HAVE you ever had the chance to pat a shark?
Students from the Shoalhaven had the opportunity when they got up close and personal with Port Jacksons at Greenfields Beach on Monday and Tuesday.
Over the two days some 250 pupils from Vincentia High, Vincentia Public, Jervis Bay Primary and Sanctuary Point Public schools took part in Project Shark, a Taronga Zoo initiative designed to encourage the community to take action to protect marine and terrestrial life.
The children helped researchers from Macquarie University and the zoo tag and weigh Port Jacksons to get insights about the animals’ behaviour and movements.
The full days of learning also saw students take part in other educational activities with the Illawarra Environmental Education Centre, fisheries, the marine park, state national parks, Booderee and Crest Diving.
Project co-ordinator Cate Fredrickson from Taronga said Project Shark was one of a number of Project In-situ programs run by the zoo, designed to help students learn about protecting animals.
“The kids are meeting [the sharks] up close and doing other activities,” she said.
“What they learn about on land about how to protect the terrestrial environment, also has an effect on the marine environment. They learn about how to protect different species, and the shark is our ambassador species.”
On land, students learnt about the importance of picking up litter, how to reduce waste and about issues like tree planting, erosion and even choosing sustainable seafood.
“We teach kids about these issues and help them to come up with easy solutions they can use in everyday life,” Ms Fredrickson said.
Around 50 of the students are high schoolers, who mentor younger students through the project.
The field days, called habitat days, are part of wider activities run throughout the term.
Students have already made a trip to the zoo and will later create campaigns to educate the community about how to protect sharks – and could be anything from movies to dances.
The fruits of students’ labour will be on show when they host an afternoon expo at Vincentia High School on Wednesday, November 18.
Project In-situ has been running for around nine years, with initiatives such as Project Penguin run in Manly and Project Yellow-Belly Glider on the Central Coast.
“This is the first year we have run Project Shark,” Ms Fredrickson said.
She said the timing was fortunate given some of the bad press sharks had been receiving lately.
“We actually chose this project at the start of the year, then things happened in the media and we thought, what better time to help people understand sharks,” she said.
“They are vital to the ecosystem … and through education people can be more aware.”
Ms Fredrickson said researchers had been studying Port Jacksons in the Jervis Bay area for around four years and had made some exciting discoveries.
“Port Jacksons actually have interesting social interactions,” she said.
Jervis Bay is a breeding area for the sharks, and many of the same animals return and interact with one another she said.