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Galapagos Small-Ship Cruise Operator, Ecoventura Empowers Island Youth To Assume Environmental Stewardship

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Ecoventura that operates an environmentally friendly fleet of small expedition yachts in the Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, announces two programs empowering Galapagos’ youth to become future environmental stewards of their islands.

Through Ecology Project International, Ecoventura recently launched a new career shadowing program that thus far has allowed four students living in Galapagos to experience a week-long cruise on the MY Letty while observing and working alongside Ecoventura naturalist guides who served as mentors.  Ecoventura also sponsored 12 local students who experienced 50 hours of hands-on field study in July 2012.

“The impact these programs will have on the educational and professional skill development for these 16 local high school students this year is significant when considering the total population of the islands is just 24,000 residents.  The goal is to motivate the students to assume leadership roles in dealing with the islands’ natural, social and economic resources,” said Doris Welsh, Ecoventura’s spokesperson.

Nowhere is the impact of international tourism more of a conundrum than in the Galapagos Islands that harbor exotic wildlife species and flora and fauna in a remarkable ecosystem that in 2011 drew 185,028 international visitors (121,328 foreign and 63,700 Ecuadorians). With plans to expand the Baltra Airport, this number is projected to double in a few years.

The conundrum is how to protect the goose that laid the golden egg.

These high school student-focused programs are expected to begin to positively impact other issues on the islands, including a growing population of teenagers easily lured into lucrative and often illegal fishing activities. Bans against long-line fishing, shark finning and harvesting of sea cucumbers have created a powerful commercial fishing mafia that turns violent whenever restrictions are imposed.

“The hope is that educational initiatives can diminish illegal pursuits by developing the ability of local people to fill technical and professional jobs,” said Welsh. “Empowering a population with new work skills through enhanced educational opportunities is the bottom line and a path to true sustainability in Galapagos tourism.”

The career shadowing program is a combined initiative with Ecoventura and The Ecology Project International (EPI) a non-profit organization whose main goal is to inspire conservation in young people through education and field science programs. Through career shadowing, the selected students have the opportunity to learn first-hand what a professional naturalist guide does on a typical work week. By observing the nature of the work and being able to ask questions of the mentors, students can acquire insight into a career field and determine the suitability of that profession. Furthermore, local residents rarely get the opportunity to visit many of the non-populated visitor sites in the archipelago. This program provides a valuable link to motivate and encourage local students to pursue a career in science, conservation/ecology, tourism or as a professional naturalist guide.

Welsh said students’ experiences are influencing them to make new career choices.

“This experience has greatly influenced my life. I have now decided to become a responsible and successful Naturalist guide. My goal is to finish my studies with the courses required for guiding and be able to work here in the Galapagos Islands. The most positive aspect is having the opportunity to show the natural environment of the place where you live,” said one student, Belen Cordova.

Said student Walter Pisco, “This experience made a large impact on my outlook for the future. I would like to explore the possibility of studying to become a boat Captain and to study environmental sciences.”

In July, Ecoventura sponsored 12 students in an ecology course conducted by EPI. A $400 donation makes the course possible for one student. Ecoventura encourages passengers who may also want to help to make donations here.

The goal is to develop critical-thinking skills and a conservation ethic along with knowledge of the problems that threaten the sustainability of the islands. The field-based academic course focuses on experiential learning in three main areas: science, conservation and intercultural exchange. Course work includes Galapagos wildlife ecology, tortoise biology, island biogeography, Galapagos conservation, art and journaling. Thanks to this new study program, for the first time, Galapagos youth have participated in the park’s tortoise rearing program, connecting them to the namesake and heritage of their home.

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