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Am I smarter than a fifth-grader?

One of the reasons I decided to get serious about marine biology was the chance to educate and people of all ages about the ocean and get them excited about preserving it for future generations.

During a conference in North Carolina two years ago, I met an amazing and inspiring marine educator, Annie Crawley. Annie started her working life planning on being a journalist (like me) but through some pretty cool coincidences and events which you can read about on her website, now travels around the US speaking to mainly school groups about marine life, conservation and her passion for underwater videography.

After returning to Australia from a few years in the UK and with Annie’s inspiring message in mind, I sought out volunteer opportunities at any type of marine-focused centre in Victoria. The most well-known – at least to anyone who has grown up the state – is the Marine Discovery Centre (soon to become Marine and Freshwater) in Queenscliff, about 1.5 hours south of Melbourne. This provided the perfect chance to speak to kids about marine fish and plant life and unexpectedly, to learn a lot from the people I was meant to educate!

One recent instance – last week during our uni Easter break – happened on what the centre terms a ‘Rockpool Ramble’, with a group of about 20 kids and their parents. As the picture shows, conditions didn’t get much better at the Port Lonsdale stretch of beach chosen for the ramble: super low tide, no breeze and clear water.


While searching through various rockpools for interesting life, an 8-year-old asked if I knew what a small, sand coloured animal (pictured below) was. Given, I’d never seen such a creature before and at the time it was curled up in a corner so my suggestion that it might be a type of worm was probably not that dumb.


But when a 10-year-old standing nearby casually stated that it was a brittle star (some of the more knowledgable kids don’t even call them ‘starfish’ any more), it reminded me how easily many children can pick and retain information and made me wish I was more interested in marine life as a child. The same child also correctly named a Little Pied Cormorant (Pharlacorax melanoleucos) and probably could have led the field trip better than most of us volunteers.

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