About Nature Now
Hi and thank you for your interest in Nature Now International (NNI)! We are five siblings -- Daviana, Danielle, Khiara, David and Julian Berkowitz-Sklar -- and we started NNI in 2011.
We wanted to bring experiential learning in ecology and conservation to students in Costa Rica to raise awareness about the country’s incredible biodiversity and the threats to its flora and fauna. Working in the rainforests, oceans, and beaches, NNI members and program participants learned firsthand that economic development was not always in harmony with the environment.
Hands on fieldwork with wildlife and applying scientific methods helps us build research and technical skills. Working with sea turtles, coral reefs, bees, monkeys and other wildlife helps us develop an understanding of the delicate balance needed between conservation and development.
Co-founders of NNI in 2012: Danielle, Daviana, Khiara, Julian and David
During our decade of growing up in Costa Rica, one endangered reptile in particular caught our attention: the enormous but graceful sea turtle. We organized more than 20 field projects for numerous turtle species on both the Caribbean and Pacific Coasts.
NNI teaches students the rudiments of turtle biology and the life cycle of the species, highlights the threats to survival of the species, and explains the particular nuances of each project before students go out in the field. Renowned and experienced naturalists and biologists, some who have worked for years on the nesting beaches, help the new students to mark and monitor nests, analyze the tracks, collect and analyze biometric data, tag, conduct excavations of nests, relocate eggs to a hatchery and release the hatchlings.
What better way to learn about biology, behavior, and extinction threats than by working directly on the nesting beach with the marine turtle and, sadly, spotting a lesion from a fishing line? What better way to learn about illegal poaching than to talk to poachers to understand the motivations and frustrations that led to their illegal activity?
Classroom education and fieldwork combine to challenge students to improve their research, analytical, technical and communications skills. Most importantly, students help in collecting and recording information which helps builds data banks for scientists to understand the biology, behavior and population trends of the turtles. Using the same data, conservationists advocate evidence-based interventions and recommend policies to local and national governments to protect these endangered species.
Working on the nesting beaches, flanked by the ocean and rainforests, participants gain a “full picture” of the interdependence of ecosystems. They can better appreciate how:
- coral reefs act as natural barriers to the waves to prevent beach erosion
- rainforest trees help to prevent water runoff from contaminating the oceans
- mangroves reduce carbon dioxide (CO2), a significant greenhouse gas
Adolescents and young adults in NNI programs contribute to the health of an ecosystem that supports the marine turtles and the overall bio-diversity of the ocean, land and atmosphere. When they excavate nests and make new ones in the hatchery to protect eggs, students discover how global warming will directly affect the marine turtle, whose gender is determined by the temperature and position of the embryos. With increased temperatures, there will be more female turtles, reducing genetic diversity!
At the end of night patrols that seem to merge into morning beach duties, students converse with families and leaders of the local communities in Costa Rica. As Miss Junie rocks on her porch, tales of her experiences as a little girl from the first pioneer family in this corner of the Caribbean gives visiting NNI students a real-life history and cultural lesson of community-based conservation efforts. Committed to the longtime protection of the sea turtle and now housing eco- volunteers in her cabins, she shows students how she protects the turtle which at the same time serves as a valuable economic resource for her grandchildren.
After collaborating with wildlife experts from the government, NGO’s, universities, and private sustainable hotels for many years, the NNI co -founders were selected to be the first International Ambassadors to the Sea Turtle Network in the Osa Conservation Area of Costa Rica. To standardize and centralize the data collected by the various monitoring programs in the region for the development of evidence-based interventions and policy, they traveled on the back of trucks and hiked to remote centers to evaluate their protocols, methodologies, and the quality of data.
In Costa Rica and the United States, NNI spends significant time with outreach in elementary, middle and high schools, churches, aquariums and businesses. We aim to raise awareness of the threats to marine and terrestrial species, and of ways in which students can act to find solutions. Curriculum development with interactive activities allows NNI members to bring oceans and rainforests to students who might not otherwise have this access to nature. Sloths join us via Skype from Kids Saving the Rainforest’s wildlife sanctuary and injured turtles from the Georgia Sea Turtle center. This allows young students to learn about external adaptations, habitats, extinction threats and rehabilitation medicine.
NNI is working diligently to engage students from different backgrounds, interests and skill sets to participate in lab and fieldwork, education, photography, journalism, media and performing arts, and other activities to support conservation efforts. By integrating diverse groups, we are better able to pool talents and energies across different perspectives for a holistic experience.
As solving environmental challenges requires not only addressing scientific issues, but also considering political, social, cultural, logistical and ethical fctaors, NNI imbues the next generation of conservationists with a spirit for teamwork across disciplines to take action now to protect our vulnerable ecosystems with the hope that this generation of youth will support the development of a more sustainable world regardless of specific academic and career choices.
Every aspect of Nature Now International, from marketing, initiating and implementing all activities, forming partners, creating collaborations, marketing, fundraising and even the development of this website is done by students on a grassroots level. There was no seed money that got us going. It took years of work and commitment and passion.
We believe that NNI sets an example for other students around the world who may not always have the resources to do something meaningful for conservation. Even in an urban school with few resources and without direct contact with nature, students can come up with clever, creative activities to raise awareness and to raise funds for real conservation activities.
The mission of NNI became possible only with years of incredible, generous support from a multitude of mentors throughout Costa Rica, the United States and other countries, who donated their expertise and time. There is a long list of ecologists, veterinarians, and social scientists, from Costa Rica to North Carolina to Haifa, Israel, who discussed concepts and articles on Skype with the co-founders during their formative years in Latin America. The Ministry of the Environment of Costa Rica, universities, numerous NGO’s, wildlife reserves and businesses have enthusiastically supported our programs.
Exciting projects for 2017 include:
- Creating new lab positions for high school students at prestigious universities
- The third annual fieldwork and cultural exchange in Costa Rica for students in the United States and local students in Costa Rica
- Composting in California: proposal to be submitted just before Presidential Inauguration
- The third year of raising awareness about conservation with a multi-sensory NNI curriculum implemented weekly for two months by NNI members in the classroom for underserved public school students in California
- Assisting established STEM program with its weekly outreach program
- Organizing several fundraising activities in the Central Valley of Costa Rica and the Silicon Valley in California
- Analyzing retrieved data from animal monitors (“video traps”) from the rainforest in Osa, Costa Rica with the Ministry of the Environment
- Continuing research and advocacy as the International Ambassadors of the Sea Turtle Conservation Network in Osa, Costa Rica
NNI is excited about its many new partners in the government, civil and private sectors in Costa Rica and California. Over the next few years, we intend to spread our wings beyond California and Costa Rica to help, through scholarships and mentorship, the creation of satellite NNI’s in other regions.
We are passionate about motivating youth around the world to save our biodiversity and leave a legacy of a more sustainable world for future generations.
Thanks and Pura Vida,
Nature Now International