Students take holistic approach
The following articles and photos were submitted by students involved in EcoSchools Committees of schools taking part in the Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE) programme.
A greener tomorrow
The alarming rate at which trees are being chopped off to make way for the construction industry prompted the students at Gozo College Middle School to study in detail surface temperatures in built-up areas. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of trees on urban heat temperatures.
The ‘urban heat island’ effect indicates that urban or built-up areas are warmer than natural open space areas. This was analysed by recording the surface temperature from two different areas – built-up areas (concrete/asphalt), and grassy patches with trees planted nearby. The objective was to find out the temperature differences between these two sites.
Taking a holistic approach the students learnt about global warming through science lessons. Experiments were held about greenhouses gases to understand how carbon dioxide (CO2) retains more heat and thus increases temperature.
The Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (Globe) programme is an international science and education programme that provides students and the public worldwide with the opportunity to participate in data collection and the scientific process, and contribute meaningfully to our understanding of the earth system and global environment.
Through the programme, the students were directly involved in data collection and used it to investigate ways to mitigate high temperatures in built-up areas. Using an infrared thermometer the students measured surface temperatures during December. Readings were taken from two selected sites – the school ground covered in cement/asphalt and an open area in Victoria near the bus terminus, which is covered in grass and has trees planted in it.
The data collected showed that surface temperature varies on average by 9°C between vegetated surfaces and cemented/asphalt surfaces. Results support the statement that lack of trees contribute to the formation of ‘urban heat islands’.
Having discovered all this the students went a step further. They wanted to be part of the change, not just pointing fingers and complaining about the environmental degradation. The students carried out research on various local trees and shrubs including the Judas Tree, Myrtle, Aleppo Pine, Lentisk, Wild Thyme and others. They came up with an innovative idea on how to promote the growth of local indigenous trees.
The students prepared over 450 seed packs using recycled materials, such as toilet paper rolls and newspapers, and gave them out to students, teachers, school staff and other people who had participated in their Climate Action Fun Walk. The aim of the walk was to raise awareness about climate change and the need for action.
If these seeds are sown this could lead to an increase in the number of local trees, which are used to the Maltese islands’ dry, hot climate, have less need for irrigation and therefore have a low water footprint. Such trees would lead to lower urban temperatures and less CO2 in the atmosphere.
Be drastic, cut plastic
Plastics are inexpensive and so are produced in very high quantities. However, the chemical structure of most plastics makes them long-lasting and resistant to many natural processes of degradation, meaning they take long to degrade, if ever. These two factors together have led to an excessive amount of plastic pollution in the environment.
During a nature walk in one of Gozo’s valleys, members from the EcoSchools committee carried out a litter survey and were impressed at the huge amount of plastic waste they found, most of which consisted of single-use plastic such as plastic bottles, plastic cutlers, cups and bags. While on site they picked up all litter they came across and ended up collecting over 30kg of waste.
The students were so overwhelmed that they decided to try to bring about change and to reduce or even stop the source of this curse. Back at school they carried out research and found some facts about plastic pollution, such as:
• Plastics take a very long time to degrade;
• Less than 10 per cent of plastics are recycled;
• More than 80 per cent of plastic pollution in the ocean comes from land-based sources;
• Plastics harm marine life;
• Microplastics end up being consumed by marine animals, which in turn are consumed by humans.
All of this stirred in the students an urge to curb the use of single-use plastic. In an effort to reduce the adverse effects of plastic in the natural environment the students came up with a campaign entitled ‘Be Drastic, Cut Plastic’ which involved giving out mesh bags to encourage people to reduce their use of plastic bags.
The students went around the streets of Victoria and distributed the posters to fruit vendors, and gave free mesh bags to customers.
The students also undertook another initiative aimed at raising more awareness about marine litter created by single-use plastic and to give something back to nature.
They adopted a loggerhead turtle named Doris that has a missing flipper after being severely entangled by marine debris.
There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel as the European Parliament recently voted for a complete ban on a range of single-use plastics across the European Union by 2021 in a bid to reduce the pollution of the oceans. The world is changed by action not by opinion, and these students are certainly setting the example.
To read other students’ YRE entries, visit www.yremalta.org.