Painting by SAS student Mia DiScipio

18 international students on discovery of biodiversity conservation in the High Atlas mountains

By Pommelien da Silva Cosme, Mediterranean Programme and Communications Coordinator

23 December 2019

On their way to cross the Atlantic Ocean, 18 scholars from Semester at Sea (a study abroad programme on a ship) made a stop in the Moroccan High Atlas to participate in an exciting field programme. We specifically designed this programme as part of the Chapman Impact fund to actively engage these students in participatory conservation actions with the Amazigh communities that Global Diversity Foundation (GDF) works with.

We launched the programme in Marrakech, where we spent a lovely afternoon with the students visiting a beautiful botanical garden known for its use of a traditional irrigation system called ‘Qanat’. This term refers to a type of underground aqueduct, which is used to transport water from a source—in this case the High Atlas mountains—for irrigation and drinking. We continued our afternoon focusing on water and its importance with a visit to Musée Aman, the impressive water museum in Marrakech.

On the second day, we left the city for an exciting garden and permaculture workshop at the Dar Taliba boarding house for girls in the Ourika valley. Three years ago, GDF created an ethnobotanical and educational school garden at Dar Taliba. Today the garden is used for weekly trainings with the students in residence to educate them on biodiversity, conservation and permaculture practices and traditional plant knowledge. Excited to share their skills and local plant knowledge, the Dar Taliba students formed different groups with our guests and kicked off a fun day of learning and sharing. Throughout the day, the groups of students participated in various activities including an essential oil quiz and three practical workshops on collecting seeds, making compost and preparing organic fertiliser.

The next morning, we drove along beautiful High Atlas landscapes to spend the day in Imegdal with our community researchers Hamid and Mohamed, who are managing the local community plant nursery there.  After a brief introduction to introduce the community plant nursery and project activities in Imegdal such as enrichment planting, seed saving and training for local farmers, we learned more about the 33 plant species that are currently being cultivated there.

Through a fun nature discovery exercise, students picked plant names randomly and paired up to locate these exact plants in the nursery. Once the students found their allocated plants, they presented everything they had learned about the plant characteristics, different uses and health benefits. Some students even drafted beautiful plant sketches as you’ll see in the picture below.

After studying the plants, it was time to get our hands dirty and learn some best practices in gardening. Inside the greenhouse, Hamid and Mohamed skilfully demonstrated how to plant carob seeds (Ceratonia siliqua L.) and plant cuttings of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), amongst other plants. In no time, students succeeded to plant over 770 seeds and plant cuttings! We celebrated their hard work with a delicious traditional meal in the village nearby.

On our final day, we went deep into the souks (local market) of Marrakech to visit local herbalists and learn more about plant commercialisation processes of the aromatic and medicinal plants they had worked with the previous days. A great way to end our field programme with these talented, interested and kind undergraduates!

We look forward to reconnecting with one Semester at Sea student who will come back to Morocco for an internship with GDF this spring, as part of the Chapman Impact Fund grant.

In February 2019, Global Diversity Foundation was selected as one of the Semesters at Sea Chapman Impact Fund partners for their 2019 Fall Voyage. Semester at Sea (SAS) is a long- established multi-country study abroad programme operated by the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) with the collaboration of its academic partner, Colorado State University. SAS integrates multiple-country study, interdisciplinary coursework, and experiential learning for meaningful engagement in the global community. It operates two semester voyages each year for around 600 students who, for 105 days connect with 8 to 10 countries on multiple continents.

All photos by Pommelien da Silva Cosme.