Guest Blog by Dr Stephanie McCreadyGuest, Community and Primary STEM Advisor
As a nature lover with a background as an environmental scientist, and a person who has always lived by the coast, it surprises me that my introduction to shorebirds came not through observation but through art. Splashing around on the shores of estuaries and beaches during the long Summer months is a favourite pastime, but I did not notice the many migratory shorebirds who share our shores in Australia from September to April, until recently.
With a long-standing interest in printmaking, I was invited to participate in a local exhibition of The Overwintering Project, held in September last year. This marvellous initiative, conceived and coordinated by Kate Gorringe-Smith, invites printmakers from all over Australia to create and exhibit artworks depicting migratory shorebirds and their habitats. It invites artists to help make these special birds visible, and this is how I came to know about shorebirds.
Ironically, I live close to an important area for migratory and resident shorebirds: Towra Point Nature Reserve, a RAMSAR listed wetland, located on the southern shores of Botany Bay. This bay is a large estuary that dissects the southern suburbs of Sydney and is highly industrialised on the northern side with Sydney Airport occupying the northern shoreline. In the months preceding the exhibition, I visited the local shorebird habitat many times, researched the birds, and became more and more fascinated.
In the lead-up to the exhibition I discovered how linking art creation to an important environmental cause can feel inspiring and powerful. I came up with the idea of creating a competition for local primary school children, so they could experience what I had experienced. Fortunately, I had been working for the Education Team of the Australian Government scientific research organisation, ANSTO, for several years and had the support of my direct supervisor. I was able to create the Shorebirds in Botany Bay Competition which was offered to local primary schools and ran from August to October in 2018.
In this first competition, the children were required to do some research on a shorebird found in Botany Bay, encouraged to visit the local habitat, and then draw or paint a picture of a shorebird. We expected only a few schools to take up the challenge and were pleased when more than twenty schools became involved. The children took up the challenge whole-heartedly and the standard of work received greatly impressed us all.
This year, we expanded the competition by offering it to schools across Sydney and Melbourne, our largest cities, which both retain important shorebird habitats. For this second competition, I changed the task to creating a public awareness poster for a threatened shorebird. I wanted the students to really think about the threats facing our shorebirds and how they could bring awareness to a threatened shorebird and inspire change. This task also provided learning outcomes that could be linked to several subjects, making it appealing for teachers to take up.
The 2019 Shorebirds Competition results were released on World Shorebirds Day and I think the posters speak for themselves. The children’s efforts and creativity have greatly exceeded our expectations. Their voices are powerful in their honesty and I believe the many beautiful posters really do achieve what they set out to do: to bring awareness to threatened shorebirds.
Although I instigated the competition, it’s been an honour and privilege for me to watch it grow and take on a life of its own. I am humbled by the efforts of the children and the many dedicated teachers who supported them. I believe the results demonstrate that we greatly underestimate the creative ability of children and their ability to convey a powerful message. I look forward to seeing the competition grow further.
Please visit the competition page and see other entries at https://www.ansto.gov.au/news/2019-shorebirds-competition-summary-and-results