By Paul Kimanzi

Despite being the largest inhabited zone on earth, oceans are among the vital ecosystems that we know very little about.

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 91 percent of ocean species have yet to be classified, and that 95 percent of the oceans remain unexplored as the global scientific community continues to amass as much knowledge as possible about ocean life.

Dr Jacqueline Uku, a Senior Research Scientist at Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Scientist (KMFRI), who doubles up as President of Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) feels that we have given the oceans very little attention and ignored educating our children about the ocean.  

Dr Uku says the future is in the hands of our children adding that if we are not careful by allowing our children to understand the ocean they will become a destructive force to that ecosystem in the future. 

Children at KMFRI stand learning about sea creatures and their habitats during 2019 Kenya Agricultural Show

‘I first learned details about the ocean at the university. There were units I could take on aquatic ecology that covered rivers, lakes and sea. There is a sense that I feel it was too late to learn about the sea-these are things that I should have learned when I was a child,’ Dr Uku recalls.

Before she became a Marine Scientist, Dr Uku remembers when they could visit the Coast during the holidays and enjoy the view of the sea but they didn’t have awareness about what lay under the water.

She now has a wealth of experience in marine ecology majorly focusing on sea grass and seaweeds-which are plants in the sea, and this comes after many years of study.

She says in our culture what we know about the sea is usually the water and the shells we find along the beach which we collect and take home with us.

‘Had I learned about the sea and marine animals earlier, I would have had greater awareness when I visited the Coast during holidays and this would have given me a greater sense of enjoyment, looking at animals beyond shells,’ adds WIOMSA President.

Dr Jacqueline Uku at KMFRI stand where she hosted Children’s Corner during 2019 Agricultural Show

Dr Uku says if our education system teaches children when they are young they could have a greater understanding and appreciation of marine issues.

‘Many Kenyans have not seen shells when the organism is alive. In most of our sitting rooms, we have dead shells and starfish. It makes a big difference to see a starfish when it is alive-to see a shell when the mollusc is living, to see the grasses and corals when they are vibrant and alive,’ she says.

Dr Uku says for a long time she has worked with adults but adds that her encounter with children at KMFRI stand during 2019 Mombasa International Show where she hosted children’s corner made her think more strongly about ocean literacy for Kenya and ways of advancing it.

The material used in the children’s corner came from the Australian Seagrass Watch Programme and she has begun to reflect on how to develop this further to suit Kenya’s needs.

She has designed a simple model to demonstrate the ocean, to help children that visit KMFRI to appreciate what is in the sea and to begin a journey of enquiry with their teachers.

Information published on Virgin Unite website, the organisation that looks for solutions for some of the problems facing the world states that; ‘the problems facing our oceans today aren’t going to be solved in one generation. Fisheries can take decades to rebound. Removing trash from the seas will take nothing short of a large-scale cleanup. Curbing climate change will require time to reduce our emissions and years more to reverse or adapt to the change that’s already occurred. That means to make real progress, we need to instill environmental stewardship of our oceans in our children.’