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Coral reef conservation project with children

Marine National Park Bunaken, Sulawesi, Indonesia

In Indonesia, the largest archipelago on Earth, the ocean is the single most important resource on which many people's lives depend. But human beings pose an ever-growing threat to mangrove forests, eelgrass meadows and coral reefs.


Bunaken National Park

Bunaken National Park (BNP) is a protected marine reserve on the coast of North Sulawesi, Indonesia. The National Park covers almost 900 square kilometres, 97 per cent of which is covered by ocean. It also includes the five islands of Bunaken, Manado Tua, Mantehage, Nain and Siladen. Due to its unique geological formations, the diversity of its fish fauna, corals and mangroves and the occurrence of rare species, the area was placed under protection in 1991. Before this it had already been designated a regional protected area, but without the benefit of local institutions to coordinate its administration. In 1996, a 25-year management plan was published. To implement it, the Indonesian government appointed a national park administration and assigned park rangers. Some 30,000 people live in 22 villages within the area covered by the National Park. Most are dependent on its natural resources.



ThinkBlue e.V.

Indonesian children snorkelling

'ThinkBlue e.V.' is an association which has embraced the mission of making young people more familiar with the fascinating habitat of the ocean. Since 2002 it has maintained close links with the Bunaken National Marine Park in Indonesia.

Following several extended visits to the Bunaken National Marine Park, it became clear that environmental education with children had not yet received the attention it deserved. This gave rise to the idea of setting up a coral reef conservation programme involving children. Starting from September 2005, a one-year coral reef conservation programme for children will be launched at the new National Park Education Centre.



Project weeks

Children build a model of the volcanic island, Manado Tua.

For a week at a time, classes and their teachers from islands around the Bunaken National Marine Park will be invited to the Education Centre at Pantai Liang to take part in a project week. The aim is to show the children that mangrove forests, eelgrass meadows and coral reefs are parts of an overall ecosystem, each part depending on the others – just as human beings are a part of their living environment and need it to remain intact.

The children are not taught to obey a list of prohibitive rules, but are sensitised to their environment by encountering nature in enjoyable ways. Work is not confined to theoretical lessons in the Education Centre: a better way to realise the uniqueness of the environment is through direct experience. The surroundings of the Education Centre are ideal for this purpose: it has mangroves, eelgrass meadows and coral reefs virtually on its doorstep.


"Only what we can see with our own eyes can we love. Only what we love do we protect."

They make their own booklets containing all the information they gather during the week. At the end of the week, these can be taken home. The workbooks are important for two reasons: for the children, they are a memento of an unforgettable week, but they are also a means of multiplying knowledge since parents, brothers, sisters and relatives often look through them too.


In a game called 'Build an Island', the children use sand to build the most stable island they can, knowing that it needs to be protected from waves. This demonstrates to the children exactly what happens if no stabilising materials are used: the sand island simply disintegrates. Such a realistic game vividly illustrates the protective effect of the mangrove forests. Another activity which stimulates the children's interest is the identification of mangrove species or organisms living in eelgrass meadows or coral reefs.


The absolute high-point has to be snorkelling in groups over the coral reef. In small groups the children have the opportunity to marvel at this fascinating underwater world, often for the first time in their lives.



Making a booklet

Painting on large canvases gives children an opportunity to process what they have seen. The Education Centre regularly puts the resulting pictures on display, to inform Indonesian day-visitors to Bunaken National Marine Park about these activities and to arouse interest in what the children are being taught. Other exhibitions on particular themes are also planned.


During the project week, pupils and teachers sleep in the Centre's adjoining dormitory.



Special importance is attached to getting teachers fully involved in the project. They are given encouragement to integrate environmental education into their teaching. By way of support, every teacher accompanying a class is provided with a pack of teaching materials to inspire ongoing work. Also, special workshops are held both for teachers and for students at Manado University.


The goal is to integrate environmental education into existing structures as far as possible, to enable it to carry on even after the programme has ended.


Cooperation with other organisations

The association 'ThinkBlue e.V.' works closely with the Bunaken National Marine Park forum (DPTNB; Dewan Pengelolaan Taman Nasional Bunaken). Beyond this, it maintains relationships with the University of Manado (UNSRAT), with teachers and the local population. In addition, the coral reef conservation programme with children is an element of the SPICE project (Science for the Protection of Indonesian Coastal Marine Ecosystems), a coordinating body of the University of Bremen's Center for Tropical Marine Ecology (ZMT) which ensures communication between different projects in Indonesia dedicated to the exploration and protection of marine ecosystems. Cooperation with these organisations is an important means of disseminating new ideas and successful projects, and ensuring that lessons are learned from mistakes as well as positive achievements.



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More information:


  • A Marine National Park and its contribution to sustainable development