Last year, environmentalist Katrina Khan-Roberts wrote a book to help educate and inspire young children to love the ocean.
The book, Mertrina Marine Minded – The Mini Marine Biologist's Guidebook, covers facts about marine biology, explained by the character Mertrina which was Khan-Roberts' nickname as a child.
“I was just thinking about my six- or seven-year-old self who loves mermaids and marine biology.
“There wasn’t really anywhere I could have looked for information and now I wanted to create that for another little person.
“I said let me sit down and actually put pen to paper. I wanted to use my capacity in marine biology to write the book that I always wanted to see on the shelf,” said Khan-Roberts.
Growing up, Khan-Roberts, 31, regularly visited Tobago with her family which sparked her interest in learning about oceans.
“Apparently, before I was born, my dad took my mom on the Panorama which was the boat (to Tobago) back then.
“So, my mom was pregnant with me, and I was on a boat going to Tobago.
“Though I was in the womb, I think that stuck with me for my whole life. I have to go Tobago at least once for the year.”
Khan-Roberts remembers swimming in Mt Irvine Bay, at age six, and seeing an octopus which piqued her curiosity.
From that moment, she was left in awe of marine life – and mermaids. Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid intrigued her with its story centred around fantasy and the natural world.
“The first time the MV Logos Hope boat came to Trinidad, I went to the Logos and the first book I picked up was the original Little Mermaid book.
“I just loved swimming, the sea and I though that mermaids were the perfect mixture.
“I used to swim a lot. My cousin saw me swimming once and said I was swimming like a mermaid…you’re Mertrina and so that’s how I got the nickname.”
Her early interest in what lives in the seas deepened as she grew up and she increasingly saw how the marine environment was declining.
“As I got older, I saw the reefs (in Tobago) were dying and every time I went back, I saw less and less fishes.
“I love Macqueripe as well… that’s my favourite beach in Trinidad. But I saw the presence of more algae in Macqueripe.
“I felt so broken because I though to myself, how is that we had such a beautiful, vibrant coastline and then all of a sudden, within my lifetime, I’ve seen it degraded.”
So, from 2008 to 2011, Khan-Roberts did an undergraduate degree in environmental resource management, with a minor in marine biology, at the University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine campus. In 2016, she completed a master’s in tourism development management.
Although Khan-Roberts worked in health, safety, and the environment (HSE), for a number of organisations after graduating, her drive for environmental protection wasn’t lost.
She actively volunteered with environmental groups like the Caribbean Youth Environment Network where she served as president.
With the knowledge gained from her studies and volunteer work, Khan-Roberts saw the opportunity to inspire young children to become young stewards of TT’s beaches by writing a book.
She began writing Mertrina Marine Minded- The Mini Marine Biologist's Guidebook in January 2020 and completed work on the book in December.
“She (Mertrina the book’s narrator) is teaching about the concepts of marine biology.
“It’s not just a storybook, it’s actual learning. It is colourful and I tried to make it as simplistic as possible while still keeping the essence of the academics behind marine biology.”
Apart from wanting to educate children about the environment, especially those interested in marine biology, Khan-Roberts also had deeply personal reasons to write the book. That January, her husband was a victim of crime which made her realise how fragile life was. She was also the mother of a newborn baby, and wanted to do all she could with the time and knowledge she has now.
“The process of writing the book was basically at 3 am or 4 am, for half an hour, when the baby was asleep or between feeding times."
The self-published book is available on Amazon, and at Nigel R Khan Booksellers in Marabella, Scribbles and Quills in Chaguanas and Keith Khan’s Books in San Fernando.
She said the reception to the book has been heartwarming and surprising.
“I purchased an initial stock of 50 books and thought to myself that I couldn’t find 50 people who wanted the book.
“I just put it up (on social media) that I wrote the book and from there, the response kind of snowballed on its own. So, my 50 copies that I ordered are finished.
“I’m actually still shocked that I was able to find 50 people who wanted my book. It even reached the point where a Trini marine biologist, who doesn’t live in TT, bought the book and has been lobbying for it to be put into schools.”
Let’s Read TT, an NGO promoting childhood literacy in TT, has also been lobbying for the book to be placed in schools.
Khan-Roberts said she would be happy if the book is included on booklists.
“It’s a good book to help understand the key concepts of marine biology and help children understand if they want to do it or not.
“I think the book is a good thing to have in schools and for children to have access to it.”
Selected for NALIS’s first-time authors programme, Khan-Roberts’s book will be promoted by the library this year.
Even if children aren’t interested in marine biology, the book is a great way for young children to learn about why they must protect the oceans.
For Khan-Roberts, more work must be done to protect this country’s coastal waters from pollution and improve the laws which govern fisheries.
“We have to get more up-to-date laws (protecting the oceans). We also have to get better protection and implement the laws needed to protect our marine animals.
“We also need to further educate and empower the people using our oceans like fisherfolk.
“We also need to do work with the general public. If you look at it, our marine litter is ridiculous. We as a country should be ashamed that we have such beautiful beaches, everybody loves the beach but instead of seeing seashells, you are seeing plastic forks.”
As she continues to expand the reach of her current book, Khan-Roberts’s is creating a workbook to go along with it.
“That’s my plan for now. I have lots of stories that have been living in my mind for the past 20 years and hopefully someday, when I do have the ability to do it, I will probably create a world for Mertrina.”
Interested in Khan-Roberts’s book? Contact her at 480-5378, send an email to @email@example.com or check out Marine Minded on Facebook.