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Patrick J. Bethel won first place for both the Upper and Lower High School categories.

FRIENDS Science Fair Explores the Value of Our Country’s Marine Resources

Students and teachers busied themselves setting up project displays at the Friends of the Environment Science Fair 2017 at New Vision Ministries on Nov. 16.

“Exploring the Value of Marine Resources” was this year’s theme.

Victor Roberts gave the opening prayer, and the welcome was given by Lianna Burrows, FRIENDS education officer.

Meanwhile, Khalea Richard, a student of Forest Heights Academy, introduced the guest speaker – Enie Hensel, a graduate student of Applied Ecology who attends NC State University (NCSU).

Hensel’s research interests are “exploring the intertwining interactions between top-down and bottom-up mechanisms that have been anthropogenically impacted in coastal ecosystems.” She is currently investigating how structure complexity and the presence of top predators affect patch reef fish communities in Abaco. Her observations included aerial views are well as underwater observations.

She said the earth is like our bodies and it has to be regulated, and that it also has systems like mangroves, coral reefs, deserts and forests. She encouraged the students to become aware of regulations that protect sharks and turtles in The Bahamas.

“What resources are in our backyard?” she asked.

Hensel said that there are mangrove tidal creeks, which provide nurseries before animals go off into the deep blue sea, and then there are tidal creeks and flats well known for bonefishing.

Going deeper into the ocean, she said there are awesome seagrass meadows, which are responsible for photosynthesis, and as a food source for sharks, stingrays, groupers and other marine animals looking for food like crabs, snails and worms. She also mentioned coral reefs, which is our first defense for hurricanes because they create a barrier.

Hensel completed her talk with a case study of Nassau grouper and its life cycle.  She explained how they begin life in deep water reefs about 100 feet down and how this environment becomes a habitat used for spawning. At dusk, they mate and aggregate to spawn baby groupers.

For 40 days, the baby groupers float in open ocean until taken back to near-shore nurseries before migrating to patch reefs for up to five to six years before they mature. At night, they go into seagrass beds to hunt. When they reach maturity, Hensel said the groupers relocate to the barrier reefs to live out the rest of their lives.

Judging soon began giving the participants the opportunity to explain what their presentations were about. The schools were judged on their originality, presentation and appearance, student explanation and content.

Participating schools were: Patrick J. Bethel High School, Amy Roberts Primary School, Hope Town Primary School, Man-O-War Primary School, Central Abaco Primary School, Treasure Cay Primary School, Long Bay School, Agape Christian School, Angels Academy, Forest Heights Academy, Cooper’s Town Primary School and Moore’s Island Comprehensive School.

According to FRIENDS Education Director Cassandra Abraham, the turnout was great with 218 students in attendance accompanied by 29 teachers.

In terms of the quality and detail of the presentations and the students’ ability to adequately address the topic regarding the value of our marine resources, Abraham said some of the schools “really stepped up their game with the quality of their projects this year.”

“Many of the students commented that they didn’t really understand the importance until actually researching and putting together their projects,” Abraham explained. “This is our goal every year, to pick topics that are thought-provoking and that help students to understand important conservation principles and our effects on our environment.”

Long Bay’s lower primary students gave a presentation on wave power used to create renewable energy to charge cell phones. At Agape Christian’s lower primary school display, the students focused on coral reef habitats and the need to protect them. They outlined the benefits of coral reefs as well as the benefits of sea urchins, which help to keep the coral reefs healthy by eating 45 percent of the algae found on them.  According to the students, sea urchins can also be consumed.

Meantime, Patrick J Bethel’s Operation OWW included findings from a survey of 200 people. They, too, outlined the benefits of coral reefs, and how other areas are impacted when coral reefs are. The students also looked at the impacts made to mangroves, and sandy beach and rocky shore ecosystems. Going forward, they want to partner with organizations like the Bahamas National Trust to create a program that will encourage Bahamians to maintain the health of our coral reefs.

For Forest Heights, the participants focused on whether plastic or paper bags are better for the environment. The bags were placed in a salt water environment to represent the mangroves and compost. The students observed how fast the GoGreen Bags and paper bags would biodegrade and documented any changes that occurred each week. The greatest change was in the brown paper bags, which not only broke down faster but are not poisonous to fish.

Surprisingly, the green bags were the ones with poisonous substances that caused fish to die. Overall, the students concluded that reusable bags are best; however, they should be washed before reuse to prevent bacteria from forming in the bags.

Other fascinating displays revealed a wealth of information about the Queen Conch by Hope Town School and Cooper’s Town Primary School; mangroves and conch by Man-O-War’s Lower Primary students; and natural disasters and pollutants in our ocean by Man-O-War’s Upper Primary students.

The value of coral reef biodiversity and the impact of coral reefs on the environment and humans was discussed by Agape Christian School’s Upper High School and Lower High School students, respectively. Long Bay’s Upper High School reviewed the Magnus Effect; Wind as a Marine Resource.

Conchspiration Conchsequence was the theme of Patrick J. Bethel High School’s Upper High School students. Moore’s Island Comprehensive School did their presentation on the economic importance of conch and lobster to the people of Moore’s Island.

Over at Angels’ Academy, the students looked at resources that are beneficial to Abaconians, and what they value most about the environment. Amy Roberts Primary School’s message was to treasure our marine resources. Central Abaco Primary focused on the Nassau Grouper and how to protect it along with “fishy facts” about the grouper.

In the non-competitive school category, there were presentations of Underwater Protection and Mangled Mangroves.

During the School Trivia segment, FRIENDS Education Director Cassandra Abraham and Jarro Curry, a FRIENDS student volunteer, arranged the contestants onstage and went over the rules. It was an exciting segment as students rushed to raise their flags to indicate they had the correct answer.

As for the presentations, winners for the Lower Primary School projects were: Man-O-War Primary School, first; Central Abaco Primary School, second; and Treasure Cay Primary School, third. In the Upper Primary division, Hope Town Primary placed first with Man-O-War coming in second and Angels Academy in third place.

In the Lower Primary School category, Patrick J. Bethel clinched first place, second place went to Forest Heights, and Long Bay took third. In the Upper Primary category, Patrick J. Bethel obtained first place again; Forest Heights, second; and Long Bay, third.

Some of the prizes were a GoPro with an accessory kit; a 2200 Lumens HD projector and pointer; and a $100-gift certificate to Bellevue Business Depot. All prizes were donated to schools and not individual students.

Although they did not place, this year was the first time that students from Moore’s Island participated. Nonetheless, their teacher Carlotta Simms was grateful for the exposure it gave the students as they look forward to participating next year.

“We were happy that with the help from our members’ donations from our Annual Reef Ball we were able to charter a flight for the students and a teacher from Moore’s Island to participate in the Science Fair,” Abraham expressed.

Sponsors from the BEP Foundation – Charles de La Baume and Ariane de La Baume – assisted with the presentation of awards to the winners. Other sponsors included Disney Animal Conservation, Bellevue Business Depot, G & L Transportation and New Vision Ministry.

Representatives from Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corporation (AMMC) and Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) were also in attendance.

The FRIENDS Science Fair has been held since 2004.

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