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Territory Kids: the new wave of environmental protectors

Roana Bezuijen - Senior Community Education Ranger
Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory

The Junior Ranger Program is an environmental Program for children run by the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory. The Program has enabled hundreds of children over the past nine years to be exposed to their natural and cultural environment. Today I'd like to tell you more about this Program and its links to marine education.

The Junior Ranger Program is administered by the Community Education Unit within the Parks and Wildlife Commission. Across the Territory there are 5 Community Education Rangers, three in Darwin and one each in Katherine and Alice Springs.

The Junior Ranger Program is one of the many areas administered by the Unit. The Unit also oversees the production of the Junior Ranger Review. This is a quarterly environmental magazine aimed at a younger audience. Sections include plant profiles, nature quizzes, an 'on the brink' section featuring endangered fauna and flora, urban wildlife, creature features, nature project pages, updates from each region and contributions from Junior Rangers.

The magazine is provided free of charge to all Junior Ranger members and non-members including educational institutions nationally and overseas and interested individuals. I will hand out some copies at the end as part of an information pack with a contact sheet you can fill out if you would like to receive copies.

Another core function of the Unit is to provide incursions and excursions to kindergartens, primary and secondary schools on request with kindergartens and primary schools being the main groups we are regularly in contact with. In 1999, 39% of all talks requested were marine based.

Community groups including cubs, scouts and libraries, also contact the Unit to provide activities to support their learning programs.

Attendance at key environmental events including Seaweek, World Environment Day, National Science Week is also a strong focus of the Unit.

The Unit also responds to requests for environmental information from people intrastate, interstate and overseas. Many of these requests are for marine topics and many are not including some of the more interesting requests for information on gerbils, ocelots and what has proved to be the most elusive to date the sonorionpronghorn!

Lastly the Unit produces a series of Nature Notes which are information sheets on native and feral animals of the Northern Territory distributed to children seeking school project information. At this stage no marine animals are featured in the series and we are looking to remedy this by continuing to add to the Nature Note series.

So what does the Junior Ranger Program aim to do? As an environmental Program for Territory children it looks to increase their awareness and understanding of their natural and cultural environments. Built on the belief that people who have enjoyable and memorable experiences with nature are likely to value and become protective of it the Program provides children with the opportunity to be involved in hands on activities. By linking young people with positive role models including rangers and scientists the Program aims to foster positive attitudes towards the environment and the role of the parks.

The Program is also provided to remote schools once a month where it would not be feasible for these children to travel to town to regularly attend the activities.

Who is the Junior Ranger Program for? It is for children aged between 9 - 14 years who have an interest in the natural environment, enjoy being outdoors and are keen to learn more.

So what do they do? Junior Rangers are involved in a range of activities, mainly conducted on park estate. Some of these activities provide direct support to park staff with park projects. In this photograph on the left Junior Rangers are assisting with a fuel reduction burn in one of the parks where they learnt how to use fire equipment and of course fire safety. In the photograph on the right they learnt how to use mammal-trapping equipment and were able to test out their skills through practical activities. Junior Rangers also help to raise awareness in the community about environmental issues, for example in this photograph on the left the Junior Rangers were present at the annual Royal Darwin Show where they helped paint backdrops, create animal displays and ran activities for the public.

Where possible Junior Rangers are involved in projects where they can directly contribute to a positive change such as tree planting for local Landcare and Bushcare groups. Children learn the scientific techniques used by Parks and Wildlife staff to identify Territory fauna such as snakes and learn about the Commission's programs, in this case in the photograph, crocodile monitoring, from staff who run them, which provides them with exposure to other Commission staff.

The Territory has a range of diverse habitats including coasts and freshwater environments and eucalypt forests and these form the basis for many of the activity locations.

Bushcraft also features throughout the Program whether that is weaving as these children here are doing or learning how to make traditional items using natural fibres such as pandanus leaves from local Aboriginal women.

The Junior Ranger Program seeks to actively involve the whole family and special activities are run each week including slide shows, quiz games and spotlight sessions. These allow all family members and siblings to meet the staff, experience the type of information that is being provided to their children and importantly be involved as a family unit in the activities.

The Junior Ranger Program incorporates activities based around all types of habitats and highlights their unique features and interrelationships. It is therefore not a specifically marine focused Program but as part of the Program marine activities are featured. Some examples of marine based activities run in the Darwin region have included Grab A Crab, Seashore Explore, Beach Safety, Stuck in the Mud, Sea Dream, Shell Shock, Coast Quiz, Birds on the Beach, Creature Feature on Echinoderms and Clean Up Australia Day. To find out what these activities involved I have enclosed in the information package a copy of one of the Program brochures, which I will hand out at the end.

