We’ve got a case of wanderlust and we know you do too. Wanderlust- a word, a lifestyle, and a feeling that any traveler knows all too well.  For an experienced traveler it sets in almost instantly as you return home. It’s an overwhelming burning sense of desire to pack up your bags and travel at a moment’s notice. At times, it can feel as though you have an obligation to never let a place go unexplored. Each place you travel to, culture you embrace, and friendship you form is an invaluable experience that cultivates your outward lens.

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Padre Ramos, Nicaragua

 

Traveling unmistakably changes us, but the change we have on the places we visit often goes unnoticed. As our cultural experiences imprint on us, our actions are simultaneously leaving their mark. Travelers, the world’s natural born storytellers, broadcast their experiences professing how a location has changed them, but how have they changed that place? In a culture plagued by this phenomenon, individuals and organizations have set out to redefine how we travel.

This year, our Education team joined the conversation and designed an ecotourism program with a purpose. Ecotourism focuses on facilitating responsible travel experiences to natural areas, which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of the people. Serving the World’s Imperiled Marine Life (SWIM), was designed to be a travel experience that would be more than just a vacation. The program focuses on the promotion of responsible behaviors while interacting in areas of vital sea turtle habitat. SWIM provides an opportunity for our staff and partnering organizations to educate guests through leading by example.

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Stephanie A Smith Photography | SWIM participants worked with ICAPO biologists to restore vital sea turtle habitat in the mangrove estuaries. SWIM participants planted three-month old mangrove seedlings in areas throughout the estuary in need of restoration efforts.

Designed to incite action and not just increase awareness, Chief Conservation Officer Tommy Cutt worked with his team to select project sites where guests are able to work directly with local biologists in areas in need. SWIM trips are an opportunity for guests to immerse themselves in marine conservation efforts, while broadening their scope of local and global initiatives. “Our goal is to provide a global perspective on conservation issues facing sea turtles and oceanic environments. Guests are educated on local issues, then spend time working on projects to protect sea turtles and restore areas of critical habitat. We then educate them on how they can bring their experiences home and make a difference in their own community through small behavioral changes,” commented Cutt.

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Stephanie A. Smith Photography | ICAPO biologists work with local fishermen to capture hawksbill sea turtles from the Padre Ramos estuary to gain a better understanding of their foraging habitats. SWIM participants helped weigh, measure, tag, collect skin samples, and record data from each turtle captured.

All SWIM trips engage with conservation projects that are sustainable and science-based while benefiting local communities, both financially and culturally. For this reason, on our third SWIM eco-tour our team chose to travel to Padre Ramos, Nicaragua, to work with Initiativa Carey Del Pacifico Oriental (ICAPO) –  an international organization focused on the conservation of Hawksbill sea turtles in the eastern Pacific. ICAPO’s hawksbill conservation project provides employment and economic support to the community and is crucial for hawksbill conservation efforts. The Chinandega project, set in the Estero Padre Ramos Natural Reserve, is a prime conservation area hosting 40 percent of the known hawksbill nesting sites in the entire eastern Pacific.

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Stephanie A. Smith Photography | In an effort to protect hawksbill nests from poaching and other elements (feral animals and climatic events), ICAPO created an incentive program to encourage poachers to assist in conservation efforts. The local poachers are highly skilled at identifying and locating new nests. Once identified, they collect all of the eggs and bring them to ICAPO biologists. The eggs are then relocated to the hatchery where they are monitored around the clock until they hatch.

 

During this SWIM trip, guests worked alongside ICAPO biologists and community members to provide hands-on support for sea turtle research, habitat restoration, and education projects. Through these educational activities, guests not only gained memories, but valuable experience. SWIM guest Sara Alcaraz used her experience as an introduction to a life and career as a marine biologist and conservationist. Although the majority of guests chose to participate in SWIM as a vacation with a purpose, eco-tours can be used as a building block for a career in conservation.

Whether we travel the globe to build our resumes or for a vacation with a purpose, “wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe” (Anatole France). Poet Anatole France’s description of traveling, as it should be, in its purest form reminds us to seek, create, and embark on travel experiences that maintain and nourish harmony with the environment. In 2017, we will offer three more SWIM eco-tours as opportunities for our fellow jet-setter, vagabond and wanderlust souls to satisfy their inner explorer while serving our imperiled marine life. In an attempt to flourish our relationship with ICAPO, we will return to Padre Ramos, Nicaragua for two of the eco-tours, the third trip will be held in Maui, Hawaii. In true wanderer spirit, as we travel to these destinations we will encourage guests to fill their lives with adventures, not things and collect meaningful stories, instead of goods.

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SWIM participants worked with the local community to conduct a coastal clean-up in Padre Ramos. Bottle caps collected during the cleanup were then used to decorate the side of the storage shed.

Our planet’s heart beats blue, if yours’ does too come SWIM with us.