Ocean Sciences researcher participates in science outreach program in Saba

Dec 1st, 2023

Madeline Meadus

Dr. Iain McGaw recently travelled to the island of Saba to participate in the outreach program Sea and Learn on Saba, hosted by the Sea and Learn Foundation.

Located in the Caribbean, Saba is the smallest special municipality of the Netherlands. The island has a population of about 1,900 people.  

The Sea and Learn Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that brings researchers to the island to connect their research with the local community. The goal is to help the community understand the value of preserving and protecting the natural environment.  

This was the 20th anniversary of the Sea and Learn on Saba project. Dr. McGaw was invited to partake in workshops and host public talks about his research on land crabs.  

“The target group of the foundation encompasses a ‘K through grey’ mentality to include Saba residents, local businesses and tourists of all ages,” said Dr. McGaw.  

His first event in Saba was a short talk at the Life Center, a local retirement home.  

“There was a great turnout and I chatted for about an hour. I got a lot of questions and people reminisced about their younger days and the changes in the land crab populations.”     

Classroom learning   

On his second day in Saba, Dr. McGaw taught three classes to kindergarten and first-grade students at the local school in a community called St. John’s.  

Dr. McGaw taught about the general ecology of land crabs and planned an interesting activity for the students.

“I brought messy cream cake in to show crab foraging and feeding—this went down well in all three classes,” he shared. “I was surprised by how many questions the children asked, they were all very engaged.”  

In the evening, he hosted a formal lecture for members of the public titled Land Crabs Importance and Future Perspectives.  

Dr. McGaw hosting a formal lecture

A second week  

Although guests usually participate in the Sea & Learn program for one week, Dr. Mcgaw stayed for two. After a week in Saba, he travelled to St. Eustatius, also known as Statia, a neighbouring island. 

The St. Eustatius National Parks Association (STENAPA) sponsored the events in Statia. The organization partnered with the Sea and Learn Foundation for the 20th-anniversary event.  

While in Statia, Dr. McGaw delivered another formal lecture titled What We Can Learn from Land Crabs and hosted a talk for high school students.  

After the session at the high school, one of the students approached Dr. McGaw and told him that the workshop had inspired him to become a scientist!

The group embarks on a hike to look for land crab habitats

Community participation 

After his formal evening lectures in Saba and Statia, Dr. McGaw hosted nighttime hikes around the islands with members of the public to look for land crab habitats.  

During both hikes, the groups spotted many land and hermit crabs. He also set up trail cams to capture footage of the crabs feeding.   

“A lot of locals turned up and some of the teachers from the high school came along. They were thinking of incorporating some of the material I had taught into their classes.”

A land crab discovered during a nighttime hike in Statia

‘Science in perspective’  

“I would encourage others to participate in such programs. It is great to showcase research outside of the typical academic environment,” he said.  

“It allows interaction with different people and importantly, it forces one to put science in perspective. We have to think about how it may benefit people outside of our research.”