STEP Family


alarm

Hello! My name is Alarm and as you can see, I’m an alarm clock!

I’m no ordinary clock though, I actually have super-special powers! You see, I am very sensitive to changes in the environment − I am able to notice unusual things that happen with the environment here on planet Earth.

When I’m all green in colour and wearing a smile, this indicates that the Earth’s environment is normal and fine. All the planet’s plants, creatures and human beings are getting along well and living together happily and in harmony.

Sadly, it’s been a long time since I’ve smiled and been a healthy, vibrant green colour. In recent years, I have not been feeling very joyful at all. I feel that there is something out of balance here on Earth. What’s wrong? Well, it seems to me that people have been using far too many of the Earth’s natural resources. We are cutting down too many trees and taking too many fish out of the ocean and not giving these resources time to regrow. If this situation continues, all life on Earth will be in trouble. The situation is becoming critical!

Luckily, there is still hope, but every one of us needs to make a change. We need to change our attitude towards the Earth and change our habits by adopting a sustainable lifestyle in order to make the situation better. My job is to go around the world and sound my alarm to remind everyone that we all need to take immediate action to save our environment.

I’d also like to point out that if people choose to ignore my advice and keep wasting natural resources, then I will turn into a very red, very loud and VERY annoying alarm clock. So, for the sake of us all, let’s work together for a living planet!


sandy

Hello! My name is Sandy. Humans know me as something called “brain coral” because my grooved surface makes me look like a human brain. I can get pretty big, sometimes growing up to one metre in height. I like to think I look like a small castle, what do you think?

Excuse me, but do you mind not staring at me? I’m actually a little shy. That’s why I don’t move around too much. In fact if you see me during the day, you might think I’m just a big rock. I tend to be more active after dark - that’s when I get hungry and move my tentacles around to grab some things to eat.

I live in the shallow waters of the Earth’s tropical oceans, where sunlight is abundant. Oh I forgot to introduce you to my best friends! These are Zooxanthellae, and they live with me − they need sunlight to survive and they live on photosynthesis. They share the benefits of this with me and help colour my body as well!

The problem with my best friends is that they’re very sensitive. When the marine environment becomes polluted or turns bad, the Zooxanthellae get upset and irritated and leave me. When that happens I don’t get enough nutrients and turn white. Then, the other marine creatures that live near me will also leave, and that’s a very sad situation for all of us.

Scientists called this phenomenon “coral bleaching”. While it’s bad for me and my friends, when coral bleaching occurs, it is a good way for scientists to see that there is something wrong with the sea in that area.

My other coral friends and I often grow close together and form communities, creating large underwater structures known as coral reefs. These reefs serve as natural buffers for coastlines, protecting them against damage from ocean waves and currents. This not only protects the coastlines from erosion but also prevent damage to seagrass beds, mangroves and human coastal settlements.

Home sweet home! Here in the shallow waters of the tropical oceans, I can enjoy the warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine.

Coral reefs are home to an incredible one fourth of the Earth’s marine life, so even though I’m shy, it’s easy for me to make new friends! There are fish, sea turtles, shrimps and crabs everywhere. My unique and irregular surface allows young fishes to hide and take shelter from predators. My friends and I are so good at protecting these little fish that our communities are sometimes called “the nurseries of the sea”.

Humans are interested in my home because of the fish that live there! One square kilometre of healthy coral reef can sustainably provide as much as 15 tonnes of seafood per year. As we all know this seafood, which includes fish, shellfish and crustaceans, is a favourite of human beings around the world. All this fishing also creates income for communities in many parts of the world. But if fishing is not performed sustainably, then there will be no fish left for any of us…

Sigh. Sorry to complain, but life as a coral is becoming more and more difficult these days. Climate change is making the world’s oceans warmer, and in some places it is too hot for my friends the Zooxanthellae. They have been deserting me and my friends in greater numbers and some of my friends are beginning to die from malnutrition.

Human beings are also catching more and more fish from in and around coral reefs. Obviously, this is creating a serious disturbance to the peaceful lives of coral communities around the world. In fact, more than 80 percent of coral reefs in shallow water are now affected by overfishing. Sigh.

While corals can grow to be very large, most of us grow very slowly. Some of my friends grow only one cm each year! But when the conditions are right, we live very long lives. The oldest reef in the world is an unbelievable five million years old!


albert

Hi! I’m Albert the Albatross! As you can see, I’m a pretty big bird. In fact, the largest seabirds in the world belong to the albatross family. Here, take a look at this - but stand back! When my wings are fully spread, they can reach as wide as 3.5 meters. For you city-dwellers, that’s which is longer than a taxi!

