This Thursday, 40 high school students will embark on an exclusive five-day excursion to Orpheus Island on the Great Barrier Reef as part of the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in Marine Science (ATSIMS) initiative.
ATSIMS Founding Director, Joseph Pollock from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE), aims to inspire interest in marine science amongst Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth.
ATSIMS is now in its second year and Mr Pollock says the inaugural program for select Townsville students was a great success. “Post ATSIMS, one high school reported nearly 90 percent of participants significantly improved their science grades,” he said. “And nearly all scholars now express interest in attending university, which is up from less than fifty percent before the program.”
Mrs Natalie Howard, Community Education Counsellor at William Ross High School, was involved in last year’s program.
“Socially, emotionally and holistically, ATSIMS provides a fabulous opportunity that is gratifying on so many levels. Students demonstrated increased self-confidence and this rolled on into the classroom environment,” Mrs Howard said.
“ATSIMS provided a wonderful opportunity for our students to explore the possibilities of marine science. They saw not only how it can benefit future generations, but how it is connected to our cultures.”
Mr Pollock promises this year’s four-week program will be ‘bigger and better’ for the scholars.
“We’ve doubled our time at Orpheus Island from two-and-a-half days to five. We’ve also expanded our school catchment beyond Townsville to include four schools from towns ranging geographically from Ingham to Home Hill. And we’ve added extra modules.”
Sponsored by Coral CoE, the Orpheus Island field trip is a highlight of the ATSIMS program. Situated within the traditional sea country of the Manburra people and boasting a world-class marine research station run by James Cook University (JCU), Orpheus Island provides the year 9 and 10 students with the unique opportunity to study coral reefs firsthand, alongside coral reef scientists and Australian Aboriginal Elders.
Mr Pollock explains this unique initiative is vital for future coral reef research in bringing about a greater appreciation of traditional ecological knowledge within the scientific community.
“There is so much to gain from merging western marine science with the traditional ecological knowledge possessed by the more than 70 traditional owner groups along the Great Barrier Reef,” Mr Pollock said.
“The students selected for this program are all part of cultures that has been here for a very long time; cultures that possesses immense knowledge of Australia’s marine environment.”
Traditional elder Jim Gaston spoke to last year’s ATSIMS students about an innovative turtle-tracking program he founded to monitor the dynamics of local sea turtle populations. Using the field data collected from this program, veterinarians and scientists at JCU can now study how disease spreads within these turtle populations – Mr Gaston himself discovered the potentially fatal turtle virus fibropapillomatosis in local sea turtle populations.
“This is a perfect example of why we need more traditional owners and marine scientists sharing knowledge,” Mr Pollock said.
Once on Orpheus Island, the students will not only experience coral reef research out in the field, but will learn about life on a remote research station.
The ATSIMS program focuses on hands-on learning, including visits to Reef HQ, the Museum of Tropical QLD, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), a careers fair at JCU, and interactive lectures from young marine scientists at Coral CoE, JCU and AIMS.
For more info, please visit: ATSIMS.com
• Joseph Pollock, ATSIMS/ Coral CoE, 0466 407 141, Joe.Pollock@atsims.com
• William Ross High School, (07) 4726 7666
• Jenny Lappin, Coral CoE, (07) 4781 4222, firstname.lastname@example.org
• Melissa Lyne, media liaison, 0415 514 328,Melissa.email@example.com