Last week Qatari 11th-grader, Hussam Sayed and his friends couldn’t tell you what a dugong is — even though hundreds of these charismatic manatee-like creatures live in the nearby Persian Gulf.
But by the end of the morning on Saturday, April 21, Hussam and a dozen other Qatari high school students could identify much more than the dugong after collecting flora and fauna data in the Al Thakhira mangrove forest on Qatar’s eastern coastline.
As part of last weekend’s Earth Day activities in Doha, Conservation International (CI) helped Qatar Foundation International (QFI) and the students make the trek to test out a new online tool called Mapping the Mangroves, which was designed by QFI to track the biodiversity of coastal ecosystems and raise public awareness about this vital habitat.
After the expedition, Hussam was able to explain that “Protecting the mangroves is very important because soil and roots absorb carbon, so we can reduce global warming.”
The students, who are all participants of QFI’s cultural exchange programs, loved the new tool. Developed by QFI education technology advisor Chris Dubia from Ushahidi’s open-source crowdsourcing platform, the tool allows users with mobile devices to upload GPS-tagged data such as pictures, videos, geographic coordinates and text.
“I learned about a new app which shows the world what we learned,” said Ahmad Hiasat, one of the high school students at the event. “The experience was priceless!”
Dr. Leah Karrer, who heads CI’s Marine Science Program, particularly liked chatting with the students.
“These kids were so curious about the work we are doing to understand coastal ecosystems,” she said. “They were really excited to learn about some of the vibrant ecosystems in their own country, like the rich seagrass beds and the mangroves we visited.”
During the mangrove trip, Leah participated in a QFI-led TweetChat by tweeting photos and facts on these carbon sequestering ecosystems.
Following the mangrove mapping expedition, CI also participated in Earth Day events at Qatar’s education complex Education City, including an Earth Day Fair attended by students and faculty from across the university campus.
Qatar Foundation’s Sustainability Education Office and QFI hosted the fair as part of a series of student activities the foundation is planning as the country prepares to host the 18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP18) in Doha in December.
At the fair, QFI, Qatar Shell and CI announced a collaboration to train student ambassadors from Qatar, the United States and Brazil to participate in the Rio+20 Earth Summit on June 20-22, in Rio de Janeiro, and the COP18 Conference in December.
“We are excited to help train these future environmental leaders and to send youth representatives to these two seminal events,” said Maggie Salem, executive director of QFI.
Keith Lawrence, who runs CI’s Seascapes Program, was impressed with the resources Qatar is putting into developing scientific and technological capacity.
“It is great to see the commitment Qatar has to scientific leadership and building world-class facilities,” he said. “They appear to be taking their COP18 hosting role very seriously too. The country seems very motivated to achieve real policy successes in December.”
Andy Wilson is vice president of Foundation Relations at Conservation International.