I was born to be a master of the sky. If you’re out on the open ocean, you’ll see me and my family members gliding effortlessly over the water for hundreds of kilometers. We can fly very fast too − at my top speed, we can soar at up to 140km/h − as fast as a speeding sports car! Also, I have an excellent sense of smell which makes it easy for me to find my preferred meals of squid and octopus.

Let me introduce you some other members of my family. Here, take my wing and come fly with me!

We’re actually quite popular with several different plant species. Our feathers and droppings help spread their pollen and seeds around. See, when albatross parents build a nest, they rake the soil around the nest and this helps the roots of plants breathe. Our leftovers also deposit nutrients into the soil, which makes plants grow strong and healthy.

As seabirds, we obviously spend most of our time at sea. We fly over the sea during the day and rest on the sea surface during the night. We even drink sea water! So I can say with no hesitation that the sea is my home.

Albatrosses only come on land to breed. We land on distant offshore islands which used to be unpopulated by people to do our nesting, breeding and feeding our young.

The problem is that these islands are rich in natural resources like peat and other things that can be used as fuel by humans. Lately, people have been coming to these islands to mine these resources. They’ve also started to settle there and have cleared land for farming and to raise livestock. The abundant marine resources of these islands also attract fishing fleets from different countries.

Unfortunately, our carefree lives on the sea have started to become seriously disrupted by human beings. One of the worst examples is long-line fishing. Basically, a very long fishing line − these can be up to 130 km long! − is laid out in the sea with thousands of baited hooks attached. Sadly, some of my friends and family are sometimes attracted by this bait and get hooked and trapped, eventually drowning to death.

Another problem is the increasing amount of marine pollution. More and more human rubbish, spilled oil and discarded plastic is making its way into the sea. We can’t tell the difference between real food and plastic rubbish, meaning that sometimes we feed plastic to our babies, suffocating or poisoning them. It’s a terrible situation.

We albatrosses are really proud of our flying skills. I don’t want to boast, but we are the greatest flyers of all the seabirds! With my huge wingspan, I can easily glide high above the sea for as long as I choose.

In fact, my excellent gliding skills mean that I can fly for hours or even days without taking a rest! Some members of my family have been known to fly 10,000 km in search of food for their baby albatrosses. One albatross set a world record, flying all the way around the world in just 46 days!


fred

Ribbit! Hi there, call me Fred. I’m a tree frog and I live in the tropical rainforest.

What do you think? Do you like my big red eyes? They help me to see things clearly in the dark. Sometimes, I close my eyes and take a nap underneath a leaf. And if by chance a predator tries to get me? I’ll quickly open my eyes wide and scare them. Before they know what’s happening I’ve already jumped away!

I am also great at hiding, as my body is exactly the same shade of green as leaves around me. I have to say, it’s not easy for anyone to spot me in the forest.

Check this out: thanks to the suction cups on my feet, I can move up and down trees any way I want – I can stick on practically any surface. Look, I can even hang upside down!

What do I like to eat? Well, I mainly feed on insects. Actually, without my help, the number of insects in the forest would quickly increase, and that could upset the ecological balance, so I’m a pretty important guy around here.

We tree frogs are also very sensitive to changes in the environment, which makes us a great biological indicator. This means that if our numbers suddenly increase or decrease, scientists can be pretty sure that something in the environment has changed, for better or for worse. Think of us as super-sensitive ecosystem monitors.

The Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, is my much-loved home. Believe it or not, ten percent of all species on planet Earth live here! My neighbours include jaguars, parrots and all kinds of amazing beetles.

Most of the Earth’s rainforests are located near the equator, where sunshine and rainfall are abundant. This makes for a very humid environment, which is wonderful for tree growth. You can find a lot of tall trees in the rainforest – some of them can grow an amazing 22 metres in just five years!

Trees in the rainforest are not just fast-growing, they live a long life too. See this tree beside me? It’s a thousand years old and still growing strong!

To human beings, rainforests are like one gigantic treasure chest. The huge trees provide wood which can be turned into paper, furniture and construction materials. Many kinds of fish can also be found in the rainforest’s meandering rivers, supporting local inhabitants with a steady food supply.

Most significantly for me, humans feel that it is important to clear large parts of the rainforest to create areas of fertile land to raise cattle and grow crops. The soil is excellent, so things grow really well. The trouble is, that means no more trees and no more rainforest for me and my neighbours!

