Loughs Agency and pupils from Moville Community College have been exploring the freshwater and marine environments of the Foyle catchment as part of the Foyle Ambassadors Programme. The five-day Ambassador programme provides a fantastic opportunity for pupils to learn about their local environment outside the classroom, through hands-on participative experiences.
One field trip focused on freshwater ecosystems. The Ambassadors learned how to collect and identify various minibeasts found in local rivers, completing a citizen survey to help indicate the river's overall water quality.
Environmental Education and Outreach Officer Aoibheann Gillespie-Mules said: "We had discussions about rivers, highlighting the habitats in which the fish live, the food they eat, the natural threats they face and the impact of human activities and waste on their health and survival. It is important for young people to be aware of these local issues and their role in protecting local habitats."
The Ambassadors also explored the intertidal zone of Culdaff Beach. Pupils were amazed to discover a variety of marine life under seaweeds and rocks - from shore crabs and mussels to common prawns, barnacles, limpets and anemones. Ambassadors learned how to identify many marine critters and, most importantly, gently and safely handle and minimise disturbances - always leaving seaweeds and rocks as they were found.
Aoibheann continued: "We discussed the importance of our ocean, blue carbon ecosystems and involvement in citizen science projects. It was great to see the young people leading a coastal clean-up, collecting litter whilst recording what they found. The Ambassadors gathered over 250 items, including a large rope covered in goose barnacles.” To end the day, Ambassadors got to showcase their creative sides through the designing of marine beach art.
The Ambassadors received coaching from professional angling guides at a local fishery. For many, it was their first fishing experience, and a few were able catch and release fish for the first time. Each Ambassador received a Loughs Agency rod licence as part of the programme and can continue to fish for the rest of the season.
The Ambassador experience enables pupils to gain the John Muir Discovery Award and complements their learning in subjects such as geography and science. This experience will also plant many seeds for future decision-making regarding protecting and conserving our natural world.