On Friday 10th August 2012, the University of the South Pacific (USP), held its USP Open Day for prospective students, targeting current high school students from around Fiji. This is an important date in the University’s Calendar as staff and students from the various Faculties and Schools exhibit and showcase what they have to offer in terms of teaching, expertise and possible employment areas. The Open Day was not only held at the USP Laucala Campus in Suva, but also around the other 14 regional campuses located around the South Pacific region.
As part of the SOSF-Wantok Moana Shark Awareness Project, a component is to carry out awareness on the importance of conserving and protecting Fiji sharks. The USP Open Day was an opportune time to provide students from all over the country and the region with some awareness materials in the form of posters and bumper stickers. The aim of this awareness campaign was mainly to reach out to youths who would be able spread the word on shark awareness and eventually contribute immensely to shark conservation in Fiji.
Firstly, we needed tools that would appeal to these high school students from around Fiji. After much discussion and planning, Kelly Brown (the Project Assistant) and I finally agreed upon the distribution of Shark Awareness Posters and Bumper Stickers. Through the student body of the USP School of Marine Studies (SMS), Wantok Moana, we were allocated space within the School booth much to our delight. The posters were designed with the shark species within Fiji’s inshore reefs, similar to that produced for the Great Fiji Shark Count that occurred in April this year. The bumper stickers had the statement, ‘I LOVE SHARKS, Save Fiji Sharks’. Nothing screamed for attention as much as the heart in between the word I, and Sharks. The posters were A3 in size, while the bumper stickers were 8cm x 30 cm. We also played the video ‘Shark Hope’ (produced by the PEW Environmental Group and the Coral Reef Alliance) to give the students a more in depth understanding of the severity of shark fining in Fiji and most likely around the Pacific region. The ‘Tribe’, as we usually refer to the members of Wantok Moana, gave descriptions on sharks, the anatomy and biology of sharks, the ecological and economic (tourism) importance and the social stature of such an amazing, feared and yet valuable member of the ocean.
As usual we had a pool of volunteers at hand to assist with sharing of information and answering any questions that the visiting students had. They assisted with the setting up of the booth, the designing of the posters and stickers and the distribution. We did not anticipate the number of students that visited our booth and quickly ran out of material by mid-day. We had other shark posters and the video which allowed the group to continue with until the open day closed at around 3pm. This could be an area that we could improve on to have more materials the next time around.
There were also University guests at the Open Day, some of whom visited our booth. They were given a brief summary of our project. One of these guests was Professor Akira Suzuki, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2010). The guests were also provided with posters and stickers. According to the Head Tour Guide for the event, there were just over 6,000 students who attended the Open Day. It was also covered on national television and aired across the South Pacific region as well.
Overall, it was an effective way to convey and reach out to many high school students in one event. The response was positive as many students were in awe to learn of the many species of sharks in Fiji. It did not take long to see students putting stickers on their uniforms and uttering the phrase, SAVE OUR SHARKS! Some of the Teachers were very interested and even asked if we could possibly do a shark awareness session in their respective High Schools. This could be a possible avenue for our shark awareness work, however our main priority will be to showcase our project to our fellow university students, who will soon be working and have influence in their own Pacific Islands nations with regards to national policies. We hope that our project will teach them new facts about sharks and why they are important in our oceans and reefs.