Our ecotourism conservation spotlight continues with a profile of Ecoventura, a certified sustainable tour operator in the Galapagos Islands and its pledge to sponsor 12 local student conservation experience scholarships for one Ecology Project International course to study conservation and ecology-related issues.
I had an opportunity to post some questions about this amazing program to Doris Welsh, Director of Sales & Marketing at Ecoventura and Ana Maria Loose, Director of Galapagos Ecology Projects at Ecology Project International. First, watch this video to learn a bit more about Ecology Project International.
What inspired Ecoventura to start supporting Ecology Project International (EPI)?
We liked the idea that this project focused on local kids, kids that otherwise have heard about the islands where the visitors that pay for a trip can go, but they rarely get a chance to go out of the towns to experience it for themselves. We intended to put them in contact with nature and by doing so, make them love Galapagos for the future and protect it for generations to come. For our part, we recommend to our customers that they sponsor a student to study in the field. The cost for one student’s participation is $400 and every contribution no matter how large or small really makes an impact.
It’s very impressive that since 2003, more than 600 Galapagos teens have been provided an opportunity to study conservation and ecology. Has the program been able to track the increased local interest in studying ecology or other field sciences in college or whether students were inspired to make ecology their career choice?
We have not been able to formally track whether students were inspired to make ecology their career choice. For the moment, we have personal observations and informal tracking methods.
For example, one year ago, World Wildlife Federation generously supported a group of nine high school students from Galapagos to participate in EPI’s Yellowstone Wildlife Ecology Program in Montana (United States).
Since participating in the immersion program, these teens have become inspirational role models and leaders for their peers and community. Of these nine youth:
- Five student continued to participate in follow up leadership activities, thereby encouraging other local youth to get involved in conservation;
- Five students will pursue degrees related to science or the environment;
- One student, from Colegio Galapagos, applied and was accepted to Earth University in Costa Rica, specializing in environmental studies. The student told us “I have always wanted to be a doctor, but thanks to this course I discovered that biology and conservation is for me. I hope to find a scholarship and return to the US to study.”;
- Another observation is that approximately half of the students came back to the EPI office asking for more field activities.
In addition, we receive a lot of positive feedback related to the student’s experience. Gema (Colegio Loma Linda) wrote to us “This has been much more than an experience for me. It has become the exit door for my limits.” Luis (Colegio Cazares) wrote “Thanks EPI for teaching me to see Galapagos with other eyes…”
They come as students, and leave as student-scientists, so we know we are making a positive impact.
Do you have any other anecdotes to share?
One inspiring story is of Genesis, 15, from the Galapagos Islands. An inquisitive young woman, Genesis has continued her in-depth search for information about conservation and science after participating in EPI’s program. Interested in what she could learn about the environment and also about other cultures, Genesis was also excited to apply it to her household and community.
For example, at her high school, Genesis took an active role in the greenhouse program where native Galapagos plants are cultivated. The program investigated sustainable methods of irrigation and fertilization, and Genesis shared lessons learned during her EPI experience with her family, friends and community.
Her experience with EPI strengthened her resolve to protect native habitat and help in the collective effort to eradicate invasive plants on the Galapagos Islands. She plans to study bioengineering in college and hopes to put her degree to work on the islands she calls home.