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Dustan Reidinger, Spring 2013 Students

Conservation education opens young minds around San Diego

by Dustan Reidinger

The air is crisp and the birds are chirping, but these aren’t any regular birds – these are raptors.

They are not in their natural habitats but at the Living Coast Discovery Center in Chula Vista.

The center specializes in conservation education for children in kindergarten through eighth grade.

“We provide each student that comes here with ideas of ways that they can make small changes and help our environment in their own home,” said Sherry Lankston, the guest and marketing coordinator at the LCDC.

Other centers in San Diego County also focus on conservation education including Project Wildlife, and the Birch Aquarium at Scripps.

Learning about conservation education

“The more people learn about conservation the more it will inspire them to care about the environment,” said Kevin Hovel, a biology professor at San Diego State University.

One of the birds in its enclosure at the LCDC. Photo by: Dustan Reidinger

One of the birds in its enclosure at the LCDC.
Photo by Dustan Reidinger

Hovel focuses his research on the conservation and ecology of marine invertebrates and has done studies on the survival and behavior of the spiny lobster in Souther California.

A study done by researcher Assaf Schwartz, for the science journal Plos One, evaluated the effectiveness of conservation programs to see if they were having the desired outcome.

The study was conducted in Paris, with questionnaires and interviews regarding the participants interest in conservation and biodiversity.

The results were that after participating in the program, people who took part in the study had an immediate interest in conservation.

“In terms of conservation education, it inspires (children) and instills in them that the environment is important to protect,” Hovel said.

Hovel suggests habits that people create habits such as driving less or recycling more that could help the environment.

Educating the children

A sign at the LCDC that illustrates if a coyote is a friend or foe. Photo by Dustan Reidinger

A sign at the LCDC that helps visitors understand if a coyote is a friend or foe.
Photo by Dustan Reidinger

Rose Rosquillas has been volunteering at the Living Coast Discovery Center since 2012.

“We have to teach the younger generations that these animals that they might see as predators for example sharks are not really predators,” Rosquillas said.

Sharks may be seen as predators because they attack humans that are mistaken for sea lions, she said.

Rosquillas feeds animals such as snakes, lizards, frogs and many more. She says that feeding and interacting with the animals can open the children’s eyes and reduce the fear that they had.

After children and adults touch and feel the animals, their perception of them changes, she said.

Programming at the center

The center has more than 20 different exhibits that showcase the animals that live in San Diego’s waters and on the land.

Many of the exhibits blend together. An exhibit of a shark can lead to information about protecting their habitat and learning about local watersheds.

The center also hosts “Biologist Days” for children and students who want a career in biology or with animals.

The outside of one of the buildings at the Living Coast Discovery Center.

The outside of one of the buildings at the Living Coast Discovery Center.
Photo by Dustan Reidinger

“When students connect on a personal level with the native flora and fauna, they develop a deeper sense of stewardship and then want to do things to protect our environment,” Lankston said.

Sandra Jimenez, 22, used to go to the Living Coast Discovery Center, then called the Chula Vista Nature Center, when she was younger.

“The educational programs there are great, very well organized so you can walk around and explore each kind and then read about them as you go, Jimenez said.

She said she enjoyed learning about all the plants and animals around the Sweetwater Marsh.

The experience made her appreciate the animals and learned a great deal about conservation.

Sierra Mathews, a resident of Chula Vista, loves the programs they have at the LCDC.

“It teaches the kids to love nature in a fun way and to respect it,” Mathews said.

Guest Experience Coordinator for the Living Coast Discovery Center Sherry Lankston explains the importance of conservation for young children and talks about some of the exhibits at the center.

Preserving Seahorses

The Birch Aquarium at Scripps also has programs that promote conservation education in conjunction with the University of California, San Diego.

The Birch Aquarium has three goals when educating children:

  • Providing ocean science education
  • Interpreting research that is done by the Scripps Institute
  • Promoting ocean conservation

Kristin Evans, the education director for the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, tries to engage all the children that come to the aquarium and explain the importance of conservation.

The Birch Aquarium at Scripps is doing some work with the conservation of seahorses.

According to Evans, seahorses are vulnerable to overfishing because certain cultures use them for their medicinal properties and also because of human encroachment on coastal environments.

“(Seahorses) are found in vulnerable environments and those environments are often near shore or coastal,” Evans said.

The Birch Aquarium at Scripps has been breeding seahorses for more than a decade which lessens the need to get them from the wild.

The Birch Aquarium has numerous exhibits and conducts research to further efforts to conserve and protect seahorses.

“Here at the aquarium we like to think about conservation as an enjoyable part of their visit, as something that they can take away and continue to learn and expand on after they have left with us,” Evans said.

At Birch the children are taught through science and the research that is happening at the aquarium but are also are involved with animals and the environment.

“So if we can remind them how important (the conservation ethic) is, show them the beauty of it, make a connection, to their personal lives and everyday lives, this is something that will help preserve and protect out environment,” Evans said.

Changing for the future

There are other educational programs run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which also stress the importance of conservation.

Conservation Education, is a program run through the U.S. Forest Service and helps people understand the importance of the natural resource found around the United States and is based in Washington D.C.

Vicki Arthur, an education specialist with Conservation Education, understands that education young children is very important for the future.

“When they are young and you connect them with nature and their place in it, the education becomes a pillar for their development,” Arthur said.

Arthur says that conservation education is not just for young children but also for everyone.

“To be environmentally literate people need to understand their responsibilities as citizens and understand how lifestyle choices can impact the environment,” Arthur said.

A study done by the Nature Conservancy took a poll in 2012 and the majority of Americans would support “portion of federal offshore drilling fees already being paid by oil and gas companies is dedicated to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was created by Congress so that these fees could be used for conserving natural areas, wildlife, and clean water and providing access to outdoor recreation throughout the country.” Source: The Nature Conservancy

The results of a 2012 poll taken for the Nature Conservancy were that the majority of Americans would support a portion of federal offshore drilling fees to be dedicated to the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Source: The Nature Conservancy (click for PDF)

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About Dustan Reidinger

Dustan Reidinger is a multimedia journalist interested in telling great stories.

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