Project retraces Darwin’s trip and trains young people to work in conservation

  • The Darwin200 Project retraces the journey of English naturalist Charles Darwin, which took place in the 19th century and will pass through 32 ports around the world until 2025.
  • The sailboat's crew are 200 young people who work with environmental conservation around the world and take turns on the vessel to learn about initiatives in the places they visit.
  • Followed the vessel's passage through Rio de Janeiro, in which Sarah Darwin, great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, was also present.

While you are reading this text, a sailboat retraces the path of English naturalist Charles Darwin in the 19th century — the same trip that inspired his theory of natural selection for the evolution of species. The journey is part of the Darwin200 project , which departed from England in August 2023 and will pass through 32 ports on all continents by 2025.

The objective of the expedition is to collaborate with the training of 200 young researchers and disseminate the importance of environmental conservation to different audiences. To this end, in each port that docks, around five young people from different countries (the Darwin Leaders ) embark and, in an average period of one week, learn about conservation initiatives carried out in the region so that they can apply knowledge in their countries of origin.

The rest of the world also follows the route live: each week, an interactive video lesson — the so-called World's Most Exciting Classroom — shows where the vessel is, presents local conservation challenges, interviews researchers and, to entertain children and teenagers, does experiments and quizzes. To question experts about global environmental problems, basic education students also join the broadcast.

Traveling around the world also makes it possible to carry out research, such as the one that is cataloging bird species — 200 had already been recorded by November 2023 — and the one that records the volume of microplastic found in the ocean.

Darwin no Brazil

After leaving England, the Darwin200 expedition passed through Spain and Cape Verde, crossed the Atlantic Ocean for three stops in Brazil (Fernando de Noronha, Salvador and Rio de Janeiro), continued to Uruguay, Argentina and arrived in Chile in February 2024 From here, it follows the Pacific Ocean to Australia. The sailboat on which the trip takes place, the Oosterschelde, is up to the task: built in 1917, it is 50 meters long and finished in wood.

The boat did not go unnoticed when it docked in the center of Rio de Janeiro, next to the Museum of Tomorrow, in November 2023. report followed the activities carried out by the privileged crew, which included Darwin Leaders and botanist Sarah Darwin, great-great-granddaughter by Charles Darwin.

She highlighted notes made by her ancestor about the country: “Darwin observed the great biodiversity of Brazil in relation to the United Kingdom. So he asked himself: why is there such a wide variety of species? This was a seed for the ideas about natural selection that he developed over the next 20 years.”

Sarah Darwin, who is one of the supporters of the Darwin200 project, spoke of the naturalist's admiration for the Brazilian landscape, highlighting the “elegance of the herbs, the beauty of the flowers, the mixture of silence and noise”. And she said: “On the last day he was in the Atlantic Forest, he walked through the forest to observe the beauty and fix in his memory what he saw. He knew that he would not return to the country and that these wonders could be destroyed.”

Charles Darwin sailed around the world for five years on HMS Beagle from 1832, when he was 22 years old. The experience expanded his repertoire to other forms of life and biodiversity, contributed to his evolutionary theory and the writing of The Origin of Species , in 1859. The journey that is retracing his route also promises impacts for science: inspiring changes, exchange experiences and mobilize the 200 Darwin Leaders for action.

Involvement of researchers

The Darwin Leaders who go on the expedition are committed to generating conservation materials in video and text and disseminating them on their social networks or other available channels. Sarah sees a lot of relevance in the dissemination of information: “Young people have energy, focus, wisdom. We are experiencing a series of crises, and scientists continue to not communicate well. We have to learn from this generation, notice their passion for nature and learn to speak to the public.”

Nicolás Marín Benítez, a 24-year-old Argentinian with an easy smile, photographer, journalist and videographer, is one of the Darwin Leaders aces in today's media. With more than 200 thousand followers on Instagram, he is a National Geographic explorer working in the United States with orcas. It follows the coming and going of Darwin Leaders in different parts of the world, including when they were on the Cagarras Islands, in Rio de Janeiro.

Nico, as he is known, also celebrates his recently announced victory in the 2023 Best Nature Photography Award: “I feel like an explorer from the past, who traveled the world looking for new things, and this inspires me to be a Darwin of the century 21”, he says, laughing. “We have the challenge of putting complex information into simple words, using photography to draw attention, science to explain the phenomena and activism so that we are not just spectators. It is essential to combine this knowledge to understand the problem, communicate and take action”.

In Rio de Janeiro, Nico recorded the experience of Chilean Darwin Leader Camila Calderón Quirgas and her contact with the Ilhas do Rio Project , which researches fish and sea turtles on the Cagarras Islands, a Conservation Unit that suffers from urban pollution, coral invasion sun ( Tubastraea spp. ) and overfishing.

Camila, 31 years old, is a veterinarian, a master's student in oceanography, author of children's books about marine life, co-founder of a mastozoology study group, National Geographic explorer and TEDx speaker. “Being in Brazil, on the Atlantic Ocean, living with people from all cultures, communicating in another language, this is all new to me,” she says.

In Chile, Camila works with sei whales ( Balaenoptera borealis ) 600 km south of Santiago, in the region where she was born. She explains that these animals are in danger of extinction and suffer from ecosystem degradation and industrial pollution. “The place where I work is not a protected marine area, so it is interesting to know the Conservation Unit in Brazil and pressure the authorities to replicate the best examples. We need public policies that generate immediate results and others in the long term, such as education. Only then can we feel the effects. The time to act is now, not later.”

While she spoke to Bakefake, the boat rocked towards Cagarras, in rough seas after days of hangover, accompanied by the team from Ilhas do Rio and ICMBio. “A stingray jumped!” Camila was amazed as she admired the turquoise sea. Below the water, some of the 300 green turtles ( Chelonia mydas ) recorded in the last three years by Ilhas do Rio appear. The project monitors the behavior of the animals in the region before they migrate for reproduction.

Camila has never seen turtles in their natural habitat and is inspired by the discoveries, as are the other Darwin Leaders who were in Rio de Janeiro: an Indian followed the project to reintroduce howler monkeys, a Venezuelan learned about activities with the golden lion tamarin , a French woman saw a dolphin research initiative up close and a Dutch woman learned about reforestation of the Atlantic Forest.

From Bahia to Cape Verde

Nina Marcovaldi, born in Bahia 37 years ago among the sea turtles of the Tamar Project Foundation , a pioneering initiative created by her parents in 1982, was also chosen as Darwin Leader. A journalist specializing in documentaries, she learned about conservation projects on the other side of the Atlantic, in Cape Verde, and saw how sea turtles are cared for, the history of exploration and the community's relationship with the species.

Nina says that she enriched her knowledge about yet another turtle habitat and that she talked to biologists, fishermen, women and children. “To act with conservation, it is necessary to understand the local population, respect ancestry and traditions, give a voice to those who are not normally heard and do science with a caring and loving perspective.”

According to Nina, while the older residents of Cape Verde told her that they ate turtle eggs, the younger ones said that this is a crime, which demonstrates a huge cultural change in a short period of time. “To improve what is needed, we need to have courage, responsibility, time and involvement from everyone. If we take care of people, they will take care of turtles,” she says.

Argentinean Nico is thrilled with these exchanges between people: “It is very important to make connections with different stories, which bring us closer, shorten distances, provide opportunities. They are like energy reserves, which keep the world moving towards conservation!”

It is necessary to continue the journey towards conservation, as Sarah says: “We don’t need to go back to live with nature; We have to look forward to living in a different and sustainable way. All our decisions need to be made with nature as a priority.”

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