Students experience real ecology work

Eighteen young people successfully completed an Environment Youth Camp and field school this week at the West Coast on Santo island.

Delivered by the Santo Sunset Environment Network, in partnership with the Eden Hope Foundation, the Nalaklak Environment Camp at West Coast Santo included 18 young people from years seven to ten at two local high schools, as an initiative to ensure that the area’s youth are given the opportunity to learn about and take leadership on environmental conservation.

Designed with a mix of theory and practice, the students were thrilled to be able to experience real ecology work in the field.

Ronald Pilae from Wusi Village, a year eight student at Limarua High School, says, “Working together to learn how to collect river insects and study them in a microscope helped me to think more about protecting the Rivers on West Coast Santo and not letting animals or people destroy them and everything that lives in them.”

The Environment Youth Camp covered a range of topics, starting with river ecology and hydrological, the students then learned more about the tropical rainforest and the special plants and animals that only live in West Coast Santo, like the endangered Santo Cruz Ground Dove and the West Coast Kauri tree.

Students also discussed sustainable livelihood alternatives, and learned how to make local coconut soap to avoid purchasing soap from shops with chemicals that can damage local waters.

In celebration of the National Forestry and Tree Planting Week, the students had a full-day of field work undertaking a forest inventory, which included measuring the diameter at breast height of all the trees in a circular fixed plot, measuring tree height with a clinometer and then even calculating the carbon content of each tree.

Students were amazed to learn how much each tree could generate in carbon offsets credits to help fund village conservation programs.

Two students studying a river at Tasmate area in West Coast, Santo.

Romeo Langi, a year ten student from Olpoe village at Menavula High School, says, he would “Try hard to convince their leaders in his village to establish a forest conservation area to protect the trees which are helping to fight climate change.”

A highlight of the camp was discussing how to preserve and protect the environment in the future.

Students considered the traditional taboo systems on rivers, reefs and forest already being used in Western Santo and developed strategies for improving their resources, including ensuring gender equality in decision-making and strengthening customary systems of environmental management.

Students then made campaign style videos with important environmental messages for their friends and families with slogans like “Our Environment Our Life” and “Women and Men work together for the Planet.”

The Camp closed with the launch of a new Youth Environment Network, under the umbrella of the Santo Sunset Environment Network.

The youth network plans to undertake school-based actions, connect regularly on Facebook and of course, organize the next Environment Camp when school holidays start in November.

Isobel Joel, a Year 8 student from Kerepua village reminded her friends at the closing that “Every one of us should be role models in how we use the environment, limit cutting trees, lighting fires and helping others think about the future.”

Support for the Nalaklak Youth Environment Camp was generously provided by Nia Tero, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, The Indigenous People’s Assistance Facility and the Eden Hope Foundation.

Combined with the low levels of infrastructure and other investment, the West Coast maintains much of its forests intact.

The Santo Mountain Chain has been designated a biodiversity hotspot by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Government of Vanuatu, meaning that it is rich in endangered, vulnerable and endemic species of flora and fauna.

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