Marine Education in Malta: Biofouling, aquaculture and ROVs!

By Rachel Cox

Since 2012, Malta has held an annual interactive science fair in its UNESCO World Heritage site capital, Valletta. The event, Science in the City, is Malta’s national science and arts festival, which exhibits science-inspired installation, music demonstrations, theatre acts, children shows and more! Over 24,000 visitors flooded through the gates of Valletta to explore the various exhibitions and to enjoy the night-life of the historical city.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Malta, the Maltese archipelago is about one sixth the size of Prince Edward Island and it’s located 80 km south of Sicily, Italy. Due to its size, all land-based activities influence the sea in one way or another, making ocean literacy very important, yet unfortunately neglected in some generations. As the marine environmental consultant at the AquaBioTech Group, I wanted to showcase our involvement in marine science and show kids and adults that (a) science is cool and (b) what science is happening in their backyard (AKA the Mediterranean Sea).

Having attended Science in the City the year before, we knew our exhibit had to incorporate a hands-on activity and a visual component to target our audience from afar. We wanted to make our first appearance a hit, which we knew would be a challenge. We were worried that our display would seem too technical or simple to draw in a big crowd. The stand needed to incorporate both interactive and eye-catching displays to appeal to the younger demographic – our scientists of the future.  

For the event, we demonstrated two European Union projects: one of “biofouling” and the other about aquaculture visual inspections and sustainability. The byefouling project (BYEFOULING link) was the main hands-on interactive portion, allowing young scientist to identify fouling species and learn more of their characteristics. The aquaculture inspections project (TAPAS link) included the eye-catching remote operated vehicle (ROV) on the table top. With the ROV live feed connected to a laptop, the young visitors could see themselves through the eyes of the ROV.  (Everyone loved to see themselves on the ROV-cam, they loved it!) On either side of the displays we had looping videos of each project, which helped captivate our audience when they walked through the gates.  

The ROV on display at Science in the City. Sediment samples and live feed were on display to attract the crowd.

 

The ROV surveying a coastal aquaculture area.

As mentioned previously, we were nervous to see how much the kids and visitors would like our stand and if they would find our science interesting. Well, after finishing set-up at 5:45 pm we did not have a moment to ourselves. Our stall was constantly buzzing with young and old science-eager individuals for the entire evening! The kids’ enthusiasm for the marine fouling species carried right through to the ROV video display and the smiles on their faces were priceless… it was a very rewarding feeling.

Showing the biofouling species in the Maltese waters. Kids could handle the vials while looking at characteristics of the species.

I had the opportunity to go for a short walk during the evening to see other exhibitors. There was a wide variety of stalls, all using different educational approach to science. Some stalls had acts, some had video games, others had interactive building seminars… there was no limit to science literacy that evening. Since Malta was hosting the Our Ocean conference a few weeks after our event, there was strong marine awareness presence throughout the event, which was great to see.

Everyone in Malta plays a very important role in ocean literacy, especially the children – our future scientists and policy makers. During the event, there were families that visited our stall and the parents took the liberty to educate their child about our showcase, which was amazing to see. Ocean literacy can be taught many ways and if the messages are being passed along some medium, ocean literacy will continue to grow!

Read more about the event here! http://scienceinthecity.org.mt/about/

BYE-Fouling Project: https://www.sintef.no/projectweb/byefouling/

TAPAS: http://www.tapas-h2020.eu/

 

Rachel is a marine consultant, now based in Malta. When she is not working on environmental survey projects or managing EU-project studies, she can be found at the beach, trying out the local cafes or travelling. Rachel is native to Kelowna, BC, and obtained a BSc in Marine Biology at Dalhousie University and a specialization in Marine Geomatics. Rachel’s interests are based around the marine benthic habitat and she is developing a keen awareness of the interaction between coastal aquaculture sites and environmental assessments.