MIT Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Ecological Tipping Points: When Is Late Too Late?

Fred Pontillas
Biology Teacher
The John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science
Boston, Massachusetts

The major goal of this lesson is to provide students with some of the tools they will need to analyze and solve the many complex problems they will face during their lifetimes. In the lesson, students learn to use Flow Charts and Feedback Diagrams to analyze a very complex problem of ecological sustainability. The lesson looks at a specific case study—from my home town in the Philippines—of the Live Reef Fish Trade now threatening survival of the Coral Reef Triangle of Southeast Asia. Live reef fish have long been traded around Southeast Asia as a luxury food item, but in recent decades trade in fish captured on coral reefs has expanded rapidly. Although the trade has provided communities with additional income, these benefits are unsustainable and have come at considerable cost to the environment. This lesson begins by having students analyze a familiar or personal problem, using Flow Charts and Feedback Diagrams, and then moves on to the application of those tools to a complex environmental problem. The lesson could be completed in a 50-minute class session, but using it over two class sessions would be preferable. Everything needed for the lesson is downloadable from the BLOSSOMS website, including blank Flow Charts and Feedback Diagrams, as well as articles on the Philippines case study from the World Wildlife Fund and the United States Agency for International Development.

Ulpiano Frederick (Fred) Abiog Pontillas teaches Advanced Placement (AP) Biology, AP Environmental Science, and Big History at the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science in Boston, MA. Prior to teaching at the O’Bryant, Fred taught in New Orleans, LA and South Boston. He presents nationally at the National Science Teachers Association annual conference, and is an award-winning teacher, having received the 2013 Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative (MMSI) Partners in Excellence Advanced Placement Teacher Award in Science. Fred is a reader for the AP Biology exam. He is inspired by his students, sharing his knowledge of biology, and finding better ways to promote student engagement and achievement.

This is the site of “The EcoTipping Points Project: Models for Success in a Time of Crisis.” The pragmatic goal of this project is to help people identify "tipping point" levers right at home – concrete actions that they and their community can act upon. The EcoTipping Points Project is dedicated to making the stories and their lessons known through the media, workshops, and direct collaboration with community groups.
http://www.ecotippingpoints.org

This is a comprehensive report prepared by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on the Taytay case study in Palawan, the Philippines. 
http://coraltriangleinitiative.org/sites/default/files/resources/40_Taytay%20Taking%20Charge% 20of%20a%20Critical%20Resource_Philippines%20Case%20Study.pdf

This article prepared by CNN provides an excellent overview of the Live Reef Fish Trade industry in Southeast Asia.
http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/02/08/reef.fish.trade/

This article from Overeseas: The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas is a special report entitled “Live Fish Trade Threatens Tourism in El Nido, Palawan”.
http://oneocean.org/overseas/200103/live_fish_trade_threatens_tourism_in_el_nido,palawan.html

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This Lesson is in the following clusters: Environmental Sustainability