In 1989 Colin sold everything he owned, gave away the rest and traveled for nearly two years on an "around the world" adventure, visiting nearly 30 countries on a meager budget of $800. During this travel odyssey he lived with Australian aborigines, Tibetan monks, Iraqi farmers, Sikhs, Muslims and Buddhists, living fully immersed in many foreign cultures. He is the founder and leader of Global Classroom a nonprofit organization that brings high school students to remote parts of the world to donate time and materials to the native people and the much needed conservation work to help preserve the wildlife.
KELLY'S INTERVIEW WITH COLIN:
So at the moment, you have three main environmentalism focuses - Whales in Baja, Mexico, Snow Leopards in Siberia, and Jaguars in Costa Rica!
Cats are a major indicator species...meaning they have such a complex life cycle and pattern of feeding that when you have a healthy population of cats, you have a healthy forest and a healthy ecosystem because they are so high up on the chain. With the whales, I don't think it's as immediate...but it still holds true...if you have a healthy population of whales that are reproducing in healthy numbers it generally means there is some kind of a balance. Unfortunately with the whales there are only a handful of species that are making a robust comback. Many species are still threatened or in decline.
What happened? When did this decline start and who caused it?
(For the whales? yes)
I'm no expert but it's been proven that the whaling industry was DEVASTATING. For whale oil, less so for meat...there was a time when it was not unusual for 30-40 thousand whales to be slaughtered in one season. The whales would come to Baja, Mexico for two or three months to give birth and raise their young before returning back to the Arctic and that is the time in which the whaling industry would be most active in Baja, Mexico. And of course there was whaling going on around the world with as large an impact. In present day, even though whaling has declined dramatically, it does still have an impact. And of course, toxins - The other major factor is the amount of toxins contained within the blubber of these animals.
If a beluga whale dies of old age and washes up on the shore it can actually be considered hazardous because of the extraordinarily high levels of toxins within the blubber.
Where do the toxins come from?
Everything from PCBs to paper mills, fire retardants and other industrial wastes. All around the world. The third major hazard for whales is being struck by large ships. I heard there were three blue whales killed just in the last months in California by large ships. The northern right whales are so close to extinction their numbers are in the hundreds...they are still being struck and killed by ships off the east coast in North America.
What are you doing to help the whales?
The first thing I began doing, while I was still in high school...and I say this because I'm a firm believer that everything is connected. I stopped eating seafood and tuna especially. At that point it was because of the millions of dolphins being killed every year in the Tuna industry. And now I realize how linked everything is and if we overfish or kill excessive amounts of one thing it affects the entire ecosystem and that includes whales of course. That concern opened up the door to my interest in whales, ocean ecology what have you. Now I'm working so closely with whales down in Baja Mexico every year and witnessing the effect of propeller scars and I am hearing stories of whales with internal injuries suspected by a new high powered military sonar testing...There have been clusters of strandings and dead whales found in the proximity of these new high powered sonar tests off the west coast of America. There is just so much we do not know about some of the largest creatures that have ever lived on the planet. And to see them up close and personal to have this experience with a hundred and fifty ton animal...breaking the surface and gliding along ten feet from you with the grace and agility that they have is breathtaking and it will change your attitude right then and there.
And you cannot separate the whales and other marine life from the people who live immediately along the coastline that depend on the ocean for their subsistence and well being. This in turn brought me in close proximity to these remote villagers and I realized the value of introducing the High School students I'd been volunteering with for years to these families and letting these students experience what it is like to live day to day in a world where there is no electricity, no internet, no video games etc. For many years now hundreds of students have become "one of the family" and have been welcomed into the households and community. An intrinsic part of every trip that I lead is the integration of conservation, cultural awareness, and self empowerment. It was inevitable that my students would return home and many would contact me a month later with a sense of despair and concern for their adopted family and wanted to do something positive so we began collecting medical and school supplies, clothing and tools to deliver to these communities each year. To date we've delivered over 12 tons of supplies, built non-polluting composting toilets, repaired schools from hurricane damage, and in exchange, my students have learned to make goat cheese, read the ocean, many learning a second language, and being so inspired that they change their majors in college to reflect their new found interest and passion to make a difference in the world. Because conservation and tourism has become more widespread...fisherman who have poached turtles are now tour operators for whale watching and other activities that enable them to make a living with far less impact on the ecosystem. I firmly believe this is a critical component of all conservation efforts globally if the local community is going to lose their ability to feed their families with the creation of a new park or conservation area...they must feel empowered and take ownership or allowed ownership of these new conservation efforts and a way to generate an income to feed their families.
Down in Baja, Mexico where I spend most of my time with whales, I have been volunteering for a grassroots environmental organization called GEA (Grupos Ecologistas Antares).
What does GEA do?
GEA was founded by an incredibly dedicated Mexican named Fernando Arcas. His love for whales and all things ocean is so contagious that one cannot help but fall in love with these beautiful creatures. He is so passionate about educating local and visitors and protecting the creatures of the Sea of Cortez. Fernando has been an inspiration to many, including myself due to his persistence and ability to work with so little resources and make the best of what he does have access to. I'll never forget the day I arrived with two boxes of donated snorkels and masks and we handed them out to the local Mexican children whose fathers had been living and dying on the Sea of Cortez eking out a living as small-scale fisherman and they took their first plunge into the ocean to witness what lies below for the first time in their lives. The sounds and images of their eyes so huge behind those masks as they witnessed starfish and barracuda and turtles was so life-changing for me. Many of them have gone on to focus their studies on marine ecology and conservation because of something so simple as a donation of two boxes of snorkeling gear from a small company in Florida. We all have that power, that capability, to change people so deeply and it does not take...it doesn't always take thousands or millions of dollars. It takes a willingness to stop what we're doing, to look around us, or to break out onto some new adventure and be willing to share what we know and love with those who have not had that opportunity. A guiding principal of the Global Classroom is that we are inundated with information and I warn all of my students that this information is just that it is information. Learning firsthand and witnessing for oneself moves that information into an entirely new category called knowledge. That is a powerful thing.
See GLOBAL CLASSROOM - www.globalclassroom.net
The video below of new friend Kristin Hoffmann (www.kristinhoffmann.com)
was produced by Colin was mostly shot by him in Baja, Mexico.
Also check out - www.songfortheocean.com