December 23, 2003
'Perspectives - My Experience as an Odyssey Educator'
Real Audio Report
This is Sara Earhart speaking to you from the Odyssey in Mauritius. Six weeks ago I joined the crew of the Odyssey to work as an environmental educator. Unfortunately, today I am returning to my life in California.
I first visited the Odyssey several years ago when she was docked at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, California. I remember being enthralled by the idea of traveling the seas on a beautiful boat studying whales. I loved the concept of looking at whales as an indicator species for the health of the oceans. However, there was just one obstacle - I had started my first year at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC). I thought my luck was out since it would take four years to finish a degree in Environmental Studies,
while the Voyage of the Odyssey was scheduled to last three. My only option was to live vicariously through those who were lucky enough to be onboard. I followed the Odyssey website for two years, hearing about all the
incredible experiences of the crew and their life at sea. Bowriding humpback whales, hammerhead sharks, isolated atolls with brilliant coral reefs, and large groups of socializing sperm whales - I wanted to be a part of it all.
Fortunately, I had the chance to visit Odyssey in Galapagos and Seychelles. Both trips only lasted two weeks and I was never officially a member of the crew. However, these were experiences of a lifetime. In Galapagos, I saw the islands that Charles Darwin described so thoroughly during the now famous 'Voyage of the Beagle'. In the Seychelles, I jumped off a rubber dinghy a mile offshore to swim with a 30 foot whale shark. Although those experiences were amazing, I still dreamt of working with the crew to collect data and educate school children about the marine environment.
Two years into the voyage, I received news that could make my dreams a reality. Ocean Alliance decided to extend the length of the Voyage from three to five years. I approached Dr. Roger Payne and Iain Kerr to ask if I could join the crew and work with the Education Team. Luckily, my past persistence paid off Ð and I was offered a position as one of their environmental educators upon completion of my last year at UCSC.
On a tour for schoolchildren, Sara explains how the crew find and track sperm whales on the bridge of the Odyssey using special computer software.
Photo : Chris Johnson
I have always thought that environmental education is one of the most important aspects of conservation. The opportunity to talk to people from around the world about my passion for the environment and about problems that the marine world and its inhabitants are facing was something that I could accomplish working for Ocean Alliance.
So, almost one year later, I arrived in Mauritius to finally become an official Odyssey crewmember.
It is great to work with the education program on the Odyssey. While in Mauritius, I participated in several school talks, the Ministry of Fisheries and the US Embassy. I assisted in giving tours of the boat to local conservation groups, the US and Australian Ambassadors, local media, and most importantly local schoolchildren of all ages and backgrounds. I observed meetings between government officials and the Media and Education programs. I have been a part of the entire process of creating a website story or log, starting with brainstorming for ideas, researching, and visiting sites to collect video and photographic footage, to typing and then recording a log for release onto the website. For the first time, I felt like what I was doing was making a difference.
My time on the Odyssey has been priceless. I had so many adventures and learned so much. I talked with children and shared my knowledge about whales and marine conservation. I saw the faces of children light up with joy as they see images of whales living in their waters for the first time. Alternatively, I witnessed the disappointment and dismay as they viewed footage of whaling and animals entangled in plastic fishing gear. Most importantly, I saw a spark lit in some children that will hopefully, one day turn into a passion for the environment.
It has been such a pleasant surprise to see how many people in Mauritius are interested in the work that we do and about the threats facing whales and the oceans. While in Mauritius, my goal was to give people as much information about the oceans as possible so that they can draw their own conclusions about the environment.
Not only was this a chance for me to share my knowledge, but also it allowed me to experience the reality of my dream. For example, I spent time with a group of people who all share my passion for the environment, while learning the trials and tribulations of working with a close knit group of individuals trying to make a difference to the wild world.
Although many people would consider sailing around the tropics studying whales a luxurious job, there have been many challenges. It isn't easy waking up for a 3am watch when your boss has been snoring loudly in the next cabin for the last two hours. It isn't easy trying to cook a meal for ten people when the boat is rocking violently back and forth and you have to watch the pots on the stove to make sure they don't fly off. These challenges and more have tested my patience and mental and physical limits, which has ultimately taught me so much about myself.
I am now more committed than ever and will take what I have learnt aboard the Odyssey with me in the hope to continue to educate our children about the threats that face our environment.
Log written by Sara Earhart.