Contributed by Peter Richardson
Whales, sharks, dolphins and turtles splashed into the imaginations of thousands of Sri Lankan school children earlier this year when the Marine Conservation Society toured its Cool Seas Roadshow along the west and south coasts of the island.
From the fishing town of Kalpitiya in the North West, to the South Eastern city of Hambantota, Roadshow presenter Andy Starbuck introduced his life-size, inflatable bottlenose dolphin, leatherback turtle, hammerhead shark and baby blue whale to excited school and community audiences ranging in size from 60 to 600.
All of the creatures featured in the Roadshow are found in Sri Lanka’s seas, and after explaining about their extraordinary lives, Andy warned that threats such as turtle egg collecting, over-fishing and marine litter pose serious problems to Sri Lanka’s spectacular marine biodiversity. Children were encouraged to respect their marine wildlife, dispose of their litter responsibly, urge their friends and families not to eat turtle eggs and support the efforts of the Turtle Conservation Project (TCP), the local project partners who kindly arranged the Roadshow schedule and translated for Andy.
At the end of Andy’s presentation, the children were treated to some exciting film of marine wildlife in action and then each received a beautiful hammerhead shark poster bearing a Sinhala translation of the conservation message "Sharks are an important part of the marine ecosystem and need our care and protection!"
During his stay in Sri Lanka, Andy was also treated to some memorable marine wildlife experiences of his own. In the south he witnessed diving blue whales and nesting green turtles, and while accompanying the TCP on one of their turtle bycatch prevention patrols off Kalpitiya he was surrounded by a pod of about 1,000 spinner dolphins!
"The Sri Lankan Roadshow was a real challenge and I enjoyed it, especially the wildlife which was just fantastic”, said Andy Starbuck, “but the amazement on those kids’ faces as they learnt about these fantastic creatures that swim in their seas was what it was all about for me – and hopefully those lovely posters will now be stuck on thousands of living room walls up and down the coast spreading the message that we must all act to Save Our Seas”.
This pilot Sri Lankan tour was funded by the Save Our Seas Foundation as part of their support for the MCS Cool Seas Roadshow, which ordinarily enthuses primary school children about marine wildlife conservation throughout the UK and Ireland.