Science camp for 9-13 year olds | Marriage between ecology and technology: When children learn about the love of Kerkennah

A scientific and technological immersion camp for 9-13 year olds was organized from July 31 to August 7 in Kerkennah, an “open-air laboratory”. Focused on the preservation of the biodiversity of an archipelago, which is experiencing threats to both its ecological and socio-economic balance, the camp aims to create a marine and coastal protected area. The event was designed, organized and managed by the Regional Activity Center for Specially Protected Areas (SPA/RAC), the Youth for Science Foundation, the Coastal Protection and Planning Agency (Apal), the Imap-MPA project and financially supported by the European Union. Our report.

“A lighter in the water! It has to be fished out otherwise the fish will swallow it and die!”, shout Manal, 10 years old, Mourad, 9 years old, and Elyes 11 years old. The three are in all their states at risk of missing out, on this morning of Saturday June 6, the last day of the scientific and technological immersion camp intended for 9-13 years old, one of his most important episodes. That of the release of the Loggerhead turtle (Carettacaretta) in the open sea. smiles. The children have assimilated the lessons of this week drawn from a series of games on this theme as well as from the visit the day before to a unit for recycling water bottles installed on the Kerkennah islands.

Rym Zakhama Sraieb (see interview), director of the science camp, also seems satisfied with this spontaneous reaction. Thanks to an approach which involves young schoolchildren in the construction of information and which arouses their five senses, they have both retained the threat posed by the scourge of plastic on marine biodiversity and the responsibility of individuals in the protection some change.

Mission accomplished for the linchpin of this program! Tonight Rym Zakhama Sraieb can sleep peacefully: the future of these blue activists is well mapped out…

And Beya found his blue kingdom!

One of the facilitators of the science camp organized by the Regional Activity Center for Specially Protected Areas (SPA/RAC), the Youth for Science Foundation, the Coastal Protection and Planning Agency (Apal), the Imap_MPA project and financially supported by the European Union*, dives into a very special shallow sea in Kerkennah to recover the lighter of all apprehensions.

The children can then breathe and concentrate on one of the most moving moments of the day: the return to its natural environment, its large kingdom, from the turtle Beya to the queen’s first name.

Recently trapped in a charfiya trap (fixed fishery), Beya, 15 years old, 62 cm long and 59 wide, went through the Sea Turtle First Aid Center in Sfax before being exposed for a few minutes on the one of the three boats of this camp floating today for a demonstration presented by Hamad Mallat, researcher in marine biology.

Hamad Mallat, dressed in black shorts with a thousand and one dancing loggerhead turtles printed on them, explains all the data on Beya’s measurements and age that the animal’s reddish-brown shell can offer: “It’s his national identity card.”

He goes on to good practices for rescuing turtles, their importance in combating the invasion of jellyfish, their nesting and finally a species threatened with extinction, the strategy for their protection by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, to which joined Tunisia.

Life and habits of loggerhead turtles

The children keep asking the facilitator questions. They want to know everything about Beya, its life cycle, its nesting sites in Tunisia, its diet, its orientation system in the open sea…

“Beya is tired and at risk of dehydration. You should immediately put it back in the water. We will continue the discussion in the afternoon on the beach where I will show you how loggerheads lay their eggs on the beaches of their birth and how baby turtles hatch in the sand and then head into the sea»insists the instructor.

After Hamad Mallat attaches two metal rings to Beya’s fins, which allow her to be identified in the event of a stranding or an accidental capture, four men lift her by grasping the edges of her shell and gently plunge her into the sea. Happy, free and resuscitated, Beya wriggles with all her palms and her energy when she returns to her vast garden. Its big Blue. General enthusiasm: the children applaud with all their might!

No prodigious fishing this time

Previously, around 9 a.m., the 50 young schoolchildren of the camp and their thirty leaders, all doctoral students or young university volunteers, installed on board three fishing boats had left the Port of El Ataya, north of Kerkennah. The raïs of boats, following a mental geographical map learned from father to son, sink into the sea following the paths of the wadis, much deeper than the very low waters (half a meter) of the archipelago. Purpose of the first part of the trip to sea: to follow all the stages of damascus fishing, or “jumping” fishing. An artisanal technique exclusively known and shared by the populations of El Ataya. Very singular and with precise choreographic gestures, it requires the meeting of four boats and several fishermen. A horizontal reed net lined with a vertical net is deployed over a huge surface, it will surround a school of mullets (ommila). Several men are in the sea, they hit the water with a wooden pole. In front of the barrier created by the vertical net, frightened by all this fuss, the fish jump and throw themselves into the meshes of the horizontal net.

