Video conferencing brings Bermudan coral reef to London

As Blue Planet II becomes the most watched British nature show, schools around the world get inspired by marine science

As the 10-year-olds at Lawrence Primary School in London get ready for their first video encounter with a science educator in Bermuda, a hand holding a brain coral appears on the whiteboard. It’s expedition educator Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop, who travelled from London to Bermuda to connect live with thousands internationally. All 60 children prepared their best questions for the video call. They have been watching the recently launched Blue Planet II episodes and now have the opportunity to interact live with educators from Bermuda also known as ‘the parrotfish capital of the world’.

“How does it feel to be underwater?” one student asked. “Being surrounded by life underwater is like being in an innocent paradise. It’s a new world and animals don’t fear you,” Jamie said while showing children anemone, groupers, sea cucumbers and all sorts of fishes swimming in one of the largest living coral exhibits in the world at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo. ‘Woow,’ one can hear on the other side, ‘Just like in Blue Planet!’ The students are excited and queue, their curiosity piqued, and learn about coral life and what can be done to protect it. “It was quite thought-provoking for them, especially about how their actions here in London can impact on the amount of pollution that ends up affecting sea life. Many of them wanted to plant trees to clean the air,” their teacher, Bernard McNerney said.

Over the course of the XL Catlin Coral Live event, 10,000 students across North America, Europe and Australia got a closer look at the coral reefs and met scientists researching vital data on environmental change via Google Hangouts, Skype and live streams. It is the combination of being able to speak live to active scientists live from the field that helps students develop a more curious and critical approach to science.

“Why is marine science so important?” a 15-year-old from Dubai asked Dr. Steve Simpson, marine biologist at the University of Exeter and contributor for the BBC series Blue Planet II. “High definition DVDs appeared because people understood what’s happening under the chin of a shrimp. We sometimes forget that we are also animals and we learn a lot about looking at other animals to learn more about us. If looking at how clownfish fight for their anemone, we can better understand intergroup conflict and use this resolve difficult, political negotiations,” the scientist said during the one-to-one live-link with the English College in Dubai.

[The experience] was quite thought-provoking for [the children], especially about how their actions here in London can impact on the amount of pollution that ends up affecting sea life. – Bernard McNerney, teacher, Lawrence Primary School

Students learned about how human behaviour is affecting the future of the coral reef. Mass coral bleaching events driven by ocean warming have featured prominently in the media. It is not just the loss of a crucial habitat that is in question, but how the loss of the reef will affect communities and wider society. Over 500 million people rely on coral reefs for coastal protection, livelihoods and food, and are worth an estimated $1 trillion.

Teacher Christina Palmieri at the London District Catholic School Board in Canada confirmed, “students are even more inspired now to be advocates for the environment. One student even said that their vocation to one day be a marine biologist had been confirmed.” 

There’s nothing more exciting for kids in school than getting to see with their own eyes what this fragile environment looks like and hearing from real scientists what they go through during their expeditions. “We’re bringing that to life using live chats, virtual reality and new technologies. And by talking to curious minds from the earliest ages, we effectively develop critical thinking and the next generation of scientists,” explained expedition educator Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop, Digital Explorer’s Director.

Since 2014, researchers and explorers working in the most fragile environments have inspired over 38,000 students internationally during these Explore Live education events. Classes have discovered the real science behind unique environments from the Arctic to the coral reef and learned about the challenges of expedition leaders, marine geophysicists, marine biologists, polar guides and world record holders.

This year, the Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo, the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, Bermuda Zoological Society, University of Exeter, and communications partner Bluewave joined the London-based social enterprise Digital Explorer and event sponsor XL Catlin to deliver this global education event. More on:  

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