Educating the Coast’s Youngest about Climate Change Adaptation

By Valerie Guthrie

In this third and final installment of a three part series on WWF’s Latin American and Caribbean Program’s coastal adaptation projects in Costa Rica, Valerie Guthrie discusses the community’s efforts to educate and actively involve Junquillal's youngest inhabitants in WWF's adaptation work.  

Communities matter. This is the foundation for our work helping sea turtles and the people of Junquillal prepare for the increasingly severe impacts associated with climate change.

For this reason, myself and a team of others at WWF have worked with the community of Junquillal to develop an experimental program that aims to integrate children in helping our community adjust to climate change.  However, while our work focuses on sea turtles, our planning did not start with them. We started by asking ourselves a simple question, “What’s the best way to teach children, young people, and adults about a global problem that has direct local effects where they live?”

Daytime shot of Olive Ridley hatchling (Lepidochelys olivacea), taken from above on the sand, Junquillal beach, Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

Daytime shot of Olive Ridley hatchling (Lepidochelys olivacea), taken from above on the sand, Junquillal beach, Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

Yes, that’s a broad question, but in our attempt to answer it we realized the strong links between the community members, the local sea turtle population, and the protection of their nesting sites.  With this as a catalyst, we began interacting with the youngest members of the community in order to teach them about local climate change impacts. Eventually, the children began to understand what causes drastic environmental changes and how the decisions made by their community affect the local environment.

We began working with the children in the community by asking questions. The first was, “Is climate change affecting sea turtles on Junquillal beach?” With this the children began their investigation into the life cycle of these reptiles and the importance of their nesting areas. On trips to the field the children found that the turtles reacted strongly to temperature. Building on this, they began to explore the incubation temperatures on nesting sites with and without shade. They found that at the depth of a turtle’s nest, the temperature varied from 28°C (82°F) in the shade to 36°C (97°F) in sites directly exposed to the sun. So unshaded nesting sites can actually generate temperatures that are lethal for the development of turtle eggs. Luckily, this exploration also revealed that the shade can reduce the temperature by 3 to 4° C (4 to 6°F) on average.

The second stage of the work focused on having the students make the jump from understanding the problem to identifying and implementing sustainable win-win solutions. One potential solution they identified was to plant native trees along the coast. As such, in 2009, the children of Junquillal planted a total of 1500 trees along the coast of Junquillal. Planting trees reduces erosion along the beaches, creates shade to reduce sand temperature in sea turtles nesting area, as well as restores the coastal forest.

We are thrilled with the progress we have seen through this program. While this is only one of a few efforts to integrate the community into the protection of both sea turtles as well as the place that the children call home, we are particularly excited about the learning process that went on here. Not only did the members of our community actively explore some of the most complex impacts associated with climate change, but they were significantly involved in the planning and execution of one the key solutions.

To date the children of Junquillal are still active participants in the adaptation work going on in Junquillal. They show how one of the great environmental challenges of this century can be addressed in a holistic manner, actively involving ordinary, hopeful people. Indeed, we feel that we learned that without the participation of all the community, any intended “solutions” won’t have the impact necessary to help both people and nature.