AOTE – Ambassadors of the Environment Camp ~ What It Is and What It Means to Me

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*Web Designers note: there was a glitch in the posting application this week and the web tech had to post the blog internally. This Blog post was authored by Jane Watt. If we have guest blog post in the future, we will let you know. Until then all work is created and authored entirely by Jane Watt.

 

In less than two months, on June 15-19, 2015, Marco Island Academy (“MIA”) will host its second annual Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Ambassadors of the Environment Camp (“AOTE”). The MIA AOTE Summer Camp is the first joint venture between Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society and a charter school. Other AOTE programs are located in California, French Polynesia, Grand Cayman, St. Thomas, Hawaii, and Turks and Caicos. Many of the AOTE programs are affiliated with the Ritz-Carlton, or a cruise line.

 

Dr. Murphy, Director of Education for Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society, will return to Marco once again this year to lead the camp. A variety of hands-on learning activities provide students with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Students explore the mangroves on a kayak tour, visit the dolphins in their natural environment with the dolphin project crew, study local bird populations, tour local historical sites to learn about the Calusa Indians, visit Big Cypress including a behind the scenes tour, and design their very own sustainable community. Experts in every field assist with the camp.

 

Students have an opportunity to learn through field experiences, instead of the traditional classroom setting. The curriculum focuses on universal ecological principals that can be applied to all natural ecosystems. In addition, the lessons feature locally relevant topics specific to Marco Island, Big Cypress, the Ten Thousand Islands, and the Everglades.

 

Each day a different theme is introduced featuring:

 

  • Basic principles of ecology
  • Energy
  • Waste
  • Biodiversity
  • Ecological “jobs” of key species within ecosystems
  • Metaphors between human cities and natural ecosystems
  • Sustainability in nature and human communities
  • Environmental Conservation
  • Connections: person to person, creature to creature, land to sea, and present to future

 

The goal is to connect campers with nature with the hope they will gain a desire to protect it. Students become empowered to take action to promote sustainable living in their community. Ultimately they become Ambassadors of the Environment.

 

Last year, I personally became an Ambassador of the Environment. Although I was not a student in the camp, I had the great fortune to assist with the program. In fact, I worked directly alongside Dr. Murphy. My role was to handle the logistics of the program, and keep everything running smoothly. What I didn’t realize at the time is how much my life was about to change. To be honest, I am not particularly an outdoorsy type of girl. While I harbor an absolute love of science, especially biology, I do not enjoy the extreme conditions that are often associated with the great outdoors. To be more specific, I prefer to be in a mild climate without insects that bite or sting or wild animals in my personal space.

 

However, after a week of being immersed in the environment, I experienced a dramatic transformation. While I was exposed to some challenging life experiences, such as kayaking through the mangroves, ducking through the vines, balancing so I wouldn’t tip over, and wearing head to toe mosquito netting to walk through the swamp in 90’+ temperatures something truly remarkable occurred. Even though I didn’t locate a single fox squirrel in the swamp, instead I found something far more important. I actually took time to recognize the beauty that surrounded me. In my normal everyday rush I forget to admire the miracles of nature. The deeper lesson for me was to open my eyes to see the value in every organism, be it plant, animal or human. It was as if someone flipped a switch in my brain. Suddenly I felt hypersensitive to my surroundings. The colors of the blooming trees and flowers seemed more vibrant. The birds’ songs sounded like music, rather than a distraction. The afternoon rain no longer seemed like a nuisance. Instead it brought a sense of calm and peace to the day. I even discovered the purpose of mosquitoes and how they serve an important role in our ecosystem. Everything is connected. In fact, each decision I make today will affect someone or something else. I also realized that I needed to do a better job of taking care of the community where I live.

 

The last day of camp, I vowed to make some changes in my life to be a better steward of the environment. The most notable change was that I eliminated plastic bottles from my life. I purchased reusable, refillable water bottles and use them every day. As a family, we were drinking a minimum of 12 water bottles a day. Another change I have adopted is to turn off every TV or light switch when I leave the room. While these changes may not seem significant, over time, they can have a big impact on our environment.

 

The AOTE camp was an incredible life changing experience for me. I highly recommend it to anyone who might be interested. The camp registration is now open to students ages 14-18 and will run from June 15-19, 2015 from 8am-4pm, with one overnight. The cost is $700/camper.  Scholarships are available.

To learn more about the MIA AOTE program, please visit:

http://www.marcoislandacademy.com/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=234034&type=d&termREC_ID=&pREC_ID=454174

To learn about other AOTE programs, please visit:

http://www.oceanfutures.org/learning/ambassadors-environment.

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