At 7.00 o’clock on the morning of Friday 20th June this year, the research vessel RV Celtic Voyager set sail from Rossaveal in Connemara on a unique mission to the west of Galway Bay.
The mission was led by Drs Dave McGrath and Ian O’Connor of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, supported by Noirin Burke of Galway Atlantiquaria and staff of the Marine Institute’s Integrated Marine Exploration programme. Their mission was to obtain oceanographic samples of water, seabed sediments and marine life.
A routine mission you might think, but what made this voyage unique was the fact that the “scientific crew” consisted of ten pupils from the Claddagh National School - marine scientists of the future, if you like - who were taking part in the “Galway Explorers” programme – an integrated scheme to bring marine subjects into the classroom, and the marine scientists of the future to the sea.
Ireland is an island nation. So the aim of the “Explorers” project is to introduce into the classroom as many marine examples of the standard syllabus as possible, to make sure that the citizens of the future, who are currently in primary school, will grow up being aware of the “Real Map of Ireland” – which covers not just the land, but also our seabed territory around it.
Over the past year, a very successful pilot programme, co-ordinated by a steering committee made up of the Marine Institute, GMIT, the National University of Ireland, Galway Education Centre and Galway Atlantiquaria has operated in ten schools in the Galway area, where Leo Hallissey – a well known teacher and environmentalist – as visited schools to demonstrate saltwater aquaria and to lead field trips to the seashore.
This week, at the Marine Institute in Galway, a group of twenty primary school teachers will undertake training on seashore ecology, maritime history and even the art of making a working submarine out of a plastic bottle, in order to pass on the message about our maritime heritage to their pupils.
Similar courses will also be run at the Galway Atlantiquaria and by Leo Hallissey himself on Inis Boffin. Over the next five years, thanks to support from the Forfas “Discover Primary Science” scheme, we hope to extend the “Explorers” programme beyond Galway to other schools in other locations.
The project is all about combining Ireland’s two greatest natural resources – our 220 million acres of ocean territory and the imaginations of our young people, through the effort and dedication of teachers, scientists and other members of the “Galway Explorers” group.