An Australia-first marine program made a splash in Margaret River today, turning local students into citizen scientists and empowering them to solve problems affecting our ocean and coastline. 

The Waatu Kaatijin or “Ocean Learning” program run by Nature Conservation Margaret River Region is back for a second year, again involving four Year 5 classes from Margaret River Primary School. Program officer Tracey Muir said the 12-month program involved practical, hands-on learning, where the kids will work with coastal and marine experts, carry out surveys, identify threats, meet with stakeholders, devise solutions, put them into practice and share the learning with the community.

Today the Year 5 students visited Gnarabup Beach, where they hit the water to find and study marine creatures like anemones and gastropods with Dr Tim Langlois from University of WA’s Oceans Institute. They also learned about the significance of Gnarabup from Undalup Association’s Zac Webb, identified local birds with Birdlife WA’s Christine Wilder, and delved into the human impacts on the Ngari Capes Marine Park with activities led by Parks and Wildlife Service marine rangers.

Ms Muir says the students relished swapping the classroom for the beach and were fascinated to learn more about our coastline and ocean conservation. “We had an awesome morning with the Year 5’s exploring the ocean and the coastline, learning about the birds and the unique marine life here, and how they can all help protect this special place that we live,” she said.

Next, each class will adopt a particular section of the Prevelly/Gnarabup coastline and focus on a unique threat to that area. This coastline was chosen as Australia’s first “Educational Marine Area” (EMA), expanding an international program that started in French Polynesia and has become a global success with school children acting as custodians of more than a thousand EMAs around the world.

EMA Australia co-founder and marine biologist Dr Kim Lema, who is also a program officer on Waatu Kaatijin, said it was an incredible opportunity for students to learn from the state’s leading marine researchers in classes designed to inspire them about the coast and empower them to help protect it.

MRPS principal Aaron Thomas said he was “really pleased the kids can be down here learning how to take care of their patch and how the reef system is really important to this little part of country”.  

Nature Conservation and EMA Australia have secured funding from the Shire of Augusta Margaret River to run Waatu Kaatijin for 2024 at Margaret River Primary School. But they are still seeking sponsorship funding to boost the program and roll out to other schools across the Capes region.

“The ocean is so central to what we all love about this special part of the world, and Waatu Kaatijin is a really powerful way to engage young people to become stewards of the ocean and the coast,” Nature Conservation general manager Drew McKenzie said. “We’re asking corporate or philanthropic donors to get in touch so more local students can reap the benefits of this exciting initiative.”