand the benefits of an MPA and why the marine environment needs protection from anthropogenic threats. This was followed by a trip to a nearby fishing village where they were able to recognise all the threats these ecosystems are facing. It was a revelation for most of them and they asked a lot of enthusiastic questions. The second day ended with a campfire where Nicky Dumapit shared his advocacy for the environment by playing his handmade instruments made to imitate the sounds of nature, such as thunder, water, rain and even a gecko! It was a heart-warming and beautiful starry night and all the campers shared their highlights of the last two days and how their experiences had encouraged them to reduce their plastic use and become true environmental advocates.

The last day of the camp focussed on teaching the participants valuable skills that could help save their lives and gain employment in the future. They learned the basics of CPR, treatment of underwater stings, performed first aid and learnt the recovery position. Some of them were even able to share previous experiences where they had needed these skills. They also learned nine different knots and our staff taught them which to use in case of rescuing people in the water. All this hard work was rewarded with a traditional Filipino boodle fight, which is a type of lunch arrangement wherein the table setting is garnished with banana leaves, rice is spread across the middle and surrounded by (in this case) a platter of vegetarian goodies.

We then spent our afternoon at the PAPSIMCO house where they took part in an interactive game going through the different regulations in the Philippines pertaining to the marine environment. This is a significant topic to learn so they can share the knowledge to the family members who rarely know, for example, that all sea turtles are endangered and should be protected.

As a contribution to the marine environment, we finished the camp by planting Sonneratia mangrove seedlings with each of their name on a little flag. They all felt fulfilled, inspired and ready to share their knowledge and involvement to their fellow classmates, family members and to their local community and even willing to help MCP with our weekly beach clean ups!

It was an amazing time, from preparation to execution and just seeing the smiles of the youths learning new things during their summer break. A well spent summer, indeed!

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Divers getting ready in the boat