By Noelle H. Lowery
The first-ever Ambassadors of the Environment Camp in Florida was a rousing success for the joint partnership between Marco Island Academy and Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society.
It was a journey that began five years ago when MIA Founder and Chair Jane Watt discovered the Ambassadors of the Environment Program through the Ocean Futures Society and its director, Dr. Richard Murphy. Currently, the active, hands-on outdoor education program has locations in California, French Polynesia, Grand Cayman, St. Thomas, Hawaii, and Turks and Caicos. Many of the programs are affiliated with the Ritz-Carlton or a cruise line.
The program is based on four fundamental principles of ecology, demonstrating how natural systems function and why a diversity of species is vital to maintaining healthy ecosystems. From these insights, students extract lessons from nature that are applicable to human communities, and with these lessons, they can ask how human communities (ecosystems) function and explore similarities and differences.
From there, the focus is on sustainability and the search for alternatives to present systems and trajectories that are more sustainable. Empowerment, inspiration and motivation are an important part of the program as well.
Some 25 students participated in the week-long camp on Marco Island, which covered the following four topics:
• Everything Runs On Energy
• Nature Recycles Everything
• Biodiversity is Good
• Everything is Connected
The week was packed with activities designed to turn Southwest Florida’s natural environment into one huge science lab. Students kayaked through the waters around Marco, explored Tigertail Beach, studied the resident dolphin population on the Dolphin Express, toured Rookery Bay, participated in the island’s various archeological digs, and visited Big Cypress National Preserve and its various habitats and lakes. Each day ended with a trip back to MIA for lab work and journaling.
The pinnacle of the week was the construction of a compost bin at MIA and discussion and activities focused on the importance of sustainability in everyday life. Students learned from a botanist, marine biologist, ornithologist, archeologist, hydrologist, architect and other experts in various fields focused on the Southwest Florida environment.
Camper Olivia Watt, who will attend MIA in the fall, summed up the general consensus opinion of the program: “The Ambassadors of the Environment Camp will be a memory I hold with me forever. It was beyond an amazing opportunity where we spent almost all of our time not in a classroom, but outdoors where we could experience things firsthand. This camp made learning a pleasure instead of a chore.
“I know so much more about the Island I call home, whether it’s our history, what animals inhabit the waters, or how to incorporate green building,” she added. “Most importantly, I learned that everything is connected. I’ll never forget the week I spent in the Ambassadors Camp and the friendships I made along the way.”