By Robert Fanger, Hispanic Access Foundation
Located off the coast of Massachusetts, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary provides refuge for humpback whales that feed in the national marine sanctuary from April through December and migrate to lower latitudes in the Caribbean Sea, including the Dominican Republic, during the winter to mate and calve. To celebrate this geographic connection, Hispanic Access Foundation and Lawrence, Massachusetts-based Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal participated in a whale watching trip in the sanctuary during the 6th annual Latino Conservation Week last summer.
The whale watching event drew 84 church members and students from Lawrence Public Schools who learned about humpback whales and marine life, environmental career opportunities, and the protection and responsible use of marine resources. "We want our youth and families to have meaningful educational experiences in the outdoors, and seeing the natural world in such a powerful, up-close way certainly qualifies," says Pastor Victor Jarvis. "Not only does it change perspectives on the power and importance of nature, it encourages us all to embrace our moral obligation to preserve these treasures for those who will come after them."
In advance of the whale watch trip, students learned about whale migration, the intricate web of marine life in Cape Cod and Massachusetts bays, and the cultural and social connections between marine sanctuaries in the Eastern U.S. and the Caribbean. During the whale watch tour, students were asked to keep a sharp lookout for marine life, including whales, birds, basking sharks, ocean sunfish, jellyfish, sand lance, and sea turtles.
"Latinos are passionate about enjoying the outdoors and their stewardship of places like Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is essential to protecting it for future generations," says Maite Arce, president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation. "It's vital to introduce Latinos to new opportunities, new locations, and new ways to translate their passion for the outdoors into making a difference for our nation's treasured natural resources."
It was only natural that the event took place during Latino Conservation Week, a nationwide initiative launched by Hispanic Access Foundation in 2014 that helps create opportunities for Latinos across the country to demonstrate their passion for enjoying the outdoors and to cultivate their role as environmental stewards. More than 220 organizations, parks, and agencies celebrated Latino Conservation Week with more than 160 events across the country in 2019.
"We are pleased to collaborate with Hispanic Access to increase the engagement of the local Latino community in learning about whales and other marine life, to encourage students to think about potential environmental careers, and to support stewardship programs focused on protecting our treasured natural and cultural marine resources," says Anne Smrcina, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary's education and outreach coordinator.
Several of the participants on the whale watch were of Dominican Republic descent and many could recall seeing the whales off the coast of the Caribbean island when they were children. Even though they now call Lawrence their home, for these attendees the humpback whales are a distinct connection to their past, families and way of life.
"The ocean is deeply tied to many Latino families' community and cultura, that we can't imagine a world without healthy oceans," says Arce. "The sea was interconnected with our communities; we recreated in it, we ate the food it provided, and our livelihoods depended on it. The ocean is a part of who we are and an inseparable part of our cultura. And it's critical that we help to protect it."