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Montserrat's Ocean STEAM FESTIVAL 2019 : Passion Unleashed

This weekend past, I successfully delivered the first annual Fish 'N Fins Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) Festival for Montserrat. The theme for this event was our ocean; timely given we are celebrating "World Ocean month" throughout June, of which this year's theme is gender and the oceans. The festival was an intimate one, and quite simply a perfect start to this annual event. Friday was a super long one for me... I filmed a documentary scene on the water in Plymouth, 2 hours before the start of my important event. But when Nat Geo Italy call, how can I say no?! This took 3 days out of final week preps. So I jumped off a boat 30 mins before start time, for final prep, and of course silly things went wrong. We were an hour late to start the evening and I fell on my face (literally!). After so many hiccups before we'd even begun, and from sheer exhaustion and anxiety, by 6:30 pm on Friday I was just about ready to call the whole thing off ! But, no, I persevered.

Fish 'N Fins STEAM Fest 2019 was opened!!! YAYYY. I gave a short and informal welcome to the kids and parents, and then we started the viewing of Jago, a wonderful, short documentary film about an 80-year-old hunter from the Togian Islands in Indonesia, who dives like a fish on a single breath, descending to great depths for several minutes. Even the 6 year old were enthralled, with parents saying they will watch it again.

The highlight of the night was a talk delivered by my friend, Dr Grace C Young. As an ocean engineer, Aquanaut,and National Geographic emerging explorer, her chat with the kids was delightful and inspiring. The kids asked her questions about her life and career so far, the night ended with a dance off between Grace and the kids to the tunes of DJ Turtle. The most perfect start to the Festival. Follow Grace's Nat Geo Blog for more on the night and her time on Montserrat.

Accompanying Grace on the evening was Gottardo Giatti, Executive Producer of "Ocean's Breath". Check out his work at Formasette here.

So Day 2 STEAM Fest: Day 2 opened beautifully with a visit from a juvenile black tip shark. From 10:00 am to 2:00 pm our STEAMers participated in a number of exciting, ocean-focused workshops and also had a very interesting talk on life at hydrothermal vents by Dr. Stuart Hatter from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. We classified living organisms and conducted pH tests with Science Teacher, Samantha Pearson from Australia, to demonstrate the effects of ocean acidification on marine animals. We also used a model volcano to help students understand the impact of sedimentation on our reefs as a result of volcanic eruption, and then finished up with a fun art project led by Dominican eco-artist Alphonsos Baron. We all learned loads from each other!

The Ministry of Environment donated some fun swag for the kids too, which they were very excited about. Thanks MATHLE!

Sunday was the Beach Clean Up & Fun Day! 25 Children participated in this event, which started with dolphins, reef patrollers, ocean leaders, parents, crew and local free divers snorkelling the reef and diving for debris. The day got us diving up over 400lbs of rubbish from Little Bay, including a tyre, fridge door and a 6ft piece of metal. 13 year old Ocean Leader Matthew also caught and de-spined an invasive Lionfish. That Lionfish turned out to be the perfect specimen, caught in the act as it were, with a tiny, red fish stuck in his throat.

In case you are wondering what the story is with Lionfish, in short, they are an incredibly invasive and damaging species in the Caribbean. An adult female can lay around 40,000 eggs per week, and left unmanaged, they can devastate marine ecosystems due to their heavy and unprejudiced predation of juvenile reef fish. Soon we could see a decline in the number of our favourite red snappers, red hind and butter fish, and the Lionfish could be the culprit.

There is still so much research needing to be done to identify "hotspots" for the species in and around our reef and develop solutions for keeping them in check. But I digress, I'm simply happy that parents as well as children were able to see this catch and it was a 13 year old who could facilitate the lesson. Go Matthew!

Matthew also made a turtle for the STEAM Festival from debris he found on the beach. The concept grew from the Ocean Leader's participation in "Students Rebuild Ocean Challenge", as 2 origami green turtles before evolving into the installation seen here displayed at our Little Bay Clubhouse. Our exhibits will remain at the clubhouse this summer.

The highlight of our fun-day was of course even more dance-offs between club instructors and the kids. So many laughs! But the real hit was our obstacle course on the beach. The evening ended with the announcing of 3 lucky winners for our exciting raffle prizes; a children's wet-suit, an underwater video camera and a full-face ninja snorkeling mask.

Our Crunch 'N Sip theme over the weekend ensured that we were a 98% plastic free event! The 2019 Fish 'N Fins STEAM Festival was made possible by the Bezos Family Foundation. Their funding enabled us to purchase much needed equipment. STEAM is something I have wanted to do for a while, using the magic of the ocean to engage children in learning and interacting with Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Mathematics. We are creating a new generation of ocean leaders/global citizens on Montserrat. Schools featured at the Festival included Look Out Primary & St. Augustine; groups included, The Girls Education Project and local fishers participating included Captain John Howes and Rootsman Murphy.

With the support of our community, we were able to deliver a quality event on a small budget. The pilot was successful. This has certainly been my coolest and most inspirational event yet. Feedback forms will now go out to the attendees and we will start early preparation for next year's event! Big ups to our entire team for making STEAM FEST 2019 possible.

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