Maritza Morales Casanova, a 2012 Young Laureate and environmentalist from the state of Yucatán, Mexico, is determined to raise awareness among young people, principally through developing Ceiba Pentandra, a major park dedicated to environmental education. When she was invited to participate in May 2015 Hawaii Volcanoes National Park BioBlitz and Biodiversity and Cultural Festival (held under the auspices of the National Geographic Society and the National Park Service), she was skeptical about what she could learn from a group of islands linked above all to tourism. She soon changed her mind.

By Maritza Morales Casanova

Hawaii is an isolated group of islands located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. When I received notice about the opportunity of a learning experience in Hawaii, I had some doubts: How can an isolated island be an important tourist destination? What about the coexistence of a population in an active volcanic area and the growth of animals and plants after the eruptions?

It is in fact, I quickly discovered, a unique environment where there are no snakes and no poisonous animals or plants – so it is very safe if you are planning wildlife activities with children.

Before the activity in Hawaii´s Volcanoes National Park, there were conversations with all the teams involved, explaining the dynamic of each activity for BioBlitz 2015 from National Geographic.

“By observing, one learns” was the theme – BioBlitz is a unique combination of taxonomic inventory, public outreach and science education. It was a 24-hour event in which trained scientists, students, families, volunteers and other community members came together to explore the many plants, animals and other organisms that make up the Volcanoes National Park. Hawaii was the location for the 9th edition of BioBlitz.

During my first day in Hawaii, we visited Kona´s beach, with volcanic rocks filled with biodiversity.

Volcano crater

On the second day, we moved to Kilauea, near the volcano crater. The first activity was a dinner with scientist and volunteers. I could see the passion of each one of them, talking about their fields of research and activities for children, some of them defending the importance of ants and others defending the importance of birds. That made me feel comfortable, to see that there are other people with a strong commitment to helping our Grandmother Earth.

Some volunteers told me that they spent their months training and preparing their materials for kids.

Children tried to identify animals and plants, recording the biodiversity of the area.

Finally, the inventories started and everybody was excited, children from different areas, families, teachers, scientists and volunteers working together to identify as many types of biodiversity as they could. Birds, plants, fungi, insects and other organisms were the main subjects to look for. Afterwards we recorded them in the iNaturalist.org App.

At the time of the closing ceremony 1,535 observations had been uploaded to iNaturalist.org and 415 species identified. Among them were:

• 1 amphibian • 21 arachnids • 22 species new to the park (like the jumping spiders) • 73 threatened • 18 fungi • 22 other organisms (micro organisms) • 1 mollusk (land snail) • 3 mammals • 34 birds • 1 reptile (Brahminy Blind Snake).

Also I had the opportunity to share our work in Yucatán during the panel “Light the Torch”.

Big challenges

There were big challenges for the National Geographic team and for Hawaii´s National Park team. For example, there were more than 850 children joining the inventory activities in different venues, and everything worked well. Behind all the efforts to provide environmental education, there were also efforts to ensure the safety and successful participation of everyone attending.

I’m now seeking to replicate this experience in Yucatán. There are activities that are common for us in Ceiba Pentandra, like the cultural fair and the observation of plant and birds. But it was very interesting how people from schools and families can contribute to the inventories for a reserve, updating information.

I think that families should promote such activities with their kids too – for example in their gardens with guidebooks to identify the plants and bugs. This is very inspiring for children.

This trip helped me realize that when we want to do something to help Grandmother Earth, we should start taking action at home and with our neighbours. By sharing our knowledge, we can teach others how to plant or write the name of trees so children will learn them.  Even small activities undertaken together can make a difference.

The only way we have to ensure the preservation of life is sharing the best of us. Teach this to your children.

Learn more about Maritza Morales Casanova

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