Oceans Project (Georgia)

I thought I would start up a new page to tell you all about the Oceans Project of which I am the Founder and Director. It is a small project right now, but I would like to mark the passing of time and changes in the project all the same. Already it is quite different to my vague jottings back in the summer and I would be keen to look upon these mere ramblings another year from now, and see what has become of my little baby!

I am just reading some of the children’s blogs from my Public School over the summer holidays. The Oceans Project was designed for them, but sadly the Ministry of Education closed my school just a few weeks in. The great news, is that many of the same students are still involved in the project, and now travel to my new school to take part. I am so proud of what we have already achieved, and I hope that you will enjoy our journey too.

What is the Oceans Project?

A 31 week environmental science and practical English course based on the BBC Oceans television series. Aimed at young people aged 8-25 from across Tbilisi.  Culminating in a two-week Earthwatch scientific research expedition to the Amazon Jungle, Canadian Arctic, Mediterranean Sea, Roman Britain, coastal Italy and many more locations. Gaining real hands on experience supervised by archaeologists, marine biologists, environmentalists, and scientists on all aspects of field research.

The first intake has 60 students from more than 6 schools, 2 universities, 1 orphanage, and one refugee settlement. With Ukrainian, Russian, Danish, Czech, or Georgian as their first language, and English as second language. Participants are not only mixing with students from different social backgrounds, but also ethical and cultural, from both public and private institutions. Sharing their knowledge and experiences, and breaking social borders whilst forming lifelong friendships. The Oceans Project hopes to strengthen friendships not only within the young people of Georgia, but also between Georgia and other countries, particularly the UK, and those around the Black Sea, and we are working with schools and scientists abroad as part of this. We see the 31 week course as preparation for our expeditions and travel abroad where we will meet diverse cultures, including tribes in the Amazon Jungle in Peru, and Inuit communities in the Arctic. We believe the experience will be life changing for all of our young adventurers.

My First Ever Video!!!

What will the Participants (Oceans Ambassadors) Receive from the Course?

Our Oceans Ambassadors will receive:

  • 31 weeks tuition from native English speakers, and scientists.
  • Interaction via Skype and satellite phone with real scientists and explorers, live from the research field via Education through Expeditions.
  • Duke of Edinburgh International Bronze Award.
  • Duke of Edinburgh International Silver Award (Gold Award will be offered post Oceans Project, and presented by a member of the British Royal family, at British Connection School in Georgia in Autumn 2013).
  • British GCSE qualification in Geography.
  • Chance to represent Georgia at the United Nations/Volvo Adventure in Goteburg, Sweden, in June 2012 along with children from all over the world.
  • Professional training and international certification as a snorkel diver with BSAC.
  • Opportunity to learn photography and film making from well-known film directors from Britain, USA, and Georgia.
  • Chance to interact with cast and crew from the BBC Oceans television series.
  • Participation in an Earthwatch Institute research expedition with leading scientists from famous universities around the world.
  • Personal development, friendship, leadership, and team working skills.

What are the Aims of the Oceans Project?

  • to give young people the opportunity to gain important life and professional skills.
  • to help young people to develop their potential to the full.
  • to help the young people of Georgia to connect with foreigners, scientists, and explorers worldwide, and to share their experiences with others throughout Georgia.
  • to promote environmental conservation of Georgia and the world’s oceans.
  • to introduce foreigners to Georgia as a country and all it has to offer its visitors.
  • to dispel some stereotypes of Georgia (for example, ‘it is America, it is Russia, there is only war, it is a dangerous place to visit’).
  • to promote Georgia as a forward thinking and versatile country which invests in its young people and environment.
  • to promote and improve ability in English language and communication ready for future careers and business relations with Europe, and the USA.

Follow the Oceans Project

More Information and Video Links of What We are Offering our Oceans Ambassadors

The Oceans Project is based on the BBC Oceans television series featuring Presenters:

  • Paul Rose: Expedition Leader
  • Tooni Mahto: Marine Biologist, Oceanographer
  • Lucy Blue: Maritime Archaeologist
  • Philippe Cousteau: Oceanographer, Environmentalist

Find out more here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/oceans/progcast/

Oceans Ambassadors on the project will have the opportunity to video conference live with Paul, Tooni, and Dive Safety Supervisor  Richard Bull, and hopefully others from the cast and crew.  We also hope that they will join us on our BSAC Snorkel Diver training, and on our Earthwatch Expeditions.  Paul Rose is Oceans Ambassador for Earthwatch Institute.

