All photos by participating teacher and photographer Sue Cullumber
30 of the top teachers in the US are making a trek from the Florida Everglades to the Galapagos Islands in order to engage a series of global conservation issues in the Toyota International Teacher Program. I'm traveling alongside the educators to report on the findings and experiences that unfold on the road to Galapagos.
Investigating the Everglades – Day 2
After an early morning breakfast, the group took off to the Everglades to engage in a rapid-fire study tour. The tour emphasized key conservation concepts that the teachers will further examine in the Galapagos. The educators' trip abroad is being prefaced with this brief study of one of our own imperiled ecosystems for good reason: the Everglades have a lot more in common with Galapagos than you might think.
First, the teachers heard a round of speeches, including a talk by Dan Kimball, the superintendent of the Everglades National Park, which focused on conservation and education efforts in Southern Florida. Subjects included the comprehensive Everglades restoration program (currently the world's largest ecosystem restoration), the Environmental Education Program (much of which is funded by grant money from Toyota), and the still-prevalent threats which endanger the Everglades.
Shared Threats of the Everglades and Galapagos
These continuing threats join the Everglades and Galapagos in a common bond—exactly the reason the Everglades Park was selected as a jumping-off point.
The primary threat to both is the rampant non-native species that have been introduced to the ecosystems. In the Everglades, the 482 non-native species that are wreaking havoc on the ecosystem include the Burmese Python, the Brazilian Pepper plant, the European Starling, and feral cats and dogs. The primary intruders in the Galapagos include avocado, Guava, goats, pigs, ants, cockroaches, in addition to wild dogs and cats.
Non-native species compete with the natives for food and resources, and crowd them out of their natural habitats. They infringe on the natural equilibrium, and often lead to species' endangerment and extinction. In the Everglades, they've been introduced as pets, as food sources, or as ornamentals for biological controls—in the Galapagos, many have been introduced as livestock as well.
Searching for Solutions
The Everglades has implemented a "Don't Let it Loose" education campaign in order to curb the introduction of non-natives, as outlined in one particularly lively talks given by the park rangers. The Burmese Pythons, first released into the wild as pets, are now notorious for attacking the native alligators. This engendered an impassioned debate between the teachers over whether it should be an ethical obligation to exterminate intrusive non-native predatory species. Pat Arndt, a science teacher in favor, said at one point, "At kindergarten, they need to start learning these lessons—nature isn't Disney."
After the talk, the teachers examined a sample curriculum intended to introduce 4-6th graders to the fragility of ecosystems, the complex links each species has to one another, and the care that must be taken to preserve each.All of which are useful ideas that'll no doubt be kept in mind for the study tour in Galapagos that's now merely days away.
Christopher Border, a science teacher from Alaska, said sometime afterward that he plans to look into integrating the concepts into his high school curriculum.
The Everglades Wet Walk
The fruitful day ended with a trek into the heart of the Everglades that landed us waist-deep in its swampy freshwater sloughs. Sediment swirled beneath our feet, sawgrass licked at our limbs, and a cypress dome loomed on the horizon. By the end of the excursion, the teachers got a firsthand immersion (literally) in the Everglades' signature ecosystem. Sopping wet and with swamp-stained clothes, we boarded the bus back to Miami.
Next up, the teachers will attend a lecture from Arturo Keller—a professor from UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science and Management—then it's off to Quito, Ecuador, where we'll be poised to make the final jump to the Galapagos.
To get filled in on the details of the teacher's international trek, start from the beginning: Teaching By Example: The Road to Galapagos