Teaching First Nations’ students to dive into the world of marine science

Students participating in JCU’s 2024 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Marine Science program. CREDIT: @lauraboderke

A long-running James Cook University program is continuing to inspire the next generation of First Nations’ marine scientists with almost 70 north Queensland high school students graduating from the program.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Marine Science (ATSIMS) program aims to build connections between traditional ecological Knowledge and Western science to offer a two-way learning experience for all participants.

18 state, Catholic and independent schools participated in the program this year, with students hailing from Bowen, the Burdekin, Townsville, Ingham and Abergowrie.

Over 30 science teachers and Indigenous support staff participated alongside students in the program. ‘Beyond ATSIMS’ is funded by WWF Australia and The Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation.

- Advertisement -

ATSIMS coordinator Dr Allison Paley said students enjoyed several activities over the past month, including a trip to JCU’s Orpheus Island Research Station, engagement with local Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger groups and Traditional Owners, a tour of the Australian Institute of Marine Science and participating in hands-on practical exercises at JCU’s Science Place and Marine Aquaculture Research Facility.

“This year, students benefited from field training to complete Rapid Monitoring surveys for the Eye on the Reef program run by members of the Reef Authority’s Reef Education Team,” Dr Paley says.

“A highlight of the program for me is getting to work alongside students on Country on Goolboddi (Orpheus Island) to collect data for important citizen science initiatives like the Australian Marine Debris Initiative, Eye on the Reef, MangroveWatch and CoralWatch.

“Students see the impact of their efforts in the data they collect and upload to the data portals, and how easy it would be for them to participate in programs like these on their own.”

- Advertisement -

Connecting students with mentors

Dr Paley says it was important to connect students with Indigenous Land and Sea Rangers, Traditional Owners and First Nations marine scientists as mentors during the program.

“For students to consider careers in the marine industry it’s absolutely critical they see role models for themselves within the broader marine science and management industry,” she says.

“That’s why it’s so important for us to connect them with Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger groups, Traditional Owners engaged in Caring for Country work and First Nations marine scientists and managers throughout the program.”

Engaging students in real-world marine science

Ingham State High Year 11 student Alexa Campbell-Chiesa said the program allowed her to determine if the marine industry was a career path she wanted to pursue.

“It was good to learn more and become more aware of the environment and understand it better,” she says.

- Advertisement -

Snorkelling, hiking and the ‘women’s business’ yarning circle were all highlights for Ms Campbell-Chiesa.

The Cathedral School student Ruby Kuilboer says she enjoyed hearing the stories and experiences of people working in the marine science field.

“A personal highlight throughout the course for me was getting to go to Orpheus Island, and exploring the reef and its marine life,” she says.

“This program has definitely encouraged me to consider taking my love for animals and science and pursuing it as a career. I think studying at JCU would be a great step towards my future in science.”

The program concluded with a visit to JCU’s Indigenous Education and Research Centre on the Bebegu Yumba Campus in Townsville, followed by a graduation ceremony at Science Place on Wednesday afternoon.

- Advertisement -

And in a first for the program, a select group graduates will be awarded placement into the inaugural ‘Beyond ATSIMS’ program, which will help connect participants with industry placements, internships and training opportunities to extend their experience and develop their pre-professional networks and job readiness.

Students from St Margaret Marys at Gudjuda Ranger Day.

Kirwan State High science teacher Sandra Darby says a personal highlight for her was watching students discover connections to their culture and the environment around them.

St Teresa’s College, Abergowrie teacher Peter Cavalot praised the program and the opportunities it afforded First Nations students.

“The program is filled with first-time opportunities that provide our students with real-life insights into marine interaction,” he says.

“It engages students in marine “awareness” that may lead them to their own Sea Country contributions into the future.”

Share This Article