Pacific Symposium on Teaching and Learning about Biodiversity

Konai Helu Thaman, CEC Steering Committee member, reports on a symposium to launch the International Year of Biodiversity before an audiance of postgraduate students in the Pacific region.

Konai Helu Thaman, IUCN CEC Regional Vice-Chair

On Saturday 27 March the School of Education and the School of Islands and Oceans, in collaboration with the UNESCO Chair in teacher education, IUCN Commission on Education & Communication (Oceania), the Pacific Taxonomic Initiative (BioNET - PACINET), Nature Fiji- Merqeti Viti and the Econesian Society, hosted a one-day “Symposium on Teaching and Learning about Biodiversity” as a way of launching the UN Year of Biodiversity – 2010.

The symposium involved Postgraduate Students from Education and Geography and members of the SIO-based Econesian Society, a USP student environment organization formed in 2006. The symposium was designed to: 1) enhance participants’ knowledge of, and ability to teach about, biodiversity and the emerging biodiversity crisis in formal and non-formal settings in the Pacific, and, 2) raise awareness of the UN International Year of Biodiversity (IYB), its objectives, types of awareness raising activities that are being carried out, and resources that are available to students and the public on the IYB Website.

The basic assumptions underlying the symposium and IYB are that:

  1. The biodiversity extinction crisis, whether due to overexploitation, habitat destruction and degradation, invasive species or disease, climate change, pollution or other causes, and to public and official ignorance, is a much more serious long-term threat to the sustainable habitation of planet Earth than climate change and sea level rise;
  2. The conservation, sustainable use and equitable sharing of access to biodiversity, the three main objectives of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), constitute the most practicable means of mitigating and adapting to climate change and other natural and economic crises at international, national and local levels; and,
  3. Without raising awareness about biodiversity and biodiversity crisis for all sectors of society through biodiversity education, the achievement of the goals of the CBD and sustainable development will be problematic, if not impossible.

The morning programme included a welcome and opening remarks by Dr. Konai Helu Thaman, Professor of Pacific Education and Culture, UNESCO Chair in Teacher Education and Oceania Vice-Chair, IUCN Commission of Education & Communication and five keynote presentations, which included:

  • “Banking on Biodiversity: “The Relevance of the International Year of Biodiversity for USP & the Pacific Region” by Dr. Randy Thaman, Professor of Pacific Island Biogeography and Head, School of Islands and Oceans
  • “The Critical Importance and Threatened Status of Marine Biodiversity” by Dr. Posa Skelton, Coordinator PACINET-BioNET International
  • “Fiji’s Biodiversity: My Identity, My Responsibility by USP Mac graduate, Nonie Thomas, Conservation Coordinator for Nature Fiji – Marinetti Viti (NFMV)
  • “Youth and Capacity Building” by Teddy Fong, USP Postgraduate student and Founding Member of the Econesian Society
  • “Biodiversity in the Curriculum” by Professor Konai Helu Thaman

The programme also included, two original songs, “Open up Your Eyes” and “Tokomak Noda Vanua: The Sound of Creation” written by Ron Simpson and sung by the Econesian Singers. The participants were also given a copy of a paper on “Ethnobiodiversity, Taxonomy and Bioinformatics for All Ages: Engaging and Educating the Next Generation of Taxonomists as a Foundation for Sustainable Habitation of Planet Earth - Challenges and Opportunities”, the paper presented by Prof. Randy Thaman at  the UNESCO IYB Biodiversity Science-Policy Conference, 25 to 29 January 2010 at the UNESCO Headquarters, Paris.

The afternoon programme consisted of a two-hour educational “Bibelots” tour of “The Plant Diversity of USP – A magical mystery tour of UPS’s Flora and Botanical Gardens of the Plants of USP. The “bibelots” was conducted using a checklist of “Vascular Plants of the University of the South Pacific, Laical Bay Campus, Suva, Fiji Islands” prepared by Professor Randy Thaman, during which the participants learned to correctly identify 139 tree, shrub and other species and their families. The checklist of the USP Flora includes the scientific names (and common and Fijian names, when available) and family names of 610 vascular plant species (fern, gymnosperms and flowering plants/angiosperms) from 109 families. The “bibelots” added four new species, all ferns, from two additional families. The “Bibelots” will be continued over the next two month by the postgraduate students the Comedians and Professor Thaman and Dr. Skelton, with the collaboration of Dr. Michael Gregory, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Planning and Development, to finalize the USP Flora for publication along with corresponding photographs and a GIS on the web, and a book on the “Trees and Shrubs of USP” as tangible outputs of the IYB and for launching during the Global Biodiversity Information Forum GBIF) meeting to be hosted by USP and the SPC in July this year. The Seminar finished at 4:00 PM.

All Symposium materials, including Powerpoint presentations, papers, the USP Plant Flora checklist and photographs taken during the Symposium and of the flora have been placed on the Student Class Shares for ED455: Advanced Curriculum Studies, ED461: Global Educational Instruments, and GE407: Advanced Pacific Islands Biogeography and Ethnobiology.

Konai Helu Thaman
Professor of Pacific Education
UNESCO Chair in teacher education & culture
The University of the South Pacific

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