By Elisa Cassiani
As a 17-year-old living in Napa, CA, my experience with the natural world was pretty conventional – dogs, cats, deer, squirrels. Although I have traveled to beautiful destinations in the past, they were generally established civilizations where wildlife wasn’t at the forefront. When my mom told me that I might be able to accompany her on an expedition to the Galápagos, I lunged at the opportunity. The trip was only a week away, but we managed to pull it together and get me ready for the experience of a lifetime.
Within the first hour of arriving, I got my first glimpse into the Galápagos, which is a Mission Blue Hope Spot. My mom works for Mission Blue, Dr. Sylvia Earle’s foundation which focuses on protecting Hope Spots. Hope Spots are unique places in the ocean that merit protection. As we were getting ready to board the boat, we saw two little Galapagos sea lions (Zalophus wollebaeki) napping underneath the docks, completely unfazed by the dozens of people around them. Two Marine iguanas were sprawled on the rocks right next to them, so perfectly camouflaged I almost missed them. The weather was perfect and the water was a beautiful shade of crystal blue; I could already tell it was going to be amazing. The landscape throughout the islands was dry and desert-like, but captivating nevertheless. The boats that the expedition were utilizing were called the M/Y PASSION and the Undersea Hunter Group’s M/V Argo.
Throughout the seven days, we did A LOT. Every day was packed with amazing views and a new adventure. We went hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, and sightseeing several times a day, but it never got boring because every experience was so unique. The sights ranged from beautiful seascapes to sea lions playing in the water to dozens of birds soaring through the sky. We saw torpedo-like penguins, elegant sea turtles, adorable seal pups (admittedly my favorite) and countless species of endemic birds.
And the learning experience was better than any classroom I have ever been in. Our guide was an expert on everything Galápagos-related and was generous sharing his knowledge and answering all of our questions. I learned a lot about the risks the ocean faces, including overfishing, and the various ways big businesses impact the environment. This led me to question my future goals and find ways of incorporating conservation in my career.
One of the reasons this trip was so inspiring was because of the people on board. During the week, we had ocean enthusiasts, scientists, and business people all talking about the most urgent ocean issues facing us today. Everyone was so enthusiastic and focused on helping the oceans; it encouraged me to want to do the same. I gained a ton of knowledge just from listening to these different guests. One of the scientists onboard, Sandra Bessudo, was especially unique and I loved hearing her tell stories of her work. She is a shark scientist working in Malpelo, Colombia, and she is fearless, headstrong, and brilliant. She told stories of jumping onboard illegal fishing boats to confront them – on her own – and discovering species of sharks that had never been seen before. I listened to her in awe and couldn’t help but want to be like her. I felt motivated to fight for the ocean’s wellbeing, no matter the challenge.
This trip was one that had a significant influence on the path I want to pursue. I had always wanted to help the ocean and the environment, but after seeing it all in its purest form, I was even more motivated than ever. On top of that, hearing everyone’s ideas on protecting the ocean helped to get the ball rolling in my own head. These islands taught me so much about the natural world, and myself, and for that I am grateful. I hope that one day I can return and that when I do, it is just as pure and untouched (if not more so) as it was the week I spent there.
About Dr. Sylvia Earle
Sylvia Earle is President and Chairman of Mission Blue. She is also a National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence and is called Her Deepness by the New Yorker and the New York Times, Living Legend by the Library of Congress, and first Hero for the Planet by Time Magazine. The story of Mission Blue and of Dr. Earle’s life journey can be seen on Netflix, in the documentary ‘Mission Blue.’ At this important time in history, she has inspired thousands, if not millions to play their part to save our Blue Planet.
About Mission Blue and Hope Spots
Hope Spots are special places that are critical to the health of the ocean. Hope Spots are about recognizing, empowering and supporting individuals and communities around the world in their efforts to protect the ocean. Dr. Sylvia Earle introduced the concept in her 2009 TED talk and since then the idea has inspired the establishment of 123 Hope Spots across the planet. Some are large, some are small, but they all provide hope!