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Sandcastles demonstrate the effects of coastal development on the Reef

​Investigating the effects of erosion on the beach Guardians
Every year, Paluma Environmental Education Centre partners with the Reef Guardians Schools program to educate students about the importance of caring for the Great Barrier Reef.  The Reef Guardians Schools program is run by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which is one of our longest-standing partners.  Reef Guardians Schools targets primary and secondary schools within the coastal catchment of the Reef, but most participating schools are from the primary sector.
At the beginning of the year, teachers from our Centre travel throughout the North Queensland Region to connect with class teachers from Reef Guardian schools in after school networking meetings.  Resources and contact details are shared and dates are set for excursions or in-school support.  In third term, students from Reef Guardians Schools come together to participate in a district Future Leaders Eco-Challenge.  The FLEC runs for a full day and is totally hands-on.  Small schools send their whole student cohort; larger schools may send one year level, their student leaders, or members of their environmental club.  Learning activities are resourced and run by GBRMPA officers and by partner agencies, with this year’s theme focusing on behaviours on land that affect the health of the Reef.
This year the Hinchinbrook FLEC was held at Forrest Beach near Ingham.  It was gorgeous North Queensland day – sunny, bright blue sky, warm but with a cool breeze.  The only concern was a sighting of a “four-metre visitor” cruising offshore.  We didn’t move down the beach until we were sure he’d moved on, had adult spotters on duty in case he returned, and other adults filling the buckets with water for our erosion activity.  Students worked through a rotational program to conduct a marine debris survey of the beach (led by Tangaroa Blue), water quality testing of a small creek (led by Terrain NRM), a turtle hatchlings game (led by GBRMPA) and our beach erosion.  Students worked in small groups to construct a sandcastle, three sides of which were either left bare, or reinforced with planted seaweed or small stones.  These latter two simulated vegetation cover on the beach berm or man-made rock walls, both obvious features on local beaches.  Water was then poured onto each surface and the resultant erosion noted.  Variables that may have had an effect on the amount of erosion were discussed, then students had the opportunity to use any other materials on the beach to try and protect the remaining side of their sandcastle (shells, driftwood, cuttlefish skeletons).  This simple but engaging activity is drawn from Year Four Science, prompting teachers in small schools to collect their students’ results as part of their assessable collection of work.  At the finish, no-one could resist an uncontrolled cyclone-type assault on their sandcastle, with jugs of seawater dumped with enthusiasm.  As Forrest Beach suffered significant damage in both Cyclones Larry and Yasi, this allowed us to talk about both natural and human impacts on the beach and its fringing reef. 
While support for Reef Guardians Schools requires a significant commitment from our Centre, it is a most valuable program.  Aside from the environmental objectives of Reef Guardians Schools, our participation strengthens our relationship with coastal schools within our huge Region and makes good use of our resources.  And, as the pictures show, it was a gorgeous day.