That day the fishing will not have been successful, only two or three fish are caught. But the show will have been total and the children are delighted.

Jamal Chelli, 66, the raïs of our boat, has fifty years at sea to his credit. The sailor with his face weathered by the sun and the wind cannot however hide his bitterness: “You see, this boat stays in balance as long as fifteen people are on board. If we piled all of this group in there, it would sink. This is exactly what is happening to the Kerkennah Sea. As a result of its overexploitation and the abandonment of traditional techniques in favor of kissing, as well as plastic traps and charfiya instead of ancestral fins, maritime stocks are running out and octopus, our local wealth, is becoming scarce. Where are we going like this?

Kerkennah, “the beating heart of the Mediterranean”

The questions, concerns and fears of Jamal Chelli are in fact at the origin of the motivations that prompted the organizers of the Scientific and Technological Immersion Camp to schedule such an event from July 31 to August 7 in this archipelago thrown off the Gulf of Gabes, 40 km long and dotted with a dozen uninhabited islands. The purpose of this program is to raise awareness among children, those on the island in particular, of the urgency of preserving the marine and coastal biodiversity of this insular, wild and fascinating space that the photographer in love with Kerkennah to the point of living there all the year, Pierre Gassin (he runs the photo workshop), described as “the beating heart of the Mediterranean”. The ultimate objective of the project is part of a process started in 2017 by Spa/Rac in collaboration with the Coastal Protection and Planning Agency, which consists of facilitating the creation of a marine protected area in the part north of Kerkennah-El Ataya, Ennajet and Kraten-while involving the local population more in this operation (see interview with Atef Limam).

Because those in charge of the camp are betting on the commitment of the children of Kerkennah and elsewhere for the battle of the environment, given that they will inherit the planet earth and sea, seven modules have been programmed. They directly or indirectly affect marine and coastal biodiversity and its socio-economic and cultural potential. These modules range from robotics to augmented reality and virtual reality, marine biodiversity, traditional fishing techniques in Kerkennah, the construction of a charfiya, art and photography. Several outings allowed the children to discover the secret paths of the island, its most enchanting detours and landscapes, sometimes by bike, sometimes on foot and sometimes on the back of a cart. And also to go into the field of charfiya and marine atmospheres: “To always be in the thick of the action by touching, manipulating and experimenting”claims the excellent pedagogue that is Rym Zakhama Sraieb.

The concentration of the children is total

Introducing robotics and virtual and augmented reality makes it possible to take into account in this training the digital culture, that of children today.

“Creativity and pleasure are mixed there”, underlines Haytham Dabboussi, engineer and trainer in robotics. Haytham Dabboussi supervises the children with two other young people under 20, who have been introduced to this new technology during previous science camps and have deepened their know-how through internships, research and passion.

The concentration of the 9-13 year olds is total when they start building robots, assembling them and programming them, together, in small groups. The attention of the little ones is also at its height when they discover the seabed in a playful way in augmented reality.

“They don’t even want to stop for half an hour, snack time!”points out Moutaa Madani, branding expert and workshop facilitator.

“It is the meeting between ecology and technology that makes the success of this camp”explains Alaya Bettaieb, president of Youth for Science Foundation.

More than anything, it is the beautiful group dynamics between all the participants in this training based on the most modern educational tools and on respect for the intelligence of children and their personality, which gives so much happiness to both small than to their animators. The magic of Kerkennah, “this open-air laboratory”according to the formula of Ahmed Ben Hamida, fisheries engineer at the regional office of Apal in Monastir, does the rest.

Mourad, Elyes and Manal plan to return next year. They still have so much to learn and so many questions to ask…

*Two other partners were associated with the scientific camp of Kerkennah: the Tunisian Association of Taxonomy (Atutax) and the Faculty of Sciences of Tunis.

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