Trinidad Express / The worsening state of the Trinidad and Tobago economy and the inability to land employment on completion of studies led to the establishment of the ASJA Boys’ Scuba and Reef Conservation Club.
School teacher Faeid Ali said it had become evident that traditional careers were no longer feasible and the identification of niche areas must occur. After much research and discussion with his colleague Farah Hosein, Ali found that there were “great potential opportunities” in the environmental fields and tourism industry.
“Our boys, however, had no specific skills which gave them competitive advantage in either of these areas. As such skills are not offered in traditional areas of secondary education, we decided to provide avenues for their acquisition within the school. The need for students to develop an understanding of the importance for sustainable environmental and tourism practices was seen as critical if sincere involvement in these areas was to occur,” he said.
Ali then came up with an idea to take on the challenge of protecting the coral reefs, a major tourism product in Tobago.
“The coral reefs play both an environmental and economic role in the sustainability of Tobago’s tourism industry. We therefore examined current threats to our reefs and felt its protection was the area for our students to develop skills in,” he said.
A student of ASJA Boys’ College San Fernando equips himself with some of the diving gear used by scuba divers, during a workshop hosted by the ASJA Boys’ Scuba and Reef Conservation Club. Ali said the greatest threat to the coral reefs was the invasive lionfish which gorges on juvenile reef fish. But reduction and control of the reef predator required the pupils to develop such skills as scuba dive and underwater pole-spear hunting, he said.
In March 2016, the club secured the services Mr Ron Tiah of Divetnt, a Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) instructor, who shared Ali’s vision and so began the ASJA Boys’ Scuba and Reef Conservation Club.
“Safety was our first priority and so an extensive six week training programme was designed by Mr Tiah which covers dive theory and marine conservation studies at the College, and pool training with the use of gear. In June our first batch of students became PADI certified open water divers and the school began its environmental reef protection journey across the water in Tobago. Since then the club has certified over 25 students in Open Water diving, 16 students also completed PADI’s Emergency First Responders training, some are currently pursuing Advanced Open Water training, and Naturalist and underwater photography training are on the way,” he said.
The club has been actively involved in lionfish eradication and public education. “We have removed thousands of lionfish from Tobago’s reefs, had numerous lionfish education drives including a lionfish and chips sale at the College, and Easter this year a major lionfish hunt and education drive is scheduled for Tobago,” he said.
The pupils are also engaged in lionfish container making and in December a 14 year old pupil shot an 18.1 inch long lionfish, one of the largest lionfish ever caught in Tobago.
“The development of these skills and continued efforts in eradicating the invasive lionfish from Tobago’s waters is an expensive endeavour but to the credit of our parents, in recognition of the importance of what their sons are doing and in the ways these activities have helped raise the maturity of the boys, they continue to invest in them. The club has gained the attention of international agencies and divers who now avidly follow our activities via our Facebook page,” he said.
Ali said the pupils were also involved in removing garbage from underwater.
The Club hosted a seminar and workshop at ASJA Boys’ College, San Fernando, last week on marine ecology.
Dr Fadilah Ali, one of the region’s leading lionfish researchers, Dr Michelle Cazabon-Mannette, who extensively researches marine ecology and near shore sea turtles, and Mr Alfred Moonasar, a past ASJA Boys’ student, and commercial diver with over 20 years global experience were among the speakers.
The programme invited all secondary schools in the Victoria Education District and saw over 300 students attending.