Picture the coral reefs in “Finding Nemo.” The weird and wonderful shapes, the explosion of colors, fantastical fish darting in and out. They seem practically made for children.
But children — as well as most adults — living in the heart of the most spectacular coral reefs on the planet — the Coral Triangle — know precious little about the natural wonders that lie just off shore. To be fair, the reefs are hard to see without a snorkel mask…or the ability to swim.
A joint project of The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International is getting kids in remote villages in Indonesia into the water and teaching them to protect their reefs — all from a sailboat classroom called the Kalabia.
Like stepping through C.S. Lewis’ magical wardrobe, the children plunge into a vibrant parallel world. They learn that contrary to popular belief in their villages, corals are living animals — not stone — and they are easily-damaged nurseries for fish the kids eat every day. It’s then, when the kids can at last explore their reefs in person, that it all clicks — their lives are utterly intertwined with these corals.
In just three days, even the adults are singing the coral reef song taught aboard the Kalabia, and the lessons learned by the children start to spread throughout the population. The education team sails away knowing that the villagers have become proud of their reefs and will help protect them from threats.
Who doesn’t remember a moment in a school field trip when it all clicked? I remember counting the rings on the trunk of a redwood tree and realizing that some of the giant trees had been on the planet before Jesus. I remember going to the beach in Bodega and learning that iceplant is bad — to eat, and for the native vegetation on the dunes. I also remember running home to tell my family all about what I had learned.
Those moments profoundly shape how you see the world — and your role in it. That’s why the Kalabia program is one of the most inspiring I’ve come across in my four and a half years with the Conservancy.
Dive in and read more about the Kalabia — one small part of the Conservancy’s large-scale campaign to preserve the life-sustaining reefs of the Coral Triangle — and be sure to listen to the audio clip of kids singing the Kalabia coral reef song.
CJ Hudlow is a marketing manager with The Nature Conservancy.
(Image: The Kalabia. Credit: Edwin Shri Bimo.)