By María Hernández Carapia, Ocean Connectors Binational Programs Coordinator
To achieve the Ocean Connectors mission, we educate students about the importance of protecting migratory marine species not only in the U.S., but also over 1,000 miles away in the state of Nayarit, Mexico. Nayarit is one of the less populated states in Mexico, and it is one of the lowest ranking states in educational achievement. Because of its location on the Pacific coast, it represents one of the biggest biodiversity hotspots in all of Mexico. Due to its incredible scenic beauty, the tourism industry in Nayarit is growing exponentially. As a result, local communities are facing increasing pressure from coastal development and habitat loss.
Sadly, the public education system in Mexico does not prioritize conservation or environmental education. Even when many of these families have lived for generations in close contact with nature, their awareness for protecting their surroundings and wildlife is still very low.
For example, in Nayarit many people grow crops to feed their livestock. After each harvest, they use the “roza” method to clear their land, which involves burning the vegetation to the ground. Cattle are everywhere and erosion is a major issue. Garbage collection is still relatively new in this area, so unfortunately many people are in the habit of burning their garbage or disposing of it in creeks.
The Ocean Connectors programs are delivered to children in Nayarit who live in communities that are geographically important for conservation, but have little opportunities to learn about marine science and conservation. In Mexico, these subjects aren’t available until college level and in Nayarit, the percentage of students that reach college is extremely low.
To help bridge this gap, Ocean Connectors works in 15 small villages along the southern coast of the state of Nayarit. Each of these villages are unique. Sayulita, for example, is a very busy tourist destination. Its elementary school has around 500 kids, with two groups in each grade. In contrast, Las Lomas’ community is a tiny town with a total population of only 187. Their little school has just one classroom and the 23 students from 1st to 6th grade share the same teacher and space. During the 2019-2020 school year, our programs reached nearly 2,000 students across all of these villages.
Ocean Connectors started working in Nayarit in 2012 and our programs in Mexico have been growing every year since. We are making a significant impact in the communities here, by inspiring local youth to become future environmental stewards.