By Zach Birmingham, Senior Environmental Specialist at the Port of San Diego and Ocean Connectors Advisory Board Member
Inspired from a presentation during LEAD San Diego’s 2015 Impact Program by Ocean Connectors founder Frances Kinney, I sought to introduce myself, and see what help I could lend. In the whirlwind that followed I worked with colleagues in the program to write a strategic plan for the organization, and ultimately accepted an invitation for Advisory Board service shortly after graduating from LEAD. I’ve put in quite a bit of work since, and find myself getting asked by friends and family what inspired me. I’ve heard it summed up best by fellow Advisory Board member Brian Clapper: “It’s about those kids.”
The ability to pay a gift forward that was given to me is humbling. The ocean has been everything to me since I was big enough to know what it was: home, career and playground. The chance to pass that on to a generation of kids who may not get exposed to it otherwise, is an opportunity worth working for. That work has benefited me as well. This past year I have been stretched farther than I would have otherwise, and gotten the chance to see big ideas take shape.
As part of the strategic plan, I worked with Frances on developing a new growth opportunity for the organization in the form of Eco Tours. Building on a common interest for adventure and nature, I helped her to put structure around her vision to fund the free programs we offer to the kids, by providing similar experiences to adults and families. We ran our first Eco Tour in July, which inspired smiling faces and new friendships. It was a chance to draw on the business acumen that I learned over my career, and transform my experience working as a captain running charters on commercial passenger boats and private yachts to do some good for the world.
Along with the meetings, the research and the planning, more opportunities arose. Since last July, I have visited Nayarit, Mexico to learn about the Mexican side of the operation; culminating in a nearly 1,300 mile voyage by van with Frances and her trusty companion Dexter.
It’s a journey I will take again in a couple short months, and one I am very much looking forward to. Along the way, I was able to grasp the importance of the Ocean Connectors knowledge exchange, experiencing both the separation, and the common ground that is found by children on two sides of the border livingvery different lives yet inspiring each other through discovery. This pursuit has kept me connected to the ocean as well. This past year I have been able to chase whales, hang out with turtles, and learn about birds while meeting some amazing and inspiring people.
I’ve become an Ocean Connector. What that means to me is that I am a stronger member of my community, a more active global citizen and a more aware advocate for the natural world.