Ecology Project International is a nonprofit, educational organization like no other. Their mission is to improve and inspire science education and conservation efforts worldwide through field-based student-scientist partnerships. They empower youth to take an active role in conservation.
In the 1990s, our co-founders Scott Pankratz and Julie Osborn were an educator and a scientist working and studying in Costa Rica. Both recognized that, in spite of federal protection and conservation science happening in the area, many critical habitats and species continued to decline. Sea turtle eggs were sold at local markets and piles of trash washed up on the beach during rainstorms.
Scott and Julie realized that unless locals valued and protected wildlife and the critical habitats in their own backyards, conservation efforts would ultimately fail. They also recognized that people can’t value what they don’t understand. In short, they needed a way to involve locals in the work of conservation.
In 2000, they launched the first EPI program in Costa Rica – four local courses for Costa Rican students and teachers. Many of the students lived within five miles of the project site and had eaten sea turtle eggs, yet none had ever seen a live sea turtle. For just a few precious days, they worked with researchers at Pacuare Nature Reserve to measure turtles, tag them, count their eggs, and sometimes move the eggs to a safer location to avoid predation. Meanwhile, Scott’s thesis at the University of Montana documented the implementation and analysis of the program. EPI students learned both how to collect data and how the data would be used by researchers to monitor the local sea turtle population. For the students, it was an entirely new way of looking at their own backyards.
That first year of EPI brought 61 local Costa Rican teens and teachers up close and personal with the biodiversity and ecological importance of their homeland. Empowered to make a difference, this growing number of conservation-minded teens began to work in their own communities to protect their wildlife resources, and the tide began to turn.
Ecology Project International Mission
Through dedication to their mission, they havr grown to five countries and become a leader in conservation education, connecting students with scientists on active research projects in the world’s most important ecological hotspots. In the time since that first course, more than 35,000 students have joined them in the field, and their impact is profound. At their program site in Costa Rica, the predation rate of nesting sites has dropped from 98% in 2000 to less than 1% today – thanks in large part to our students and their incredible partners at Pacuare Nature Reserve.
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