Empowering Your Child to be an Ambassador for the Environment – Putting Concepts into Action!

A few months ago, for our Spring Break, our family traveled to the Hawaiian island of Maui.  We chose Maui for a few reasons including the chance to experience Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassador for the Environment program, which is affiliated with three of Ritz-Carlton’s Resorts (Maui, Grand Cayman, and Puerto Rico), and to better understand how the programs were affecting local communities, ocean conservation efforts, and of course children’s understanding (and interest) in environmental issues.

Although we signed up for the Whale Watch excursion as a family, it was cancelled due to rough seas. However, our son did have the chance to participate in the Survivor program.

During the three-hour Survivor program (which is designed specifically for children and on this day had a small group of four), our 11 year old son (who has recently traveled to Nicaragua, Namibia, Croatia, Scotland, Greece, and Cyprus) very much enjoyed that Survivor incorporated history (specifically how people came to inhabit Maui) as well as basic survival training skills including working as a team, scouting areas and building a shelter, collecting clean water, and utilizing nature’s bounty to provide food, healing remedies and protection.  

Nature Provides Tools

Short Lesson On The Tools That Nature Already Provides Before Hitting The Field

Surveying Plants

Surveying Plants (Nearby There is an Organic Garden Utilized By Ritz Carlton Chefs For All Restaurants)

On Top of the Shelter

Not Pretty, But It Does The Job of Serving as a Shelter

Based on his comments, the excursion was fun, educational, and empowering – and just perfect for children from 6 – 15 years old as long as they didn’t mind getting dirty. He said that he would definitely sign up for more excursions again, especially CSI Water Investigation as he would be able to investigate the source of water pollution using the scientific method.

Given that our Whale Watch was canceled, I was able to meet with a Naturalist Guide, Chelsea, and some personnel from Kapalua Maui.  In addition, via email, I posed some questions about the program’s effectiveness, to the Director of the Ocean Futures Society, Dr. Murphy, who along with Jean-Michel Cousteau have designed the educational programs for the Ritz-Carlton Resorts.

Below is a compilation of the discussions with Dr. Murphy and Kapalua’s personnel: 

Q: While the overall goal of the Ambassador of the Environment (AoE) programs is to educate and engage people to live more gently on our planet, are there any primary scientific goals?

A: Our Ambassador Programs are definitely science based. We have divided the world into 4 fundamental principles of ecology and then built the program around those 4 principles. They are:

  • Everything runs on energy – the stars, our bodies, elevators, cell phones, fish and everything that happens in the natural and human world on our planet. Energy is a gigantic issue now-a-days because our burning of fossil fuels is causing climate change and creating serious human hardship.
  • There is no waste in nature – a dead leaf or a dead bird get recycled into the basic nutrients that plants need to thrive. We should be taking this lesson from nature and making sure that we recycle all of our waste and if it can’t be recycled then we should create products that can be recycled, repurposed, etc.
  • Biodiversity is good – each species performs a valuable function in nature. Trees provide a habitat for animals, produce oxygen, stabilize soil and even provide important things for humans like fruit and building material – such as wood. So, just because we can’t eat or sell a natural species does not mean it doesn’t have value. We know that human biodiversity is good because we cannot run a city without electricians, truck drivers, sanitation departments, stores to buy things, computer people, etc.
  • Everything is connected – we cannot throw anything away, there is no away on planet earth. What we do in one place is connected to other places. The atmosphere and oceans are always moving and transporting things all over the planet. Cleaner fish on a reef are important to keep other reef fish healthy because the cleaners are the medical profession that removes fish parasites. Corals are the buildings of the reef, creating a home and habitat for all the other species. What we do today will have consequences for the future. Everything is connected in time and space.

Another very important aspect of our program is its “total immersion”.  We want people to spend time in nature and experience first hand the wonders of the forests and reefs. We know from personal experience on our Cousteau expeditions, that the more time we spend completely surrounded by nature, the more deeply we will be connected to nature. So, with science we impact the head, and with total immersion we touch the heart. Both are necessary in creating an Ambassador of the Environment.

Q: How has the Whale Watch program specifically affected conservation efforts on Maui?

A: Whales are a charismatic species that easily get people to think about conservation and sustainable management.  So, whale watching can be the beginning for us to engage people to think about protecting the home of whales  – the ocean.  From this concept, we get more specific about the different habitats where humpback whales live – polar regions, the open sea and tropical regions.

Whales connect these regions and each region has challenges for whales because of what humans do there.  There are overfishing in the high latitudes and there is water pollution; there is noise pollution in the open sea from shipping, military testing and oil industry; and there is the potential harassment of whales in Hawaii if whale watchers get too close.

For Kapalua’s part, they’ve engaged the community through partnerships with local canoeing societies, coral reef restoration organizations and local schools.

Q: How has the Ambassador Program economically benefited local communities in Maui?

A: We believe that sustainable management of Hawaii’s natural resources, particularly coral reefs, can only happen if the local people understand the value of Hawaii’s ecosystems and how these systems are sensitive to human use or abuse.  So, we are working with local schools to educate children about the issues.

If kids can understand the ecology of forests, reefs, shoreline habitats, etc. then they will understand why they need to be managed sustainably and even why they need to become stewards of their natural resources. This is why we call our program Ambassadors of the Environment – we want the people to become ambassadors and affect change that ensures future generations can enjoy and economically benefit from their natural heritage.  If Hawaii’s natural resources are destroyed, tourists won’t come and if that happens the economy will crash.

Q: What are the overall Ambassador Program’s goals in the next 3-5 years with respect to impacting lives and conservation?

A: Our goals remain consistent – educate and inspire the next generation to first understand then appreciate and then take action to protect their natural heritage.  

Captain Cousteau said – People protect what they love.  

Jean-Michel Cousteau added – People can’t protect what they don’t understand.  

The Ambassadors of the Environment program puts these concepts into action.


Click for more information about Ocean Futures Society.   All excursions were paid for by us, and photos were provided by Ritz Carlton Kapalua.