Classroom Connections | Malpelo Island Fauna and Flora Sanctuary

Back in the Pacific for the first time in two years, Hōkūleʻa and the crew also find themselves in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape (ETPS).  Covering nearly 2 million square kilometers (770,000 square miles), the ETPS includes the waters, coasts and islands off the shores of Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador.  The ETPS is also home to four of the United Nations’ Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites: Malpelo Flora and Fauna Sanctuary (Columbia), Cocos Island National Park (Costa Rica), Coiba National Park (Panama), and the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador).  World Heritage sites are wahi pana, or sacred places around the world that are considered to be of outstanding value to humanity, based on their cultural and natural heritage.  Since 1972, UNESCO has designated over 1,000 World Heritage Sites.Malpelo_rock

The crew sighted Malpelo Island Fauna and Flora Sanctuary on January 22, 2017.  Located more than 300 miles (500 km) off Columbia’s Pacific Coast, the Sanctuary includes the island of Malpelo and its rocky outcropping, as well as the surrounding 857,150 hectares of marine environment, and is the largest no-fishing zone in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.  This remote marine wilderness draws in divers and explorers with it’s unique terrain and high level of biodiversity.

School of silky sharks in Malpelo Flora and Fauna Sanctuary. Photo by CAUT.

School of silky sharks in Malpelo Flora and Fauna Sanctuary. Photo by CAUT.

Malpelo is home to 17 endemic species, including 5 fish, 2 seastars, 3 reptiles, 2 arthropods and 5 plants.  The Sanctuary also hosts impressive populations of apex and pelagic species, like Giant Grouper, Billfish, Tuna and numerous shark species, including the short-nosed ragged-toothed shark, a deepwater shark that is rarely seen close to shore.  Several seabirds can also be seen on Malpelo Island and it’s outcroppings, including Nazca and Masked Boobies, Swallow-tailed Gulls, and the critically endangered Galapagos Petrel.  “Other biodiversity highlights include 394 fish species, 340 species of mollusks, 17 marine mammals and 7 marine reptile species (UNESCO World Heritage Center, 2016).”

Masked Boobies in Malpelo Flora and Fauna Sanctuary. Photo by CAUT.

Masked Boobies in Malpelo Flora and Fauna Sanctuary. Photo by CAUT.

In 1994, UNESCO initiated a special project known as the World Heritage Education Programme, to give young people the opportunity to become involved in the protection of the world’s cultural and natural resources.  The Education Programme seeks to encourage and enable the decision-makers of tomorrow to participate in conservation and respond to the current challenges facing our wahi pana.

One of the primary tools used by the Education Programme to raise awareness of young people to the importance of World Heritage is the UNESCO World Heritage In Young Hands Kit.  It aims to sensitize young people to the importance of preserving their local, national and world heritage.  By promoting discussion, listening, diversity and mutual respect, the Kit serves as a valuable bridge for bringing together young people, educators, heritage specialists and other stakeholders, allowing them to learn together and from each other about their local and world heritage.

Interdisciplinary in nature, the Kit strives to incorporate World Heritage into the curriculum as a way of delivering core subjects and transverse themes in the classroom as well as through extra-curricular activities.  The lessons focus on creative and participatory methods of teaching that use student-centered and inquiry driven research, data collection and analysis; exercises in role-playing and simulation; experience with information and communication technology.  The In Young Hands Kit also invites educators to engage students through field trips and learning journeys.

National Geographic also has a lesson called Mapping World Heritage.  This 30 minute lesson is designed and can be adapted for grades 3 through 8.  Using pictures and clues, students learn about UNESCO World Heritage sites by identifying the locations of the sites on a large map. The lesson incorporates Math by having students use geographic coordinates to refine the locations of the sites and consider how geographic coordinates are part of a helpful system of location.

The Smithsonian Institute has also published World Heritage curricula and resources for educators.  One unique resource they offer is The World Heritage Game, an entertaining, interactive way of exploring the life of a World Heritage site. In the World Heritage Game, almost anything you can imagine could happen, does happen.  Students are tasked with operating a natural or historical tourist destination, and soon realize that it is more than just opening the gates and letting in the people. Special projects, unexpected events, and even natural disasters can often complicate, and add excitement, to the running of a world class site.

Ready to try out any of these lessons or resources? Email us at to share with us what you do with this content – we would love to see pictures and student reflections that we can share on social media and our website!

Doing another kind of project to mālama your community? Share Your Mālama Honua Story with us!

Are your students still in the beginning stages of identifying a problem they would like to try and solve? Don’t forget to check out the Mālama Honua Challenge and share your ideas about work that can be done in the future!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email