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Thursday 20 May 2021 10:24am

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Centre for Science Communication Filmmaker, Imy Mahon captures Moana Explorers sharing their stories about climate change.

Engaging Pasifika school students in conversations about climate change and supporting them to tell their own stories is the kaupapa of an Otago research grant pilot-project led by Dr Gianna Savoie, Head of Filmmaking at the Centre for Science Communication.

“These kids are absolute warriors. They are staring down the barrel of the impacts of climate change with very real worries and very real ideas for solutions. They have important things to say, and we should all be listening and learning from them.”

The three-day programme, held in collaboration with the NZ Marine Studies Centre's (NZMSC) Science Extension and Enrichment programme, which is funded in part by the Ministry of Education Opportunities for Gifted Students, provided an opportunity to work with local Pasifika students before trialling the programme with Tongan Schools.

The NZMSC has been engaging with Pasifika youth from primary schools for several years, and Hanna Ravn, the Centre's Secondary Educator, says this was a great opportunity to extend this engagement into secondary level.

“Many of the students who participated had previously been involved in our programmes, showing just how keen they are to not only engage in Marine Science but also continue to link it to their cultural heritage,” Hanna says.

During the programme, the Year 9 and 10 students explored connections to the local marine environment and moana at NZMSC's Portobello Laboratory, with a focus on climate change through experiments in sea-level rise, ocean acidification and ocean warming. The afternoons were then spent engaging in the narrative of climate change through artistic and visual approaches.

Dr Savoie says engaging with Pasifika youth in the realities of climate change through storytelling will connect them with science in ways that are personally and culturally relevant.

“Science offers utility and function, but without a story that reflects personal and cultural connections, it can lack meaning and fails to engage,” Dr Savoie explains. “Engaging and supporting students to find and tell their stories will serve to cultivate deeper and more integrated learning.

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Pasifika students use technology to create stories on climate change.

"It was nothing short of inspiring to witness the level at which the students embraced the project and the power with which they creatively expressed their own place in the story of climate change,” Dr Savoie says.

By combining science and storytelling, students explored and shared their climate change stories through film, photography, art and performance, which they presented to more than 50 family and community members at the conclusion of the programme.

“These kids are absolute warriors. They are staring down the barrel of the impacts of climate change with very real worries and very real ideas for solutions. They have important things to say, and we should all be listening and learning from them.”

Sciences Associate Dean Pacific Dr Losā Moata'ane says the programme was a great opportunity to bring potential young Pasifika scientists and their aiga (family) together to share their knowledge and learn more about future opportunities.

“Those who facilitated it also provided a culturally safe and friendly environment for students and aiga, which was important for supporting academia as a familiar and welcoming place,” Dr Losā Moata'ane adds.
A science teacher who had three students attend the programme described the value of these hands-on courses as great opportunities for increased awareness and engagement, and also observed the students returning to school with greater confidence following the experience.

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Marine Science PhD Candidate Namrata Chand engages Pasifika students in an experiment on ocean acidification.

The goal of the one-year research project is the establishment of the Moana Media Lab, a virtual creative hub for participatory, interdisciplinary research and science-media creation that explores the narrative of climate change in the Pacific, starting with Tonga as a pilot.

The Moana Media Lab will be an interactive website featuring a range of media along with virtual workshops, which can be used as a resource and tools by Pacific communities to create their own stories.

“Our goal for the Lab is as a valuable resource for teachers, researchers and science communicators everywhere, for the creation of stories that ignite curiosity, excitement and investment in science,” Dr Savoie says.

Dr Savoie is the Founder of the Ocean Media Institute (OMI), a nonprofit global media collective that produces innovative and inclusive visual media to expand engagement in ocean science and conservation.

For this project, Dr Savoie is drawing on her previous work in the Pacific such as her involvement in the production of the feature documentary, Te Mana o te Moana The Pacific Voyagers, which followed seven waka as they voyaged by celestial navigation around the South Pacific.

“By taking narrative control of the impacts of climate change on their own community, participants will gain confidence as effective science communicators and in using their power of their own voice as a catalyst for positive change.”

Kōrero by Guy Frederick, Sciences Communications Adviser

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