November 30, 2021

Cayman Islands have a Starfish Protection Squad

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SPSThe Starfish Protection Squad, better known as the SPS, have devoted their time, energy and resources into educating the public on how to properly handle Starfish. This group of Cayman International School (CIS) Grade 7 students took special interest in the Oreaster Reticulatus ­ the Red Cushion Sea Star- in their ‘Ecology and the Environment’ science unit. While they explored the biology of the starfish, their habitat and behavior, they studied the ways in which tourism has impacted the sea star over the years.
The students’ science teacher, Ms. Mariska De Klerk, is passionate about the conservation of starfish and was thrilled when her students showed interest in it as well. She saw it as a Project-Based Learning opportunity. The class was tasked with figuring out ways to communicate the basic principles of handling starfish, to the public. It started with a field trip to Starfish Point to observe the starfish in their habitat and how people interacted with them.
They had concerns about the current information signs, noting they were not visible enough and did not communicate the effects of lifting starfish out of the water and exposing them to air. The students came up with three ways to better share this information with the public: 1) Write letters to the Stingray City and Starfish Point Tour Companies to ask for tour guides to pass on responsible handling of starfish techniques; 2) Design signs that communicate the most important concepts of starfish handling in a clear and concise manner; 3) Create a short film, to communicate the essential information to the public.
The message the students have aimed to share with the public is that by lifting starfish out of the water, even for a few seconds, irreversible damage to their tissue can occur. It is also detrimental to a starfish if it is touched by someone with sunscreen on their hands. Some simple rules to protect them are: avoid touching them with sunscreen on your hands and be sure to keep them immersed in the water. Through their solutions, the students want the public to know that they can still take photos with the starfish, as most people like to do.
The students held bake sales and a raffle to raise enough funds to make signs to place around the island at areas where people frequently encounter starfish. They continue to reach out to various landowners, asking permission to place their conservation signs near the water’s edge so that they may be visible to visitors of that area. Their short film began to show at the Camana Bay Theatres on the release day of Disney Pixar’s “Finding Dory”, during the previews.
Ms. De Klerk has greatly enjoyed this project with her students. “Grade 7, has truly been an inspiration with the passion and dedication they have displayed through the course of this conservation project. I am extremely proud of them and join them in inviting all of Cayman to support us in our efforts to keep the Cayman Red Cushion Sea Star safe, not only for the sake of conservation, but also for the sake of tourism.”
To learn more, the public is invited to visit the SPS’s Instagram account @SPS.Cayman, and their webpage: http://starfishprotection.w1eebly.com/.
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