x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Ocean tours from the comfort of a classroom may soon be reality in UAE

A new educational programme aims to show students what happens at the bottom of the ocean.

An underwater camera captures marine life at a reef off the British Virgin Islands. Photo courtesy Graham Casden
An underwater camera captures marine life at a reef off the British Virgin Islands. Photo courtesy Graham Casden

Schoolchildren could soon be observing life beneath the ocean waves without getting their feet wet.

Coral reefs, seagrass beds and kelp forests can be viewed in real time from a classroom thanks to an educational programme that uses a network of underwater cameras.

The developers of the system – already used at three schools in the United States – yesterday met local educators and conservationists, hoping to introduce it in the UAE.

“We now have this incredible opportunity with 21st century technology to bring the ocean to any computer, any web-enabled device. That will give kids who are landlocked or who do not have the financial means to experience the ocean the opportunity to see this other world,” said Graham Casden, founder and chief executive  of Ocean Classrooms, which has been working on the programme since 2008.

“The technology is an avenue for us to create these really engaging educational experiences.”

The company also offers educational tools – a full-term course on marine science, short educational courses on specific topics, and lesson plans for teachers.

There are cameras at seven locations across the US and the Caribbean, with the company planning to instal five or six more in the next year.

Mr Casden hopes that, with enough interest from schools and sponsors, a camera could be installed in the UAE’s waters.

The project would cost Dh72,000, according to Mr Casden, but it was a way of preserving the country’s traditional bond with the sea.

The cameras can be paired with equipment that measures basic variables important for the well-being of marine organisms – temperature and salinity, levels of dissolved oxygen and ph values.

This data can then be analysed by pupils, said Dr Mikki McComb-Kobza, the company’s director of research and education, and doing so encourages them to critically consider the marine environment.

“They can start asking the questions, ‘why is salinity different in these different locations? Why is the ph different and what does that mean?’ They start to ask questions as scientists do and that is a really powerful tool because it starts to engender critical thinking skills.

“Our goal is to create a society of ocean-literate people,” Dr McComb-Kobza said, as too few people appreciate how important healthy oceans are for a healthy planet.

The ocean plays an important role in driving weather patterns and in providing food for humans. By educating children in marine science, the company hopes the subject will become more of a priority in future.

“Education stimulates accountability and empowerment, so when kids are linked with the marine world, they start to develop a good appreciation for it and with that appreciation comes stewardship,” Mr Casden said. “The decisions we make, the food we eat, the run-off of our water, ultimately all impact the ocean.”

vtodorova@thenational.ae