An exciting new project is happening between the School of Education at the National University of Vanuatu and Erakor. Under assessment assignments of the discipline of Ecology, French and English speaking Science Teacher trainees are working alongside the Chief of Solwota and Ekoftau Environment and Wellbeing Association to help restore Erakor lagoons.
The NUV School of Education Ecology teachers Znatchkovsky Grégory and Lemuel Moli, French and English streams respectively, are coordinating the assignments and are hoping that this approach of having students learning from community work will continue in next years.
Erakor is located next to the Erakor lagoons in Port Vila. Over the last decades, people from Erakor have noticed the quality of water in the Lagoon decline, resulting in a declining fish population. This is partly because of cyclones and warming waters from El Niño. However, it is also due to an increase in solid waste, plastic pollution, overfishing, and the destruction of mangroves for tourism development.
Multiple efforts have been made to tackle the pollution in the lagoon, led by the residents of Erakor. Most recently, the School of Education is working with Chiefs and residents in Erakor on five new projects.
The first is to restore the lagoon. This includes preventing future pollution and cleaning up the destruction that has already occurred. Here, science teacher trainees at the School of Education are supporting work that is being led by the Chief of Solwota and other Erakor residents. This includes the work of Cynthia and her peers who have replanted mangroves to provide future homes for fish and to protect Erakor from cyclones, and who have been collecting litter from the lagoon. Last week, the science teacher trainees went to Erakor to observe how the plastic that Cynthia and her peers collected is being reused as pots for flowers and crops. Currently, the teacher trainees are working with the Chief of Solwota to strategize how more plastic can be removed from the lagoon and how to raise awareness of plastic pollution throughout Erakor’s community.
Second, the science teacher trainees are developing a mangrove replanting project. Using their knowledge of ecology, they are identifying the different types of mangroves that exist around the lagoon and researching what mangroves should be planted in Erakor to prevent future erosion. With this research, the teacher trainees will raise awareness on the importance of mangroves and will develop an education strategy for children that explores the significance of mangroves.
Third, the teacher trainees are identifying the various plant and animal species in the ecosystem in Erakor. This includes recording the multiple and varied custom understandings of flora and fauna in Erakor and interviewing elders to document the names of these flora and fauna in all vernacular languages spoken in and around Erakor. Residents in Erakor come from many different islands across Vanuatu meaning the teacher trainees are recording the names of flora and fauna in a vast range of vernacular languages. The science teacher trainees are planning on sharing this custom knowledge with other communities across Vanuatu to increase awareness and understanding around what flora and fauna can help protect communities from future impacts of climate change. An exhaustive inventory and count will help to preserve knowledge of local medicine and raise awareness among younger generations of the need to conserve Vanuatu’s endemic flora and fauna. This inventory will be written in Bislama, French, English and vernacular languages, including both vernacular and scientific names for the species documented.
Fourth, the science teacher trainees are organising the activities for the soon-to-be-built Nakamal Environment Centre. Vanuatu’s French Embassy has provided funds to build an educational Nakamal in Erakor that will provide a space to learn about pollution in the lagoon, thereby raising awareness and helping to prevent future pollution. Using their teaching skills, teacher trainees are exploring what educational activities should occur in the Nakamal. Additionally, they are working in accordance with the chiefs and local customs to ensure that the Nakamal school supports and amplifies custom knowledge in Erakor. The teacher trainees are interviewing residents about what they would like to see and are locating key educational informants who would be able to provide educational presentations at the Nakamal.
Finally, the teacher trainees are exploring how bicycles could be used in Vanuatu. Using the Vanuatu National Sustainable Development Plan, teacher trainees are exploring the cost effectiveness of bicycles, and how bicycles could make children in Erakor become more independent and responsible in commuting to school .
Children in Erakor, led by Cynthia and her peers, are helping to oversee the work of the teacher trainees. They are hopeful that the science teacher trainees will help restore Erakor’s lagoon so that they are able to swim, fish and safely play in it once again.
By Rachael Parker Allen (she/her)PhD Candidate Department of Geography | Darwin College University of Cambridge