To be honest with you, my tree frog family is in big trouble. If we can’t solve the problems we’re facing, we might all just disappear one day.

The biggest problem is that we’re losing our home because you humans are taking too much out of the rainforest. The rainforest is not an infinite source of resources, and yet more and more trees are being cut down for wood and to create pastureland, meaning that more and more of our habitat is disappearing. Some other species of tree frogs have already become homeless and are going extinct.

Added to this, the problem of climate change is putting us in grave danger. There is an increasing number of hot and dry days, which means our home is no longer the moist paradise it used to be. We hate dry environments, because we drink and breathe through our wet skin. Our tadpole babies can’t live without water either. So this situation needs to change, and fast.

I can locate my red eyed tree frog partner by listening out for her call. This is easy for us, as each frog species has a unique call or croak.

Frogs are the superstars of the long jump. Some of us can jump over 20 times our body length – this is like a 120cm tall student jumping the length of three classrooms!


green

Hello dear, I’m Mrs Green. What am I? Can’t you tell? I’m a beautiful sea turtle! You can find me in many parts of the world, swimming happily along the ocean currents and near coastal areas.

My favourite food? Why darling, I simply adore seagrasses and marine algae. I eat so much of them that my insides are green too! That’s because I absorb so much green pigment.

Yes dear, I know I’m quite large and carrying this very heavy shell, but believe it or not I can swim quite quickly, it’s really not a problem for me.

Why thank you! It’s so kind of you to tell me how young and pretty I look, but even though a lady should never reveal her age, I’m happy to tell you I’m 50 years old. But that’s still young for sea turtles, because we’re long-lived creatures - some of us can even live to be 80 years old!

I’m not boasting here, but we sea turtle are very important to the world’s marine ecosystem. Every day we graze on seagrasses that have grown tall. This allows sunlight to shine on the sea bed, which kills germs and bacteria to keep the ocean healthy. After we digest the seagrass, what’s left over becomes nutrients for lots of other marine creatures like shrimps, crabs and fish, which are one of human kind’s most important food sources. So indirectly darling, we help keep you alive!

We sea turtles most enjoy living in tropical and subtropical oceans. I live in the seas of southeast Asia while my other friends live in the temperate waters of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Our home is so pretty, it’s a colourful, warm and safe aquatic world filled with beautiful corals, tropical fish, shrimps, crabs and even sharks!

The oceans cover about three-quarters of the Earth’s surface. They nurture a huge and vibrant variety of marine life. A lot of this life is consumed by human beings as seafood. Kids, do you like seafood?

Well this is the sad part of my story, sweetheart. See, our numbers are decreasing all over the world. Human beings catch us for our meat and use our gorgeous shells to produce medicine and fashion accessories. Sometimes even our eggs and baby turtles are taken by people.

Female sea turtles like me always lay their eggs at the same beach where we were hatched. Tragically, many of these beaches are disappearing because of increased coastal development, again by human beings. We are losing our most important breeding sites, and this is causing further declines in our population. One thing leads to another, you see.

A common fishing method known as trawling poses another big threat to us. The huge fishing nets used by trawlers not only destroy our feeding grounds, but sometimes catch us as well – can you imagine? Still, even with all these terrible things happening, I do believe there are ways to make the oceans safer for us. So children, do you think you’ll be able to help us?

Excuse me dear, it’s time for me to return to my beach and breed. I’ve got a long swim of thousands of kilometres ahead of me, I’m glad I’ve been eating lots of seagrass. With any luck soon you’ll be seeing lots of cute little turtles!

I use lungs to breathe just as you do. But unlike you, I can hold my breath for a very long time – believe it or not, I can stay under the water for 5 hours on just one breath!


po

Hello everyone, my name is Po, but I’m sure you’ve already heard of me. I guess you could say I’m an all-around cool character. Yes, yes that’s right, I’m a polar bear. I live in the coldest part of Earth, but I’m not afraid of anything at all. Why? Well, my white fur helps to camouflage me amid the snow and ice, which means that I can approach my prey without it noticing me.

Also, I have a thick layer of body fat and fur, which helps me avoid losing body heat, so I can keep myself warm no matter what the temperature outside.

Most of you know me as a global superstar and it’s true that I’m easy to recognize. But I’m popular not just because I’m the world’s biggest bear or because I’m so good-looking: I serve as an important biological indicator of the health of the Arctic. If polar bear numbers starts declining or if I get sick, this means that the environment in the North is under threat.

