Put the Human Race in your Eco Tourism

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      I was halfway through a research trip in Honduras when I got a request for an article from a North American “green” magazine. With less than two weeks for a deadline and already over my head in research, I gave them what I thought was the most important work on my trip, and not surprisingly they didn't print it.                   I knew they were approaching an international sustainable environment ecologist hoping I’d write something groundbreaking on biodynamics permaculture, organic gardening, or possibly share my solutions to the world's environment problems. I thought I did, it's the people..
Working in the sustainable environment field for 25 years, I have long realized that the human race is the number one dominant and determining factor in the sustainability of the world’s ecologies. As an Ecologist studying the relationships between organisms within ecologies, it has become clear that humans are rapidly losing their connection with the environment.  This perpetuates the decline in the sustainability of environments and with that the ability to naturally form a relationship with a healthy environment because it simply doesn’t exist. I find myself focusing more and more on the human element in my environment research.
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      In May I went on assignment to Utila, one of the Bay Islands of Honduras, as part of my ongoing ecology-economy research.  As you would imagine there was a lot of standard environmental itinerary. I rode a dirt bike into a mangrove jungle to visit the Kanahau Research and Conservation facility, to discuss their projects, and they showed me pirate rum bottles found in Robinson Crusoe’s cave. I had just  hiked to, climb up in, and explored Nicaraguan bats with their newborns in this cave before I met with them. I also spent time at the Utila Iguana Conservation Project which focuses on the endangered swamp iguana only found on Utila island. And yes, at a dinner with friends I was offered iguana by a local with a delicacy, eggs included, to which I politely replied, “ no thank you”,  as the uninformed tourist across from me ate some legs and eggs thinking they were being aventurous. With the Whale Shark & Oceanic Research Center I discussed the marine and reef biology I’d seen scuba diving. Unfortunately, due to the stresses of overpopulation, unmitigated wastewater, plastics and trash pollution, combined with coral bleaching associated with global warming, the future of the Caribbean reef and marine life does not look promising. Additionally, I checked in with the Bay Islands Conservation Association to learn about their plastic reduction and wildlife protection campaigns.
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     Also on the itinerary, and not an obvious stop for an ecologist, was the Utila Children’s Foundation who, in recent years, has built and run a library at the public school. I brought with me six backpacks filled with school supplies, a water bottle, UV sunglasses, toothbrushes and paste, a ball, and a healthy snack.  I sponsored a spelling bee at the school and the winners received these backpacks. The children on this island typically drop out of school after the 6th grade. These packs were to encourage the children to attend and remain in school on the understanding that a good education is often the way out of social environmental oppression, leading them to be more environmentally conscious and responsible.  With this in mind, again with the help of UCF library volunteer Hannah Claire I gave the school administration a football, 2 baseballs, an outdoor basketball, and 2 new Adidas soccer balls This was not only to support healthy outdoor activities but again to entice the children’s interest in school and attendance. The administration liked this approach so much that they decided to allow some of the soccer teams of the students to use the balls in their games held at the island field where the entire community could see them.                                                                                                                                                                                    .
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      Hannah Claire from UCF told me that when they have the funding , in conjunction with a local church organization, go into Camponado, the poorest island neighborhood, and bring food and supplies to the children. When my traveling companion, Jacquie, and I got word of this we quickly formed a plan and went to social media for funding. Jacquelyn Dupras ran a Honduran children’s nonprofit, “Friends of Good Samaritan”, for years and is no stranger to this concept.  So within 24 hours we had raised $1,400 from friends and family and arranged to feed 200 children,*on two occations. Additionally, we shopped at nearly all the stores on the island, creating 70 school supply bags that included toothbrushes and paste, feminine hygiene and baby bags, 50 food bags that included a pound of rice, flour, sugar, salt, lard and matches, four cases of Nature Valley granola bars, two bags of soap and a couple of boxes full of random school supplies, toothbrushes and paste, and toys. There was enough for everyone to get something, and some families got some of everything. As promised, a few hundred hungry kids and some parents showed up for dinner. After dinner and a little baseball, before the children could receive their bags and gifts, they had to clean up the trash in and around the park.  It’s hard to describe how needed and appreciated by the community this dinner and the donation of supplies were..
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Another seemingly small, but  just as impactful item I bring with me when I travel is a dozen pairs of  Dollar Store reading eyeglasses. I gave some in different prescriptions to the library for a primitive way to screen children who may need glasses.  I recently shared this story with an optometrist who had experience with international eyeglass donations. He loved this idea for how easy, inexpensive , and impacting it was; and said he would start doing the same thing when he traveled. We talked of how you can tell when someone is straining to look at something. I shared the story of another pair I gave away on the island to an elderly Mayan woman named Marta, a traditional weaver, who you could tell was losing her sight, and with that her ability to weave.  Although her four daughters make more modern items like zippered purses, Marta will be the last in her family to use the traditional waist-tied weave from hand-dyed yarn. This is an example of sustainable social and cultural impact, all for the price of a dollar.
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      A great takeaway from this experience is that you don’t have to be a director of a nonprofit or an ecologist to make positive, international, sustainable social and environment impacts. With a little research before you go, and some on the ground when you get there, you can simply add these social elements to your travels, workshops, and ecotourism. Chances are your friends and family at home would love to be a part of it too, and I promise you it will be rewarding to all involved in cultivating social and environmental sustainability.
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   Ecologist Boyd Smith  has been involved with more than forty environment community, and education Non-Profit organizations.
Contact ecogardening@hotmail.com for more information on Honduras Bay Islands ecology, or any other sustainable  environment issues.
      *Hannah Claire with Children of Utila Contacted us on July 5th thanking us, and confirming feeding the children again with our funding. *Photo above
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