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Exploring biodiversity in new areas

For the past several hundred years, European explorers have set out to investigate the various ecosystems of oceans around them. Much of the knowledge that we have about life in our oceans today comes from these early intrepid expeditions. However, although the continental shelf waters have been thoroughly investigated over the last century, we still do not know very much about the ecosystems of the deep waters.

Marine institutes from the lands bordering the Atlantic, from the Azores to Iceland, are working together in a project called MAR-ECO (http://www.mar-eco.no/). The goal of the project is to collect information about the ecosystems of the waters around the Mid-Atlantic Ridge from the sea floor to the surface. The MAR-ECO project is part of a larger 10-year programme, Census of Marine Life (http://www.coml.org), which has the goal of increasing global knowledge about marine ecosystems around the world.

In 2004 a large expediton will take place. It will involve one of the maiden voyages of Norway's new research vessel, G.O. Sars, and will be a two-month cruise to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Scientists from at least 14 countries will participate in the cruise. The cruise planners would like to involve members of the general public, and especially students, in the expedition process.

Challenges

There are some challenges.  How can we implement things that are happening far away into classroom and other learning situations? How can we engage students in things that they can not observe directly? How can we make them feel a part of this exploration effort?  How can we help them feel a part of the research and exploration process? 

These issues have implications beyond the MAR-ECO project because many major environmental issues today are also relatively abstract and their consequences can not be observed in a hands-on way. Could we use this expediton to develop ways to help children explore intangible issues?

We do not know all the answers to these questions, but we would like to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with conference participants. As many countries are participating in MAR-ECO, it seems natural to have international cooperation in the education part as well. Would you like to join us?

"Virtual" participants

In our efforts to involve people in the expedition, we would like to explore new ways of using communication technology, both to let the students "come on board", and to encourage networking between schools around the North Atlantic. In addition to inviting people to "virtually" participate in the life of working field scientists, some of the planned initiatives include: workshops for teacher (in ocean biology, effective use of communications technology, and history), field trip opportunities for students (with interactive exhibitions and activities at local museums and aquariums), classroom projects, and challenges for teacher-training students.

We look forward to having the opportunity to be involved in discussions about how we can make students a more active part of this project.  We look forward to hearing your input!



Authors: Elinor Bartle, Jo Høyer and  Morten Steffensen

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