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Teaching Children the Wonder and Importance of Nature (July 2, 2003)

Trends in Japan is featuring interviews with notable foreign residents of Japan. Our interviewee this time is the noted environmentalist and educator Jack T. Moyer.

"People tend to think of the oceans as 'too big to be destroyed,' but they are being destroyed," asserts Jack T. Moyer, a US-born naturalist who has been based in Japan for much of his life. Oceans cover roughly 70% of the planet's surface, and human activity is destroying marine environments at an alarming rate. Experts estimate that at present levels of destruction, 30% of the planet's coral reefs will be lost by 2010 and all of them by 2050. Furthermore, it is estimated that 50% of all the world's species will be extinct by the end of the century.

From Research into Education
Moyer is an accomplished marine biologist who has made pioneering achievements in studies of the reproductive ecology of reef-dwelling fish, for which he earned a doctorate from the University of Tokyo. It was Moyer who discovered that the anemone fish, unlike other sex-changing species that were known at the time, goes not from female to male but vice versa.

But today Moyer has changed his emphasis almost entirely from research to ocean-awareness education programs, primarily for children. "It's a logical step," he says. "If you can watch the environment you love being destroyed, the next step is to try to keep it from being destroyed. And the best way is to plant the seeds of awareness into young people." The primatologist Jane Goodall, with whom Moyer recently coauthored a book, and the marine biologist Sylvia Earl have both evolved from research into education of kids for the same reason. And in fact Moyer's wife, Lorna, is now following in his footsteps and starting an ocean school program in her native Philippines.

And why are his educational programs directed toward children? "Adults who love nature and see the current scene say, 'What a shame, but it can't be helped,'" Moyer points out. "But kids get angry or concerned."

Moyer cannot seem to stress enough the value of education in the field. "In outdoor education, the kids ask the questions. Of course you lead them to ask the questions you want them to ask, but the motivation comes from them." Thus, rather than teaching classroom-style, he lets them discover things themselves through actually observing animals in their environment, such as by skin-diving and watching the social behavior of wild dolphins underwater. "Unlike most ocean education programs in the country, we don't touch anything, and we don't take anything. We keep the impact as low as possible, and the involvement as deep as possible."

Jack T. Moyer

Discovering Japan, Miyake, and the Oceans
Born in Kansas in 1929, Moyer first came to Japan as an airman in August 1951, in the midst of the Korean War. From day one - when, through the train window en route from Yokohama Port to the US airbase in western Tokyo, he witnessed Japanese families having dinner on low tables in their houses - he felt a strong urge to experience Japanese life. Very soon, he was umpiring baseball games for Japanese kids and having dinner with a Japanese family every evening. All the weekends and days off duty were spent collecting bird specimens around the Kanto area for the Chicago Natural History Museum.

Moyer's lifelong rapport with the people of Miyake-jima, one of the seven Izu Islands where he has lived on and off for close to 50 years, began in 1952. He had heard that US practice bombings of a reef near the island were endangering a very rare species of seabirds that bred there called the Japanese murrelet. "Being 23 years old and optimistic and idealistic and naive," he wrote about the plight of the birds to two associates of President Harry Truman. Miraculously, the bombings were stopped several months later.

This made front-page news in Japan, and Moyer made his first trip to Miyake for a story with the Yomiuri Shimbun. During his stay, Moyer took a dive using a pair of wooden goggles he had borrowed from some children at the beach, and there under the water he saw coral and coral-reef fishes for the first time in his life. This breathtaking first encounter marked the start of his eventual shift from ornithology to ichthyology.

Moyer also learned that the direct flow of the warm Kuroshio current hits Miyake-jima during the summer, giving rise to a rich coral habitat, which at 30 degrees to 40 degrees North latitude is rarely seen around the world. The island also had subtropical forests, likewise unusual for its latitude. Moyer knew then that his scientific pursuits would bring him back to Miyake.

Expanding the Nature Schools
Fifty years later, Moyer finds himself uprooted from Miyake due to a volcanic eruption in 2000 and based in Tokyo. But in a fortuitous twist of fate, this has led to the evolution of the ocean schools that he started on the island in 1987 to a much larger scale. Following the eruption, which forced residents to evacuate the island, the schools have come to be held across the country. Now, instead of just one five-day session during the whole summer, six or seven sessions are held each year, with participants hailing from across the country and spanning grades 5 through 11.

Since 1993 Moyer has worked as a team with Yoshiaki Unno, a nature guide who also prefers a field approach to the classroom. Moyer feels that their efforts have thus far been very successful. Their next step is the "jimoto (local) level," he says, of helping people recognize that places like the Great Barrier Reef or Hawaii are not the only valuable marine environments but that their own reefs are extremely valuable and immensely exciting. In that sense he feels they are still "on the way" to success. Several years ago they aided Yasuyuki Nakamura, a Miyake-jima elementary school teacher, in starting an excellent sogo gakushu (general studies) program for Miyake children that focused on the ocean. Since the eruption, similar programs targeting local kids have been held across the country at no cost to the participants.

A Global Focus
At age 74 - an "old geezer" as he jokingly calls himself - Moyer is an energetic man with a message to tell. He is a prolific writer, particularly of nature education books for children. He is always on the go, running education programs, giving lectures, and leading ecotours, and he is also involved in organizing yet more nature-related programs. "I want to do more and more and more," he confesses.

Moyer is also the father of two children, an eight-year-old boy, Jackie, and a five-year-old girl, L.L. Along with his wife, Lorna, whom he married in 1987, they are now the primary focus and purpose of his life. The three live in the Philippines, and as much as he misses them, he manages to get by with a daily phone call, because, as he says, "You have to have roots, and if they have a Yankee papa and a Philippine mama and live in Japan, their roots are going to be very confused."

As for his own identity, Moyer does not feel he has a nation, but at the same time he feels he has three. "I have a deep love of most aspects of all three countries, and I have things that I really disapprove of in all three," he says. Nevertheless, having spent much of the last 50 years in Japan, he notes that his friends are in Japan and that his way of life has become Japanese. Moyer plans to apply for Japanese citizenship by the end of the year.

Jack T. Moyer

Jack T. Moyer
Grew up in Kansas, Chicago, and New York. Received a master's degree from the University of Michigan and a PhD from the University of Tokyo. Came to Japan in 1951. Currently concentrates on environmental education and ecotourism. Has received many awards and recognitions for his contribution to environmental protection. Author of Ikimono, minna tomodachi (Animals Are All Our Friends) and other books.

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Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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