I live in the Arctic Circle, the most northern part of the planet Earth. The Arctic Circle is a large area which spans a number of countries including Canada, Russia, Greenland, Norway and Alaska in the U.S. Yes, I’m very good at geography. The environment where I live is a world of ice and snow, where temperatures can drop as low as -40 degrees Celsius.

While the cold weather may make our lives pretty tough, the Arctic ecosystem is essential to the world, as this large expanse of ice surface helps to regulate the global climate. The Arctic is also home to a lot of unique creatures besides us polar bears, like the walrus and the musk ox. You won’t find creatures like us anywhere else on Earth.

The Arctic may look like a barren wasteland, but in fact it is rich in natural resources that are highly prized by human beings, like oil, gold and other precious metals.

I’ll be straight with you, kids – I’m really worried about my home. Right now, we’re facing a lot of problems and they need to be solved soon. See, I live, hunt and breed on the sea ice. But due to global warming, more and more of the Arctic sea ice is being melted or broken up into smaller pieces. This loss of sea ice is causing a big decline in the polar bear population and this is not a good thing for any of us.

We’re also seeing a lot more humans in the Arctic than we used to. More and more people are coming to my home to take the natural resources – especially to look for and extract oil. I’m afraid that the more people come here, the more human disturbances and oil spills we’re going to see. The result will be more conflicts between people and polar bears, and even though I’m tough, usually the people always win…

I am the largest predator on land. An adult polar bear can weight up to 700kg!

When there is not enough food to eat, I save energy by slowing down my metabolic rate – I reduce my heart beat and breathing rate. This means I don’t use as much energy and so I can go longer without eating!


sammy

Hi! I’m Sammy and I’m a school student in Primary 5.

I love nature. I’ve learned that nature provides people with almost everything we need, so I think it’s our job and our duty to try our best to protect Mother Nature.

Human beings can often be very clever. My parents say I’m super clever! I’ve decided that I want to devote my time and energy to helping the natural world, so that people can learn to live in harmony with nature

As a species, humans are a vital part of the web of life on Earth. Sometimes, we use our intelligence to make things better − just look at all the tools and medicine we have developed over the years to make life better and easier for our species. But sometimes, making life better for ourselves means making life worse for other species on the planet. We need to learn to use our power wisely, and make sure we take a balanced approach to our use of resources. After all, we want our children and the other creatures on Earth to be able to use those resources as well!

Like most people on Earth now, I live in a city. Life in my city is very convenient. I live in a safe home, take a bus to school and have a computer at home that helps me learn. Most importantly, I have almost unlimited choice when it comes to food!

It is very difficult to find natural resources in a city. Almost everything we eat and drink and consume comes from the natural resources of other regions and countries. Let me give you a few examples:

Clothing
Most of the clothes that I wear, like my t-shirts and my school uniform, are made from cotton threads. Cotton is a kind of plant grown in several areas of the world like the Southern America and in Central Asia. But to grow cotton, you need a lot of land, water and fertiliser and these all use up natural resources.

Food
All the food we eat is a gift given by nature to us: rice and wheat are crops grown on farm fields, meat comes from livestock raised in pasture land, and seafood is − naturally! − harvested from the sea.

Living
How many electric appliances do you have in your home? My home has a fridge, several air conditioners, a washing machine, a TV, lights and fans…and many others. All these appliances are powered by electricity, and most of the electricity in the world is generated by burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. Fossil fuels are also a kind of natural resource.

I would guess that you have at least one piece of wooden furniture in your home as well − I know I do! Aside from furniture, printing paper and toilet tissue are also made of wood; and wood is of course a natural resource that comes from forests.

Transportation
Most types of transportation require fuel to power them. These are almost always fossil fuels.

These days, when I go to the market with my mother, it seems that there are less food choices than there were in the past, and the prices of what’s left are higher.

For example, my favourite type of fish is something called the Golden threadfin bream. This is a popular fish in Hong Kong, but lately it’s becoming harder to find in the market. The man who sells us fish says that it’s because its population has dropped. This reminds me of something my teacher once told me: “humanity’s use of natural resources has already grown beyond nature’s capacity”.

I want to help change this situation. Can you tell me what to do?

They say that human beings are the cleverest creatures on the planet. Just look at everything we’ve made and done as a species over the years! But this is what I don’t understand: if we are smart enough to make our own lives so much better; why haven’t we been smart enough to save the environment?

We all need to start acting smart and using the Earth’s natural resources wisely to make things better for the planet and the creatures we share the planet with.

Let’s get to work!