Campus News - June 4, 2001
Morgan introduces youth to environmental protection
By Claudio Serrano
first thing youve got to do is know how to swim, says Paula Morgan,
founder and executive director of the Reef Ranger Project, a mid- and high-school
student project in the Virgin Islands that cares for the worlds coral
Corals are tiny animals that live in a colony called a reef, she explains.
It takes hundreds of years for a reef to grow a foot. Reefs act as a birthing
nursery for many ocean fish. If the reef dies, so do the fish.
Morgan, program manager for Special Projects in the College of Education division
of Language, Literature and Sociocultural Studies, and a native of Cheyenne,
Wyo., earned her bachelor's degree in history with a minor in English at UNM
She worked at the Maxwell Museum for two years before moving to the Virgin
Islands in 1992. She was inspired to start the Reef Ranger Project after swimming
by the coral reef of the Virgin Islands while showing native boys what jellyfish
looked like through a snorkel.
I wanted to get mid-school students to come to the University,
says Morgan, who believes that Reef Rangers is not a club, but a lifetime commitment
to the ocean. This commitment starts when children are around 12 years of age
with a three-day seminar, where they work with marine biologists, deep sea divers
and coral reef preservationists.
The Reef Rangers know how to swim, snorkel, scuba dive and sail, so many younger
kids look up to them as mentors and guides. The students also teach adults
on subjects like mangrove systems and salt pond biomes, says Morgan.
Living in the Virgin Islands was not easy for Morgan, she had to get accustomed
to a new culture. Morgan also endured six hurricanes, which paralyzed the islands.
I lost a lot because of Hurricane Marilyn in 1995. The power and phones
were down for months, she remembers.
Soon after, she decided to give up one paradise for another when she moved
back to New Mexico with her husband.
She is launching a new project this fall. Morgan is creating a multicultural
environmental curriculum for the cultures of New Mexico and the Caribbean with
the assistance of UNM's Dr. Quincy Spurlin. She plans to take New Mexico kids
to the islands. My wish is to establish a world-wide, non-profit foundation
that puts students at the forefront of environmental protection, says
Morgan says that the Reef Ranger Project was awarded the United States Environmental Protection Agencys Environmental Quality Award, the Seaworld Environmental Excellence Prize as well as a U.S. Presidential Commendation.
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