Having only joined the Unit at the end of 1998 we decided that it would be valuable to start collecting data on our activities to provide feedback on whether we were meeting our Program aim. This chart shows that in 1998 the Darwin Unit ran 105 activities while in 1999 a much smaller number of activities were run due to a decrease in the number of members. The number of marine activities run in 1998 was minimal with only 5, whilst in 1999 we ran 10 marine activities. In 1998 children identified that out of all activities run they enjoyed 2 of the marine ones, in 1999 they identified that they had enjoyed all ten of these activities which was a great response. I believe that we can expect to see these figures rise and hopefully the number of marine activities enjoyed will match the number provided.

We also asked children what their top three areas of interest were so we could gauge where their interest lay. For 2 consecutive years animal care has topped the number one response with children indicating they are keen to care for animals that are injured or orphaned.

As you can see from the chart marine animals have stayed in second position for the last two years while the third category has changed from outdoor skills such as orienteering/bush survival skills to reptiles.

This information is used to assist in deciding the types of activities we provide to the children while also providing activities that support the role of the Commission. As the Commission has as one of its goals "to further develop the Northern Territory's park system to the highest international standards with respect to protection in perpetuity of representative natural areas, land and sea" we can be assured of being able to provide opportunities for Territory children to experience the marine environment in years to come.

The Community Education staff strive to provide a stimulating learning environment, but how effective is our Program towards promoting awareness and understanding of the natural and cultural environments?

In 1998 we initiated an evaluation survey which was provided to all Junior Rangers and their families. One section asked parents/guardians to evaluate whether in their opinion they had observed changes in their child in the following areas;
· an increase in their child's understanding of their link to the environment and of the link from the environment back to the child
· an increase in awareness in their child of the variety of life forms that exist
· greater appreciation, care and concern for the environment
· greater interest in environmental issues in the media
· increased ability in identifying animals and/or plants
· greater appreciation for different views towards the environment
· increased ability to contribute to school discussion and projects
· an increased involvement in the well being of the environment at home

We asked the parents/guardians to rate the answers from agree through to disagree. In 1998 we found that 81% of parents agreed that there had been increases in the aforementioned statements, 13% were undecided as to whether there had been any change and 6% indicated that there had been no change at all. In 1999 when we asked the question again we found that 86% of parents agreed with the statements, 11% were undecided as to whether a change had taken place and only 3% this time disagreed that any changes had occurred.

This data provides a baseline from which we can start to gauge the effectiveness of the Program. As our surveys become more refined we may be able to better test our aim by asking the Junior Rangers a series of questions prior to commencing the Program and then asking a series of questions after the Program to test for changes in knowledge and awareness.

The inclusion of marine activities in future Junior Ranger Programs will be assisted by more available data on marine fauna and flora which is currently very limited. The Parks and Wildlife Commission are presently mapping marine ecological regions in order to be able to identify representative sites for Marine Park establishment.

As more data is received this will flow onto the Junior Ranger Program and as the Unit makes further contacts through organisations, increases its range of marine resources and also looks to develop its own we hope to be able to provide more activities, create more interest in the marine field, generate awareness of the importance of these areas and boost the profile of our fantastic marine areas.

Opportunities for marine education are usually few and far between in the Alice Springs region however Junior Rangers conducted an activity at Maloney Creek where they uncovered some marine fossils. A short 4-minute program was made of the activity for the local television stations, which I would like to show you. This video features Kym Schwartzkopff our Senior Community Education Ranger for the Alice Springs region.

I will now be handing out some information kits on the Junior Ranger Program which include information on how the Program runs, activity brochures from the Darwin and Katherine regions, some back issues of the Junior Ranger Review, information about the Parks and Wildlife Commission, and their web site and staff contact details.

While you have a look through these and I answer any queries I will also hand out a small activity pack which includes a marine animal template and a few items to put your marine creature together for you to take away. This is representative of an activity we involve the children in sometimes as part of a larger activity or at public environmental events. We believe that activities that can directly involve children with the issue in some form, and where items can be brought home, help to reinforce the issue and encourages discussion of the issue outside of the immediate activity environment with parents and siblings and helps to spread the message.



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