Richard Murphy is a marine biologist who has traveled all over the world with Jacques Cousteau and his son, Jean-Michel, exploring, helping to organize filming expeditions, and doing research. He works for Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society as a writer, scientist, photographer, and educator.

Monday, 29 Oct 2001


I began this week in a particularly good mood. I spent the weekend on Catalina Island, where Ocean Futures conducts its Ambassadors of the Environment program, and had a great night dive. While on the ocean floor getting used to a new video camera, I discovered an angel shark resting on the sand. It was sort of flat, like a ray, and it just sat there, camouflaged on the floor, waiting for a meal to swim by. I was approaching slowly, adjusting my lights to the subject, when all of a sudden a sable fish swam by. Right before my eyes, the angel shark arched up, lunged forward and engulfed the sable fish. And I got the sequence on camera. I don’t know whether the sable fish or I was more surprised … but I know I was definitely luckier.

So with a bit of ocean under my belt, I’m ready to get back to what we call reality and do some work. I spent today writing a description of a new Ambassadors of the Environment Program, this one to be held in Kona, Hawaii. The Catalina program has gone well, and with the launching of the Kona program, we’ll adapt the curriculum of a kelp bed ecosystem to a coral reef ecosystem.

Ambassadors of the Environment student exploring the kelp bed on Catalina Island.

Photo: Ocean Futures Society.

Ambassadors of the Environment is Ocean Future’s attempt to help the next generation not only appreciate the value of the great outdoors but also learn important lessons from nature about living sustainably. The Hawaii version of the program will use experiential education with frequent excursions into the marine and terrestrial environments to address these issues.

Students in the Hawaii program will be introduced to the natural wonders of Kona’s marine and coastal environments through slide shows, diving excursions, and discussions. The discussions will focus on biodiversity, the unique characteristics of the region, human impact, and resource management. Students will participate in long-term monitoring and restoration programs, to be created in conjunction with local groups already involved in such projects.

In addition, participants will be shown important principles of biological and ecological sciences and how they relate to ecosystem sustainability. Students will be challenged to compare how a marine community functions to how their own human communities operate, exploring which is more sustainable and why. Sustainable characteristics of human communities will be demonstrated and experienced in the camp’s solar collectors, solar still, composting toilets, recycling programs, gardens, integrated systems, and efficiency programs.

Infused into the weeklong process will be opportunities for students to learn more about themselves and others through positive risk-taking. Students will be presented with personal and group challenges ranging from rock climbing and hiking to problem-solving sessions that stress interconnections. Students will also be given a real world simulation exercise in which they will have to reconcile a hypothetical development in terms of economic and environmental sustainability.

An important theme running through the entire program will be “Everything is Connected.” Activities and discussions will focus on the fact that the land and sea are connected, that humans are connected to nature, that people are connected to other people and that the present is connected to the future.

By providing an adventurous learning environment, we aim to create maximum opportunities for social, emotional, and academic growth. Students will be encouraged to share their new skills and knowledge when they return home. All participants will receive guidance and resources to help empower them as Ambassadors of the Environment and participate in the search for sustainability.

So how does it sound? To me, it sounds like fun — and also like a decent first draft for the program description. That means I can check my email, return some phone messages, and call it a day. I think I’ll go mountain biking in the redwoods where I live before the sun sets; hope you have a nice evening, too.