Polynesia is made up of more than 1,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean, where both islands and the ocean are vulnerable to climate change, prompting the need for increasingly urgent action. That begins with education. “Experiencing, understanding, and transmitting knowledge of the sea”: these three pillars form the basis of this training on Educational Marine Areas (EMAs), which are co-operatively managed with schools.
The concept of Educational Marine Areas originated in the Marquesas Islands, at the Vaitahu elementary school on Tahuata island in 2012. The story of the scientists working on the Pakaihi I Te Moana oceanographic campaign inspired the school opposite to start taking care of their own marine area. Today, the French Ministries of Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion, National Education and Overseas (France), along with the French Biodiversity Agency (OFB), are supporting this project.
Providing teaching materials for students, the EMA allows students to take part in a range of activities, such as sea excursions, classroom and seaside activities and coral restoration. Pupils that have mastered the issues - and stakes - surrounding marine matters, in turn raise awareness, and thereby become “ambassadors” for EMAs.
“The EMA project covers virtually all of the skills required of upper primary school pupils,” says Guillaume, teacher at the OFB. “And it gives this work real meaning, with a hands-on approach to the classification of living species, for example. It makes a lot more sense when applied to the type of animals that we’ve collected. In geography, we took this opportunity to teach pupils about how human activity has shaped the coastline, and the effects of tourism on the area.”
Schools establish a “Council for the Sea” to define what actions needs to be taken to protect the waters in their region. They then create an EMA charter and an environmental analysis.
AFD action in French Polynesia
In 2020, the EMAs, managed in French Polynesia by the Directorate General for Education and Training (DGEE), were the subject of a financing agreement between AFD and the French Polynesian Ministry of Education and Modernization of the Administration (MEA).
Consequently AFD granted financing of €43,000 (5 million F CPF) to the DGEE for legal assistance with labeling and registering the “EMA” trademark, and for a promotional digital campaign with video clips and posters. By supporting this initiative, AFD hopes to raise awareness among future generations about the importance of preserving Polynesian biodiversity, in line with its objectives to strengthen social ties and advance the ecological transition.
Promoting dialogue with marine stakeholders
Since the first EMA was created, their number has steadily grown. In French Polynesia, around 30 schools have now been awarded this label, with over 5,000 student managers involved in the program since 2013. The concept has now been embraced in France and other overseas territories. In total, 261 EMA projects have been launched in mainland France and other overseas territories.
These projects rely on scientists to support, train and assist teachers and students, from elementary school through to ninth grade, in preserving biodiversity and adapting to climate change.
The DGEE and the OFB have been working closely together to establish partnerships with parents, associations, local councils and scientists on each island. Their educational approach has also helped to promote dialogue between students and the local maritime community, such as users, professionals (fishers and other seafaring trades), local authorities and managers of nature reserves. In turn, this helps to promote seafaring professions in French Polynesia, which are fundamental to the island’s economy.