The day was going to be an exciting one! I check my bag once more, making sure I haven’t forgotten anything, before I step out of my bure, a little traditional wooden hut. I am in Fiji, the morning sun is shining over the emerald mountains and I am about to meet some schoolchildren and tell them about what I love most: sharks and rays.
Together with a group of volunteers from Projects Abroad, I organised this visit as the first of many around the local schools. We aim to raise awareness of sharks and rays and of the need to protect them at the next meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in September 2016. During these visits, we tell the story of ‘Shark Stanley’ and his friends, the silky and thresher sharks and the mobula ray, all of which are proposed for CITES Appendix II. A storybook and cut-outs of these characters, plus a range of activity sheets, crosswords and colouring sheets, help to engage and educate children of all ages.
As we enter the classrooms, all eyes are on us and it does not take long to capture the children’s attention. The joy and excitement of learning about Shark Stanley and his friends and the importance of protecting the ocean is palpable. Competition is fierce as the activity sheets are distributed; every group wants to be the first to finish answering the questions. Time flies for everyone involved, ourselves included.
At the end, we pose with the children to take photos with the shark and ray cut-out characters, which will be posted on Shark Stanley’s social media. We will replicate these visits in numerous schools and countries around the world over the coming months, and plan to engage celebrities too. The overall social reach and best images of the Shark Stanley campaign will be presented to government decision-makers at the CITES meeting as a way to demonstrate grassroots support for these species and encourage their listing on CITES Appendix II.
I wave goodbye to my adorable new Fijian friends, leaving behind not just the cut-out characters and activity sheets, but also an increased awareness of the need to protect our ocean and the amazing creatures found in it. Hopefully this new generation of children will have the chance to see sharks and rays alive in their own waters one day.