FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Oct. 25, 2022
VICTORIA, BC – Victoria-based ecotourism company Eagle Wing Tours has won an international award for its many marine education and outreach activities, in large part due to a popular community-based program that is educating thousands of schoolchildren on southern Vancouver Island.
The Outstanding Organization Award from the National Marine Educators Association (NMEA) honours “outstanding work and leadership by an organization or business in any aspect of marine education at the local, regional or national level.” It was presented to Eagle Wing Tours this summer.
NMEA represents classroom teachers, educators, university professors, scientists and more from all over North America and the world.
“Everything we do at Eagle Wing Tours revolves around raising awareness of the ocean, and what every one of us can do to help protect it,” says co-owner Brett Soberg. “Our vision is to advance marine conservation through responsible ecotourism and public outreach. This award tells us we’re leading the way!”
The focus of Eagle Wing’s outreach activities is the innovative “Exploring the Salish Sea” floating classroom program, which was launched in 2018 in partnership with schools and marine educators in the Victoria region: Greater Victoria School District 61, the Royal British Columbia Museum, Ocean Networks Canada, Pacific Northwest Transportation Services, and Sooke School District 62 (see partner quotes below).
The four-part program, which runs from September to March, combines classroom, on-water and experiential learning to ignite a passion for the ocean among local schoolchildren.
To date, more than 4,000 schoolchildren have participated in the program. The target for 2022-23 is another 4,000. The long-term target is 10,000 students a year by 2030.
Earlier this year, the program earned a BC Principals’ & Vice-Principals’ Association Partnership Award, which recognizes groups who “have made a substantial difference in the lives of students in BC public schools.” The program is so popular with teachers and students that there’s a long waiting list and school districts have to use a draw to select which classes will participate.
The type and scale of the program—operated at no profit by a for-profit organization—is unique to British Columbia and probably to North America.
The program is powered by the core belief that cultivating a sense of wonder and connection with the natural world in young people is vital to a more sustainable society.
“This program fulfills a long-time dream of ours and has turned into a fantastic community collaboration,” says Soberg. “It’s not intended to be a money-making opportunity. It’s all about doing the right thing. If we can inspire kids in our community to move forward down the path of sustainability and conservation, whether it’s ocean- or land-based, it’s worth every second and every penny.”
Eagle Wing Tours is an award-winning ecotourism and conservation company offering year-round whale and wildlife watching tours. Its mission is to protect marine wildlife and the ocean environment through direct support of conservation and research activities, to build ocean awareness through education and outreach programs, and to promote environmental stewardship through industry-leading sustainability initiatives. For more information visit https://www.eaglewingtours.com/
Val Shore, communications manager, Eagle Wing Tours at (250) 384-8008 or val@eagleadmin
For more background on the program:
The GREATER VICTORIA SCHOOL DISTRICT 61 (SD61) educates 20,000 students in the Esquimalt,
Oak Bay, Victoria, View Royal and part of Saanich and the Highlands.
“School District 61 and Eagle Wing Tours have built a partnership to develop and support
the ‘Exploring the Salish Sea’ program over the past five years. In that time, we’ve built capacity
within schools, doubling the number of students and teachers involved in the program each year. We
look forward to building further momentum for the program with Eagle Wing Tours and the other
partners. Our shared goal remains: to foster the connection for our students to place for their
learning and environmental stewardship.” — Dave Shortreed, Vice Principal, École Central Middle
As the provincial museum and archives, the ROYAL BRITISH COLUMBIA MUSEUM (RBCM)
collects artifacts, documents and specimens of BC’s natural and human history.
“The Royal BC Museum is a proud partner of the ‘Exploring the Salish Sea’ program. Our
galleries provide a dynamic backdrop to classrooms’ culminating ‘artifacts of learning.’ We see our
role as helping to amplify to a larger public the extraordinary work done by the students, placing
their work within the larger context of natural and human history research and museum learning.”
—Chris O’Connor, Learning Program Developer, RBCM
OCEAN NETWORKS CANADA (ONC) is a University of Victoria initiative that operates worldleading
cabled ocean observatories. Members of ONC’s learning and community engagement team
are providing educational content support and supplementing some sessions with instrumentation
“Ocean Networks Canada is honoured to partner with this award-winning program because
it supports youth in developing their ocean connection, which is instrumental in inspiring youth to
become ocean stewards. By sharing ONC’s ocean observing technologies, we help students
understand the importance of data-driven decision-making in the Salish Sea.”
—Dwight Owens, Acting Associate Director, Learning & Community Engagement
PACIFIC NORTHWEST TRANSPORTATION SERVICES (PNWTS) offers carbon-neutral
transportation to the on-water session for the students and their teacher chaperones.
“PNWTS is committed to using our resources for the good of our community. We work hard
during the tourist season so that we can re-invest our profits in these types of opportunities for the
children of our community. We thank Eagle Wing Tours and all the partners in this program for
giving us the opportunity to help teach our children.” —David Roberts, General Manager, PNWTS
SOOKE SCHOOL DISTRICT 62 (SD62) educates 12,000 students in the communities of Colwood, the
Highlands, Langford, Metchosin, Port Renfrew and Sooke. The district joined as a new partner in fall
“I could not be more excited to experience the ‘Exploring the Salish Sea’ program with my
class. Connecting to all the sights, sounds and smells of the Salish Sea will create lasting memories
for my students and help promote a sense of stewardship for this land we’re all guests on. By
affording my students this type of experiential learning I can instil a sense of pride and responsibility
to care for our environment, not just for these children, but for their children’s’ children.”—
Kathleen Meiklejohn, Grade 6 teacher, Centre Mountain Lellum Middle School, SD62