Marvelous Mangroves goes to China

Cayman’s Marvelous Mangroves teachers’ guide will be going to China, according to Brac educator and author, Martin Keeley. The Journal finds out more.

First developed for Cayman 11 years ago under the direction of Martin Keeley, and now incorporated into the primary school curriculum, Cayman’s Marvelous Mangroves, a science-based teachers’ guide, has been developed for more than six countries world-wide, and now China has been added to that list.

Keeley, who has just returned from China, says agreement has been reached with the Zhanjiang Mangrove Reserve in the southeast of the country to translate and adapt the curriculum for use in that region.

“The Zhanjiang Reserve controls a total of over 7000 hectares of mangroves spread along the 1556 kilometres of the peninsula’s coastline of this subtropical region of Guangdong Province. This is the largest area of mangroves in China,” Keeley, who is Brac Campus Director for the UCCI, explains. “The Reserve has recently completed an extensive programme of research, restoration and rehabilitation of mangrove resources in the area.”

Working in conjunction with the Dutch government for the past seven years, the Reserve, as the mangrove directorate is called, has become an established institution with a brand new central headquarters near Zhanjiang which contains extensive educational resources visited by both the public and school groups.

“However, they have not been able to incorporate an educational programme into the school system,” Keeley says, “And this is why they want to adapt Marvelous Mangroves”

During his four-day visit to the region, Keeley was shown several of the areas under the control of the Reserve including a research centre and major plantations as well as an area formerly shrimp farms that is being completely restored.

“I was impressed by the way in which the Reserve works with local communities to help ensure that their subsistence reliability on seafood found in mangroves is maintained,” he says. “Many local people use the mangroves to provide everything from fish to sandworms, mudworms, crabs and snails. And yes they are delicious,” he adds with a smile. “Of course, they have to be cooked the Chinese way, but some are considered a delicacy as well as a staple food.”

Keeley, who is also education director for the international NGO the Mangrove Action Project, says adapting Marvelous Mangroves will not be easy. The education system in China is very structured and hands-on teaching is a relative rarity. However, about a dozen teachers – some with their children – attended a presentation and an impromptu workshop he gave on the third day of his visit.

These teachers, he says, were very enthusiastic and will provide a core group who will work with scientists, administrators and educational staff from the Reserve as well as professors like Hanwell-Dong, a mangrove forestry expert, from Guangdong Ocean University and representatives from the local education department on the development of the resources.

“It’s very exciting,” Keeley says. “The Reserve is a well-established government institution and therefore has the ability to bring in the people necessary to make this project happen.”

He expects the timeline and work-plan to be clearly established this fall once the initial translation has taken place, and plans at least one more visit to China to work in a consulting capacity with the people working on the adaptation, as well as conduct a teachers’ workshop showing how to implement the curriculum resources. However, the project is still in need of major funding, he adds.



A young Chinese student studies a mangrove leaf to observe its properties at a workshop for Chinese teachers and students in Zhanjiang, China