From the palm-lined postcard pretty shores of the tropical isles to the big, bustling city skyscrapers of the second largest city in Sweden, five young Reef Rangers had the opportunity of a lifetime to visit Gothenburg City in June this year.
Facilitated by Community Centred Conservation (C3) Fiji and supported by the Conservation Leadership Programme and Kate Stokes Memorial Award, the Reef Rangers are comprised of 70+ youths of Kia Island aged 5-15 years who are part of a programme developed for coastal communities to empower and educate them about the threats facing their natural resources. In this fishing community, sitting on the third longest barrier reef system in the world, human induced threats driven by intense commercial demand and pressures of an exploding population are of great significance. Lessons and activities offered through this programme feature a variety of interactive and engaging learning tools where children are given the opportunity to harness their creativity in a fun and educational way with underlying conservation messages and the overall community benefits in the education and outreach component of the Reef Rangers programme that works to broaden scientific knowledge at the local level and mold attitudinal changes.
Exceptional conservation work and community outreach earned the Reef Rangers international recognition and a spot in the finals of the 2013 United Nations Environment Programme/ Volvo Adventure Awards held annually in Sweden. Selected as one of eight finalists from over 400 applicants worlwide, the Fijian Reef Rangers competed with other youth groups ages 13-16 from the US, UK, Bangalore, Indonesia, Turkey, Peru and Bulgaria for the top three places at the awards. An eye-opening experience for these first time travellers who presented to an international jury and treated to various tours around Gothenburg including a visit to Volvo headquarters and factory and family exchanges. The Fijian youngsters relished the opportunity to interact and build networks with other environmental youth groups from around the world and contribute to statements about the environment and calls to action. The Reef Rangers were the first group from Fiji and the South Pacific to ever be represented at the awards and were placed fourth overall.
As the next generation of stewards; the youth have the greatest potential to change attitudes and behavior of local communities in managing their environment effectively.” John W Whitehead rightly put it “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see” – the Reef Rangers of Kia have proven through their commitment and zeal that they truly are-Guardians of the Great Sea Reef.