‘Protect the fins and the ocean wins’ is a catchy title for a campaign and one that rings true for environmental educator Daniela Vilema and senior ecologist Pelayo Salinas de León of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) in the Galápagos Islands. Bad publicity plagues shark conservation efforts in the region, where misconceptions mean that fear triumphs over facts. This happens even though sharks are integral to life in the Galápagos: during its lifetime, a shark in the region generates US$5-million from ecotourism. Two of the islands, Darwin and Wolf, host the largest shark biomass on the planet.
To highlight the connections between humans and sharks, the CDF, with sponsorship from the Save Our Seas Foundation and Lindblad Expeditions, launched an environmental education campaign in July. At its heart was the message that ‘sharks need the Galápagos and the Galápagos needs sharks’. Workshops geared to children between the ages of nine and 12 were hosted at schools on the islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Isabela and Floreana. Central to the campaign was the understanding that to engage children workshops need to be fun and creative. Enter Guillo the hammerhead shark and Ramona the whale shark, two of the five iconic shark species that were used as cartoon ‘ambassadors’; they certainly made winning guides into the world of sharks. Virtual-reality glasses gave children an immersive experience of underwater Galápagos, while a story-writing and drawing contest focused on sharks and the Galápagos. The prize for the young winners? A snorkelling field trip with the CDF team and famous free divers like Guillaume Nery and Ocean Ramsey.
The foundation also hosted a festival for the local community, with outreach activities across the age divides. Based on its success, the CDF hopes to make events like this one a more regular feature in future.