Connecting Kids with Nature

“Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives.”- Thomas Berry

As a child, I spent countless hours outside exploring. My dad taught me to identify all the trees we found on our walks and my mom crawled around tide pools with me. Growing up on a lake meant a lot of time in the water as well. Those childhood moments definitely instilled a life long love of the outdoor world, especially the ocean.

Jillian Morris ©Sophie Hart

As adults, it’s very easy for us to get busy and lose our connections to nature. Depending on where we live, finding green spaces might be challenging.  I am fortunate because most of my adult life has focused on the ocean, taking me all over the world to study and dive. I’ve spent the better part of the last 14 years in The Bahamas. It’s been fascinating to learn about the connection between the ocean and the people of this beautiful island nation. The economy is fueled by fisheries and tourism, both of which are driven by the ocean.

I’ve spent a lot of time visiting schools throughout The Bahamas and I am always amazed when out the classroom window I can see the incredible shades of blue and teal; pristine waters with colors I’ve never seen anywhere else. When you are in The Bahamas, the ocean is on your doorstep. Strolling down the street you will easily find kids playing on the beach and fishermen cleaning their catch of the day.

Juvenile lemon shark in the mangroves ©Jillian Morris

Having called the island of South Bimini my home for the last decade, I’ve spent hundreds of hours exploring the mangroves. When people think of mangroves, they often think of mud and murk, but the clarity of the water in The Bahamas makes the mangroves a truly magical place. Some of my favorite moments have been spent in and around this remarkable ecosystem, including the time I was able to see and film a lemon shark give birth. Ten tiny pups started their life in the shallow nursery habitat, with the roots of these trees providing shelter and a safe place to begin life on their own.

Students learn about mangroves in school. They learn the different species, the animals that live above and below the surface and how these trees protect the coastline from hurricanes. Even though mangroves are one of the most important ecosystems in the world, most of the students I’ve worked with in The Bahamas have never actually visited these forests. OurSharks4Kids programs focuses on sharks, but protecting habitats is a big part of how we protect sharks and the oceans. Giving students their own first hand experience creates a deeper and longer lasting connection to the natural world. This is especially valuable in these islands, as coastal development is a significant threat. We need kids to care and to use their voice to make a difference.

A Bahamian student exploring the mangroves ©Jillian Morris

The mangroves here provide habitat for numerous species including juvenile conch, lobster, snapper, reef fish, green sea turtles and lemon sharks. Students are always surprised to learn that sharks use this area as a nursery habitat, spending the first few years of their life here.

Southern stingray at the edge of the mangroves @Jillian Morris

The first time a student ( or adult ) slips on a mask and slides beneath the surface, you can see their eyes darting back and forth to take it all in. The diversity of life found here really is remarkable. From the tiniest fish to the beautiful stingrays that cruise along the edges of the forest.

Juvenile lemon shark in the mangroves @Jillian Morris

We’ve also taken students from others areas of the world to visit these fascinating forests. No matter where students are from, it’s always amazing to see their reactions when they realize just how much life can be found in this magical underwater world. When a kid has their own story to tell about seeing a seahorse or a baby shark, this story will live with them for the rest of their life. We hope that personal connection inspires them to be a voice for sharks, the mangroves and the oceans.

We hope it creates an appreciation for nature and a curiosity to keep learning and exploring the world around them. - Jillian Morris

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