Here is a clip from the BBC Oceans series:

The Oceans Project Leaders are really looking forward to meeting up with Paul Rose at the Royal Geographical Society in London in November to discuss the future of the project and how it can be used to bring about interest in conserving our oceans, encouraging young people to take up scuba diving, and helping other countries with poor infrastructure to start introducing environmental education into their school curriculum and educational policy in other countries around the world.  We also look forward to skyping with Tooni who is currently researching Manta Rays in Australia, and with Paul when he returns to the Rothera Research Centre in Antarctica, where he has just had a mountain named after him.

Through the series we will be learning about:

  • The Sea of Cortex (Gulf of Mexico)
  • The Southern Ocean
  • The Red Sea
  • The Mediterranean Sea
  • The Indian Ocean
  • The Atlantic Ocean
  • The Arctic Ocean

Everything we learn will be applied to Georgia and especially to the Black Sea which is seriously neglected in Georgia in terms of conservation, and is something that is important not just for Georgia but to the World’s Oceans.  The Black Sea was once a fresh water Lake, which became a sea, following a tsunami affecter global warming flooded the Mediterranean Sea, flooded neighbouring Turkey, and a deluge of water (Deluge Hypothesis) flooded the Black Sea and covered much of Georgia and surrounding Black Sea Basin countries.  This was reported world wide as is the basis of the Biblical stories about Noah and his Ark.  Evidence for this flooding has been found in archaeological remains at the bottom of the Black Sea as well as evidence of fresh water fossils on the top of Mt Ararat in Armenia and Turkey.

This has great significance to Europeans, as it is believed that these floods led to man’s migration from the Caucasus up the River Danube (one of the main rivers which enters the Black Sea) and up into Europe.  The oldest human remains outside of Africa have been found here, as well as some of the best preserved archaeology, deepest caves in the world, and many distinct species of marine life.

The Black Sea is also unusual in that it is the largest meromictic basin in the world.  90% of the deeper water is anoxic, and because of this many ship wrecks remain relatively intact.  The bottom layer of the Black Sea is made up of warmer, more salty, Mediterranean Sea Water, and the top layer is fresh, cooler water from the incoming rivers.  The waters do not really mix.  But it is vital that we conserve the Black Sea, because its waters mix with the Mediterranean Sea, which mix with the Atlantic Ocean, and the world ocean, so what happens here, has a domino effect in one form or another.

The Black Sea is of particular interest to Marine Archaeologists because of this special preservation of ship wrecks, and scientists believe that there are many more wrecks to be discovered.  In 2000, the infamous Robert Ballard discovered the Sinop D at a depth of 320m, a ship dating back to the Byzantine period (radio carbondated to 410-520 AD), just off the coast of Turkey.

The Black Sea is also interesting and is being photographed from space by NASA who are studying the algal blooms.  But more importantly because, there are areas of sulphide clouds in the Black Sea, which if hit by an asteroid, would cause serious consequences, even death to those living around the Black Sea due to the high levels of sulphide created by the anoxic bacteria.  These increased because of previous pollution into the water, and temperature also affects these blooms and bacteria.

Marine Biologists are interested in the health of the dolphins and porpoises of the Black Sea, and as yet we have no numbers or idea of how they are doing.  Plenty of research is being conducted in the other Black Sea Basin countries, but research from Georgia is minimal as the focus remains on rebuilding basic infrastructure.  Many Georgians do not like dolphins and fishermen see them as pests who steal their fish or end up as bicatch.  The Black Sea Dolphin is a sub species of other dolphins, smaller than its relatives and genetically different.

Between Autumn and Spring they migrate to the coast of Georgia and along the Dardanelle and Bosphorus Straits, but sadly many are caught as bi catch.  Very little research or conservation is taking place here, and so much data is missing, despite the efforts of the other Black Sea Basin countries.  It will be important to learn more about Georgian opinions on the dolphin and to work with local people and encourage them to undertake research in order to protect the dolphins and porpoises for the future.  One species is already extinct.

One of the major aims of the Oceans Project is to increase awareness and interest in the world’s oceans and to apply this to Georgia.   Jellyfish are one invasive species here, brought by visiting ships in their water, but which have devastated fish numbers, and thus affected local fishermen and wiped out native fish species.  Georgia has the potential to be a great tourist destination for many Europeans in the future, but if the Black Sea is not cared for, then people will not wish to scuba dive here or swim, and effluence is still a major problem.  It is not about finding fault in Georgia, but more about the hope of restoring a balance and building a Georgia which can pave the way for other countries to follow suit, and the best way to bring about that change is by making children aware of what is on their doorstep, and giving them skills and experience which they can then bring back to Georgia and share with others.

