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Training the Next Generation of Scientists

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Each year a group of high school students goes to an international location to get a firsthand look at biodiversity and conservation. Bethany Fortune from our volunteer services department is here today to talk about this service-based volunteer program.

Every summer I get the opportunity to guide high school students through the Student Eco Ambassador program. This is a unique experience where they get to travel, volunteer, and learn all at the same time.

Last year we went to the rainforests of Ecuador, where the students became familiar with the conservation ecology of both land and ocean environments. They got exposure to field research methods, participated in community science projects, and even helped build a school.

One of our research projects was to observe natural wildlife via camera traps placed in the jungle. We were able to observe animals that were either shy to show themselves in the daytime or nocturnal like this frog. This was one of my favorite activities!

You might think that living near one of the world’s largest rivers means you have an endless supply of water to drink. However, industries like logging, mining, agriculture, and oil extraction have exposed the Amazon to a wide variety of pollutants. We spent some time monitoring the water quality and hearing from local residents about their ongoing fight to gain access to clean drinking water.

Part of the Student Eco Ambassador experience includes learning about potential careers in science. Zoos and aquariums are hubs of research and conservation, so we shadowed an aquarist for a day. We also fed turtles, rays, and sharks and explored how our Aquarium is helping to protect ocean animals.

This summer we’re going to Belize! During this trip, the students will survey manatees and sea turtles, snorkel marine reserves, learn about protected areas, and visit a green iguana conservation center, among other activities. The wildlife is quite stunning, and I can’t wait to explore this beautiful area with them.

Guiding future scientists on these exciting adventures is both fun and fulfilling for me. However, the biggest payoff is getting to play a part in turning these young folks into globally conscious citizens who are scientifically literate and stewards of the environment.

The Student Eco Ambassador program costs $3,990, which includes all travel expenses. Applications are currently closed for this summer session but there are plans for addition trips in the coming years. If you know a high school student who would like to go or are interested in making a donation to sponsor a student, please visit our page on the Aquarium website or call us at (562) 590-3100.