Nature Conservation Margaret River Region’s hugely successful new marine education program is set to return next year after securing funding for 2024 – with local kids to be the big winners.

The Waatu Kaatijin or “ocean learning” program was rolled out at the start of the year to four Year 5 classes from Margaret River Primary School, with students becoming citizen scientists and working with coastal and marine experts to become stewards for Australia’s first Educational Marine Area here at Margaret River.

Program officer Tracey Muir said it involved practical, hands-on and real-world learning where the kids carry out marine and coastal surveys at a local beach, identify threats, meet with stakeholders, devise solutions, put them into practice and share the learning with the community.

This week the students presented the projects they have worked on all year to teachers, parents and the community, and they “passed the torch” to next year’s Year 5 students who will take over their adopted beach and continue to care for it.

“This year we’ve had some amazing outcomes in the Waatu Kaatijin program,” Ms Muir said. “One class developed an amazing new website for locals and visitors to learn more about the unique marine animals we have in the Margaret River region. Another tackled the problem of dog poo at the Gnarabup dog beach and launched a public awareness and education campaign. A third class analysed the recipe for healthy rock pools. And the fourth class developed a coastal code of conduct to encourage locals and visitors to be stewards for our coast.”

The passing of the torch presentation coincided with the recent news that Nature Conservation and Educational Marine Areas Australia has secured funding from the Shire of Augusta Margaret River to help secure Waatu Kaatijin for 2024 at Margaret River Primary School. But Nature Conservation is still seeking sponsorship to boost the program and roll out to other schools across the Capes region.

Education Marine Areas (EMA) Australia co-founder and marine biologist Dr Kim Lema, who is also a program officer on Waatu Kaatijin, said the students relished learning from some of the state’s leading marine researchers this year in classes that inspired them about the coast and empowered them to help protect it.

Margaret River Primary School deputy principal Jenny Robb said the students’ work was “creative, innovative and inspiring”, while Waatu Kaatijin had “enabled our students to be problem solvers and active citizens here on Wadandi country”. That was echoed by Undalup Association’s Zac Webb who thanked the Year 5’s for their hard work caring for country and said the students had become true stewards for the coast.

First started in the Marquesas Islands a decade ago, the EMA concept is a global success with school children acting as custodians of more than 1000 Educational Marine Areas around the world. Margaret River was chosen as the first spot in Australia to expand the program, with seed funding from the Fogarty Foundation, Jock Clough Marine Foundation and Cape Mentelle. It has a five-star list of collaborators including the University of Western Australia, Western Australian Museum, BirdLife WA, Great Southern Reef Foundation and the WA Parks and Wildlife Service.