Caribbean Sandwatch chapter aims to change mindsets for climate resilient communities and healthy coastal environment

The Trinidad and Tobago National Commission for UNESCO launched its Sandwatch workshop series on 9 June 2022 in the coastal community of Mayaro, bringing together some 40 primary and secondary school teachers from the area, as well as curriculum officers. In the coming months, a Sandwatch workshop will be held in each of Trinidad and Tobago’s seven education districts.

Climate change, biodiversity loss and the declining health of the ocean are affecting the state of Caribbean beaches and oceans in many ways. These changes include coastline erosion, beach debris and plastic pollution, ocean warming and acidification, and coral reef bleaching. With seventy percent of Trinidad and Tobago’s population living in coastal areas, the prospects for sustainable development in the country are inextricably linked to a healthy and thriving marine and coastal environment.

Sandwatch promotes participatory citizen science and quality environmental education by bringing together students, teachers and local communities working together to monitor and conserve the coastal and marine environment. Through this approach, it contributes to adaptation to climate change and ocean-related threats by building the resilience of natural ecosystems and communities.

To be able to better conserve the natural capital assets represented by the beaches of beautiful Trinidad and Tobago, we need to understand the extent of the environmental issue around us, and spread our knowledge more widely and more intensely.

Jean-Paul Ngome Abiaga, Programme Coordinator for Natural Sciences and IOC-UNESCO

The Sandwatch method M.A.S.T. – Monitoring, Analysing, Sharing, Taking Action teaches how to measure the impacts on the beach over time, such as making observations on changes and collecting sand samples that provide information on oceanic currents and on erosion or accretion.

Sandwatch brings the environment into the classroom and takes education into the outside world. It links education to real-life issues and threats such as climate change, biodiversity loss and ocean-related challenges. It connects youth to sustainable development, cultural diversity and science to find effective and context-based solutions.

© UNESCO

In Mayaro, which lies in a coastal area in Trinidad and Tobago, that is severely affected by coastal erosion, national trainer Andy Paul and his team introduced the Sandwatch methodology from a theoretical perspective, as well as from a practical standpoint with a beach monitoring activity.

Student-designed activities or projects are based on the principles of scientific method: data collection, data analysis and critical thinking. Students learn to organize and prioritize their information and critically select the most relevant issues and topics. They learn to value the principles of environmental stewardship and responsible citizenship, while developing critical thinking skills and applying them in resolving human-environment conflicts.

This national Sandwatch workshop series is the result of UNESCO’s promotion for a regional Sandwatch initiative to foster resilient coastal ecosystems and communities in the region, stimulated through a three-day workshop organized in January 2022 for UNESCO National Coordinators and ASP School Network Coordinators in the Caribbean SIDS. The national workshops in Trinidad and Tobago serves as a best practice in the region and is intended to be replicated in other Caribbean countries to encourage the mainstreaming of environmental education in the curriculum, and build a Caribbean Sandwatch community to foster knowledge exchange on the preservation of the coastal environment.

Biodiversity is on the curriculum in only one in five countries worldwide, and ocean health or climate change are addressed in the classroom in only one in two. UNESCO has therefore made it its mission to ensure that environmental education becomes a key component of school curricula by 2025, including in the Caribbean. The aim is to provide students with knowledge about the environment and sustainable development, and to make them environmentally aware citizens by taking an active role in climate protection at the local levels.

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