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Compiled by Leon P. Zann
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville Queensland
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, Canberra (1995)
ISBN 0 642 17391 5
Most management programs identify education as one of the most important and cost effective management tools. Managing Australia's marine environment is no exception. Effective management depends on Australians knowing about the marine environment and its importance, recognising the threats to it, wanting to care for it, and learning to look after it.
Many factors influence people's values (family, friends , media and personal experience) but it is education at schools, colleges and universities that gives people most of the formal knowledge and skills to make informed decisions, and the ability to act on them. Education also provides training for the scientists , engineers, planners, educators and other professionals and technicians needed to manage our marine environment.
Australia has around three million school students, 10,000 schools and 200,000 full-time school teachers. During their formal education every Australian student learns something about the sea in a variety of subjects, from art to biology.(65)
School curricula are developed by education departments in each State and Territory, but details of content are at the discretion of individual schools and teachers. In recent years, an interdisciplinary approach to curricula and the growing community concern about the environment has led to an increase in environmental topics in general subjects such as science and geography. However, topics are generally biased towards the terrestrial environment. Reasons include the community's greater familiarity with terrestrial issues, a lack of Training for teachers in marine subjects, the scarcity of teaching materials on the marine environment, and the logistical difficulties and the cost of marine excursions. While the establishment of coastal field centres has alleviated logistical problems in some places, these remain limited in number.(65)
Several States have developed specialist marine education subjects at upper secondary level ( Years 11 and 12). These combine practical marine skills such as sailing and diving with marine environment education. While comprehensive marine education programs do exist, the quantity an quality of marine education in most schools remains very limited . Most Australians leave school with little more than a basic understanding of the sea, and the important issues affecting the marine environment.(65)
Many schools, particularly primary, base their marine studies on Seaweek, the yearly national awareness week organised by the Marine Education Society of Australasia (MESA). Special class or school-wide activities are developed in most States and the Northern Territory. Seaweek is a good way to promote marine education to teacher and provide them with teaching ideas. (65)
Around one million students are enrolled in Technical and Further Education (TAFE) courses. These are primarily technical in nature and are designed to meet industry requirements. Marine courses concentrate on maritime skills for master mariners, deckhands and engineers. Marine elements are offered within other courses such as applied biology, resource management, recreation, aquaculture, engineering, and tourism.
The number of specialised marine courses offered by universities has greatly increased over the past decade. Most universities offer courses with some marine content and many offer specialised courses on certain aspects of the marine environment, including management. University marine studies generally have a greater emphasis on basic science than applied science. Subject specialisations mostly reflect historic and geographic factors, and the academic interests of staff. For example, Curtin University of Technology (WA) offers marine archaeology, the University of Sydney has long specialised in shore ecology, and James Cook University of North Queensland specialises in coral reef science. The Australian Maritime College in Launceston (Tas) is a national centre for applied studies in fisheries.(65)
Marine environmental education not only occurs formally in schools and universities but also informally in the community for people of all ages and walks of life. Particular attention is now being given to marine education of user groups, decision makers, indigenous communities, non-english speaking Australians and other special groups. However, while some excellent examples of community marine education programs exist, most Australians are reached superficially, if at all.(66)
State and Commonwealth fisheries managers have only recently recognised the importance of managing the approximately five million fishers in Australia. Most states have now embarked on programs of community consultation and education with recreational fishers. The Draft National Policy for Recreational Fishing stresses the importance of developing strong fishing conservation ethics and community awareness programs to encourage a positive change in community attitudes and values. Established fishing clubs have a key role to play in this education process. Sport fish tagging programs have grown rapidly in recent years. The tags provide not only valuable information on fish breeding, growth and movements to researchers and managers, but help foster the conservation ethic.(33),(66)
Habitat destruction and declining water quality are unifying issues amongst commercial and recreational fishers, environmentalists, scientists and the general community. Commercial fishers are beginning to recognise the importance of fisheries habitat and water quality, that fisheries resources are not inexhaustible, and that ecologically sustainable development equates with a decent living in the long-term and the chance to pass on the business to future generations. Full-time environmental officers have been appointed in professional fishing industry groups in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia. Most government fisheries management agencies have only recently extended from the research and enforcement mould into education.(66)
The involvement of indigenous communities in marine environmental management requires culturally appropriate education. For example, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has used art, role play and stories to explain its management programs to Aboriginal communities, and employs indigenous people in its community extension programs.(20),(66),(69)
Various education programs have been developed for commercial and recreational groups who use marine protected areas. These range from simple signage to special courses for particular user-groups. Rather than rely on controls through permits, regulations and fines, governments are increasingly encouraging user-groups to develop their own 'codes of practice'. These have been effective in generating community support and 'ownership' for a marine protected area, for shaping appropriate behaviour by users, and for solving particular management issues. 'Codes of practice' have been developed in various places for island camping, waste disposal, whale watching, minimal impact diving, anchor damage, marine litter, motorised water sports, and sports fishing.(66),(69)
Skin and scuba-diving are popular pastimes in Australia. It is estimated that each year around 1.9 million scuba dives are undertaken in Australian waters, including 1.4 million in Queensland. There has been a marked change in divers' perceptions over the past 20 years: emphasis has greatly shifted from spearfishing and wreck-pillaging, to underwater photography and marine life viewing. Scuba courses may include an introduction to marine biology. Divers are often well travelled and environmentally aware, and even sharks are now perceived in a more positive light (66)
Recreational divers also learn about marine environmental management through involvement with scientific projects. For example, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority relies heavily on divers to track crown of thorns starfish outbreaks and to report on giant clam diseases.(49)
The community's interest in the sea is reflected in the growth of large aquaria to provide 'real life' underwater experiences to young and old alike. Most aquaria now include strong education messages about marine life, the importance of our seas for commercial and recreational purposes, and the need for marine conservation. Most aquaria employ interpretive staff and operate school programs. It is estimated that there were 12 million visitors to the major aquaria in Australia between 1987-92. Around 20% of those who visit are school children.(66)
According to a National Attitiude Research Analysis poll, the main source of information about the environment in Australia today is television. News and current affairs programs, nature features, and science shows are the major influence. Other, less important sources were newspapers, radio and magazines.(26),(66)
A long-term national marine education program has been established by Ocean Rescue 2000 to provide the community with: