Invited by COREN, Comprendre et Agir pour l'Environnement asbl (Understand and take action for the environment), Mundus maris participated in the inspiring Eco-Teens Day in Brussels on Friday, 12 April 2024. Some 180 secondary school students from 16 schools in Brussels showcased what concrete environment friendly activities they had carried out throughout the school year ending soon. An exhibition space showcased their demands for more youth involvement in environment protection.

This was also a great opportunity to celebrate the 30 years of environmental education and action promoted with undiminished enthusiasm by the COREN team led by Thierno Ndiaye.

Hosted by Bruxelles Environnement in their climate-friendly building at the Tour & Taxis site, right from the early morning the students had spread out their information materials on the tables put at the disposal of each participating school. School teams had received information materials to encourage exchange between schools and to rate the quality of each information stand and ease of emulation of the activities presented.

At the start, all students and their teachers were invited into the friendly lecture hall with coloured seats. The project leader of COREN, Julie Ghesquière, welcomed all participants and explained the agenda. The entire morning was dedicated to the school project presentations, their appreciation by the others with the aim of depositing the summary sheets for cross-cutting evaluation and follow-up.

Roxane Keunings, who follows the initiative at Bruxelles Environnement in turn welcomed all participants and provided information about the parallel teacher programme.

Then the signal was GO for the project fair. The stream of students flowed to their tables. In turns the student team from each school welcomed the visitors from other schools to explain their activities. At the end of their shift, they left the role of providing explanations to class mates and started themselves circulating from one stand to the next round and round in the spacious foyer of the building.

The two invitees of Mundus maris, Monica Facci, the current intern from Cà Foscari in Venice, and Cornelia E Nauen, president, seized the opportunity to also circulate between the stands, learning about the school projects. At the same time, they learnt that ocean issues were not part of the curriculum in any of the schools, though several students and teachers were very interested in changing that.

At this point, Monica and Cornelia would explain that Monica had been interviewing quite a number of different stakeholders of marine protected areas (MPAs) across Europe and, indeed, the world to collect their views and experiences in the relation to the challenges and opportunities afforded by MPAs. The dramatic loss of biodiversity and stress to marine and coastal ecosystems had convinced the governments of the world that it was essential to protect biodiversity to ensure livable conditions for life on the planet. After years of international negotiations and backed up by in-depth scientific studies involving thousands of researchers from all continents they agreed in December 2022 to what is now known as the Global Biodiversity Framework. Many measures are part of the Framework, including capacity building, better cooperation and making sure that countries of the Global South were also benefiting, e.g. from pharmacological advances thanks to studying marine life.

Protecting biodiversity in 30% of the ocean and 30% of the land areas by 2030 is an essential part of the ambition to stop the ongoing mass extinction of species, particularly in the ocean. In densely populated coastal regions where demand is high to use ocean spaces this can be controversial.

How to weigh one type of marine activity against another? Will small-scale fishers loose access to close-by fishing grounds because energy companies want to build offshore wind farms? Will spawning grounds for threatened species be protected when international investors want to develop a new port?

Monica is preparing scripts about different stakeholders so that young adults, whether secondary school pupils of university students, can impersonate them during a role play. In engaging with their assumed role in the play they will measure up to the need to articulate needs clearly, listen carefully to others, and seek a feasible solution that strikes a balance between the urgency for nature protection and economic and social needs. Interested schools can get the material for use in the next cycle of eco-teens with or without additional support from Mundus maris. Anybody interested should contact info[@]

During the afternoon session, four young environment activists shared experiences about what it can mean standing up for nature protection against powerful economic players. They answered questions from the students and encouraged them to team up with others to increase their impact beyond individual lifestyle changes.

That's a good start. As one of the posters in the exhibition was saying: Unity is strength!

Text and photos by Cornelia E Nauen.