Strategy Share: Conservation Lessons From Galápagos

Our Strategy Share series features innovative ideas, projects, and approaches from our community of educators. This post was written by Emilia Odife after her expedition to Galápagos as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Education.

On her expedition to Galápagos, Emilia Odife documents her journey. Photo by Emilia Odife

Inspiration in the Islands

I have been fascinated with the Galápagos Islands since reading Darwin’s On the Origin of Species as a college student. When I had the opportunity to explore the islands as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, I naturally thought I would design a student project focused on evolution. However, observations I made while in Galápagos led me down a different path.

I noticed our ship was often the only one moored on a given island; we had the islands all to ourselves. We would spend half a day on one island and move to another for the afternoon. We followed strict rules about approaching the fauna, and we heard reminders on how to avoid negatively impacting the environment.

Curious about the origin and purpose of these park regulations, I spoke with the naturalists and staff aboard my expedition to learn more. While some of the rules seemed strict (for example, only Galápagos citizens can become naturalists), others were easy to understand, like their requirement that all visitors must be accompanied by a certified naturalist. They never felt overreaching or too demanding. It was clear that the rules were carefully set and enforced with the intention of conserving this ecological wonder for generations to come. 

This made me wonder: What can we learn from Galápagos in regards to conservation and ecological management? And how can those lessons be applied to local ecosystems?

Witnessing conservation practices that protect flora and fauna in the Galápagos Islands inspired Emilia to engage her students in designing conservation plans for ecosystems in South Florida. Photo by Emilia Odife

Exploring Local Conservation Management

I decided to create a lesson that would empower my students to explore these globally relevant questions and apply their findings locally in South Florida. I researched the management of the Galápagos Islands and another favorite place of mine, Bonaire (a Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela). For instance, the waters around the island of Bonaire are a marine sanctuary, and you need a yearly tag to even snorkel. There is a National Park Fee to visit Galápagos and prohibitions on new and popular photography techniques, such as the use of drones. I spoke with rangers and naturalists and drew from my own experiences on these islands to create a lesson plan that motivated students to make a difference in our community. 

The lesson plan was simple. It consisted of teaching students about the management of the Galapagos and Bonaire by sharing my expedition pictures and stories; this could be done with researched photographs if no personal expedition photographs are available. I then presented four local ecosystems that are considered endangered: the Everglades, pine rocklands, mangroves, and coral reefs.

I was surprised (and somewhat disappointed) at the fact that some of my students had never heard of nor visited these ecosystems. I provided a brief introduction to each ecosystem and challenged the students to design a business plan with a conservation focus. Students had to select an ecosystem, research the location, describe the flora and fauna, identify threats, and discuss the importance of the ecosystem to our South Florida community. Their conservation plan had to be concrete, feasible, and financially responsible.

Students began their research with the online resources I provided, including tourism and national park sources like https://www.turismo.gob.ec/ and https://stinapabonaire.org/ as well as news sources like the New York Times and CNN. However, as awareness took root in their minds, they expanded their research. Soon they were on their phones with national park services, local environmental groups, environmental lawyers, and even legislators. They wanted first-hand accounts of the need for environmental regulation and the manpower required to maintain these sites, and they even questioned local policies that allowed the development of ecologically sensitive areas.

My students discovered that the management of some of these sites was, to put it mildly, lacking. For example, students were furious over the destruction of 88 acres of Pine Rockland to build a Walmart, which made them want more information on whether this could be stopped if more attention had been given to this matter. And, like me, they wondered why we couldn’t protect these ecosystems the way the Galápagos and the Bonaire governments protect theirs.

Students brainstorm business plans that support conservation of local ecosystems. Photo by Emilia Odife

Adapting This Project for Your Students

Every state has an endangered ecosystem in need of action. The lesson plan can be easily modified to address these needs and encourage local action. Travel to Galápagos and Bonaire is not required since there is plenty of information online, including the STINAPA website for everything Bonaire as well as the Galapagos National Park and the Galápagos Conservancy sites.

You can also give it a twist by asking students about a natural area that they would like to visit. Any natural site can yield an investigation of which conservation efforts are present, what is and is not working, and why. Students may find it interesting to explore local residents’ perspectives on the sites and their interactions with it. They can research a UNESCO World Heritage Site for inspiration and apply what they learned about that site’s conservation to their local natural areas.  

For most of my students, this project was their first experience with environmental grassroots efforts, so they gained a lot of awareness of ecologically significant sites. They learned that conservation is easier said than done and that many factors can influence how a site is managed and/or conserved. Sadly, they also learned that when “money talks,” the intrinsic value of a natural resource can be easily overlooked. Therefore, for conservation efforts to work, the people around these ecosystems must be truly invested in their preservation, just like the naturalists from Galápagos.

The seeds of environmental conservation have grown in my students. We hosted a Youth Climate Summit where we met with like-minded students from around South Florida in an effort to empower each other and amplify our projects through collaboration. We are planning to host the iNaturalist City Challenge in the wetland restoration site we are working on, as well as continuing our participation in local coral restoration programs. You may find that this project inspires your students to continue the work of protecting local flora and fauna by planting native plants on your school’s property, cleaning up litter, or writing letters to local newspapers and government representatives. Our planet needs us, no matter how small our contribution.

Lindblad and NGS

Emilia Odife is a high school science teacher in Miami, Florida.

This post reflects a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow’s field-based experiences on a voyage with Lindblad Expeditions. The Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship is a professional development opportunity for pre-K–12 educators made possible by a partnership between  Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Education

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