Education through Expeditions (ETE)

ETE was set up by British Polar Explorer Antony Jinman.  It is an educational outreach programme designed for high school students in the UK, and we will be working closely with ETE to develop this programme here in Georgia.  The idea behind it is a simple one: to bring the outside world into the classroom, and to bring learning to life, especially important for many of the children in Georgia who have barely even met a foreigner, let alone travelled to another country, or had the chance to watch programmes like National Geographical or BBC television series.  Many Georgians still live in villages which lack basic facilities, including running water, and electricity, and many children cannot even afford books for school.  If a child has no book, then they are often alienated from the lesson as teachers read from the book and students are generally required to just memorise the text, rather than understanding it, or questioning it.  Having the chance to speak to real scientists and explorers live from the field, from the North Pole, from the MIddle of the Atlantic Ocean, or from the Amazon Jungle, will enable students to see with their eyes what it looks like in 3D, and to ask questions about what it feels like, smells like, and sounds like.  This will be the nearest thing the students will have to a first hand experience, as many things are just difficult for them to imagine, especially in terms of people having different cultures, customs, or traditions.

In November, the Oceans Project Leaders will be meeting with Antony to discuss how ETE and Oceans Project can develop in Georgia.  How we can link up some of Antony’s schools in Plymouth, UK, and connect the children so that they can share experiences.  We will also be meeting with one of our explorers Sam McConnell, who we will be following live as he crosses the desert in Egypt.  This is what the Royal Geographical Society says about him:

“since 1997 Sam has led over one hundred teams in deserts across Africa, from the Namib & Kalahari to the Eastern Sahara. Last June, nine years after his solo trek across the Dune Sea of the Namib Desert, he found himself back in Namibia leading a group of nine people 500km on foot and unsupported up the Skeleton Coast  to the Kunene River, a world first! For the last five years Sam has been running schools expeditions and desert leadership courses in the Sinai Desert”.

You can find out more about ETE here: http://www.etelive.org/index.numo

Volvo Adventure/United Nations Environmental Programme

I love this programme, and it fits in perfectly with the ethos of the Oceans Project, and also in showing that young people can have a significant input into many global issues which even adults cannot solve or have given up on.

There are two competitions, one is to design a cartoon strip about Bob the Bunny, for younger children, and the second is for older children who need to think about a local environmental issue and think about how it could be solved.

Again, a very simple idea, but one which has massive potential.  I love this competition because it not only gives the Oceans Ambassadors the opportunity to think for themselves and to think about the environmental problems facing Georgia, but also gives them the chance to represent young people, and Georgia in an International competition.  I also really like that the finalists get taken to Sweden for a week of workshops and education, and the chance to meet with other like minded children from all over the world.  Plus the chance to win up to $10,000 which they can then use in their own country.

This is an amazing opportunity for our Oceans Ambassadors, as many of them are learning English for the first time and still find it hard to speak to foreigners in English.  Not because their English is poor, but because they have learnt from teachers who are not native speakers and who have also never left Georgia, and they are really afraid to speak in case they make a mistake in grammar or pronunciation.  Many Georgians will freeze when meeting a foreigner for the first time, or tell you that they are shy or have a ‘complex’.  But, our Ambassadors have already made massive progress, and it is really rewarding to see how they have transformed and are now giving, really, very professional presentations using powerpoint and to an audience of Georgians and native speakers.  Once they get talking they have a lot to say, are very smart, and really hungry to learn and experience more of the world.

Taking part in the Volvo Adventure will enable them to go to Sweden, where they will be speaking in ENglish with children from all over the world, from a village in Africa, from a city in China, from Argentina, the UK, or Malaysia.  They will have the chance to talk about their life, about school, what food they eat, what environmental problems they each have in their countries, and to talk about what they like or dislike.  This will not only help them to develop their English and communication skills, but also to interact with other cultures, to be more open to new experiences and different lifestyles than their own, and to take part in workshops and give presentations to an audience of children from Sweden.  This will be the first time that many of them have been outside of Georgia, been on an aeroplane, or eaten food that is not Georgian.

And more important still, a chance for them to represent Georgia Globally, and to start to change some of those stereotypes of Georgia, and to put Georgia on the map, and to share their own customs and cultures with foreigners, and in the long run to encourage others to visit Georgia and find out more about what is has to offer.  Not just at the workshops, but in their letters and emails to their new penfriends, who will hopefully then share those stories with their friends and families too.

Here is a clip about the Volvo Adventure:

Duke of Edinburgh International Award

I decided to offer the DofE International Award to our Oceans Ambassadors aged 14-24 because it focuses on everything that our Ambassadors need for their expedition with Earthwatch and for their own future careers and studies.

This is the first time that the programme has been offered in Georgia, so I’m really proud to include it in our project:

You can see a couple of clips about DofE here:

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