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Middle Schoolers Return from a Galápagos Adventure

Middle Schoolers Return from a Galápagos Adventure

As the end of the academic year came to a close, 20 Middle Schoolers, led by six KPS faculty, traveled more than 3,000 miles — via three separate flights, plus a ferry ride — for the adventure of a lifetime. For nine days, they crisscrossed the Galápagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, immersing themselves in a unique habitat and hands-on conservation efforts.

“We wanted to create a trip that would leave a lasting impact,” says Middle School Dean of Students Victoria Tong, a chaperone and one of the program’s designers. “We thought, what better way to empower girls, especially at this young age, than to enable them to interact so closely with wild- and marine life and understand the fragility of the islands’ ecosystem.” 

Partnering with Ecology Project International (EPI), which works with local research organizations, the students — adhering to strict visitor guidelines set by the Galápagos National Park — were officially registered as volunteers so they could roll up their sleeves and get to work. (And thanks to EPI’s no cell phone policy, students were fully engaged with the tasks at hand.) Accompanied by an EPI park ranger, they collected all sorts of data, all of which is used to support ongoing conservation efforts.

From walking alongside giant Galápagos tortoises and snorkeling over slumbering sharks to successfully wrestling open a coconut all by themselves, students experienced many magical moments, both grand and simple. Here’s a closer look: 

1. Giant tortoise monitoring on Santa Cruz Island
Led by a Galápagos registered park rangerpark ranger, students hiked through a rugged reserve in search of endangered giant tortoises. The two groups measured and weighed more than 10 in total, recording the data, and tagged them for future observation. Just before departing, they spotted the largest one yet, estimated to be at least 50 years old and more than 180kg.   

2. Microplastic surveying and sea turtle conservation 
Following a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station, also on Santa Cruz Island, where they learned about the sea turtle breeding program, students visited Tortuga Bay for a tutorial on the different types of microplastics that affect marine life. Sifting through the sand, they identified and categorized what they found and recorded their data.

3. Snorkeling at Tintoreras Islet on Isabela Island 
Over the course of three snorkeling outings, at three protected locations, students snorkeled next to white tip reef sharks, Galápagos penguins, sea lions, and the ever-present marine iguanas. “The wonderment and vast diversity of what we saw was breathtaking,” recalls chaperone and Middle School science teacher Maura Crowe.

4. El Esterito wetlands tour on Isabela Island
An open-air truck transported the group along the coastline of Isabela Island. When it stopped, they hiked the remaining distance to their ultimate destination: a remote estuary. Wading through the shallow, brackish waters, surrounded by mangroves, they saw dozens of bird species diving for food. “The instructor asked us all to pause to witness the sheer beauty for several minutes,” says Ms. Crowe. “One student, with tears in her eyes, said it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.”

The experience exceeded their own expectations, say Ms. Crowe and Ms. Tong, and students were equally enthralled; many expressed a desire to make changes in terms of their conservation efforts at home. 

“The Galápagos Islands trip was everything I’d dreamed of in nature since I was a young girl, and so much more that my brain has yet to process,” says Amelia Dobric ’28. “It was a lifetime of learning and experiences in a little more than 100 hours. Our guides and guest teachers explained the impact every action has on the world, but I also learned just by being outside in ecosystems unlike any others.”

“We definitely came to appreciate how fragile our entire ecosystem is. Next time Kent Place returns to the Galápagos, some of what we saw might not be there,” says Ms. Tong. “We learned that we all play a role in being able to protect and maintain the planet’s biodiversity.”