Youth sports programs drive conservation across Latin America
Play For the Mangroves, our program in the Dominican Republic that links youth sports and mangrove conservation, is off to a great start since its launch last summer. We’ve given hundreds of young baseball and volleyball players balls, bats, nets, and uniforms. Our local partner, Grupo Jaragua, has organized field trips, mangrove and coastal cleanups, and other conservation activities, bringing these young athletes up close with the fascinating environment that surrounds them. It’s been a true win-win, helping young people pursue their dreams, tapping into a national passion for sports, and protecting vulnerable ecosystems all at the same time.
We’ve now taken this innovative sports-for-conservation model to projects in two other countries.
Our latest project, in Mexico, is on Isla Mujeres, just off the Yucatan Peninsula. Over the past several decades, the island’s popularity as a tourist destination has grown steadily, bringing opportunity but also putting pressure on the sensitive wetlands, coral reefs, and other habitats there.
Working with local NGO the Manta Caribbean Project, Seacology is supplying young soccer players on Isla Mujeres with the gear they need. The project funds balls, shoes, nets, and uniforms for 160 youths who want to play the enormously popular sport. On monthly field trips,, these kids will learn about their local environment and the threats it faces They will also take on a direct role in protecting it by participating in cleanups of the island’s wetlands and dunes. Older participants will travel to the nearby Contoy Island, the site of a national park (and an earlier Seacology project), to learn about the wildlife there, which includes majestic manta rays and many species of migratory birds.
A new project in Colombia takes a similar approach. The island of Tierra Bomba lies just two miles from the rapidly developing port city of Cartagena, but in some respects it is a world away. The island’s communities are disproportionately impacted by poverty, lack of access to basic services and infrastructure, and rising seas, which have already washed away two streets. These conditions have contributed to degradation of the local environment, and unfortunately made conservation a low priority for the struggling communities of Tierra Bomba.
The project aims to help reverse this trend. Seacology is supporting Futbol Con Corazon (“soccer with heart”), a local organization that works with youth and teenagers across the country, to instill values like teamwork, respect, and equity through soccer. The group’s mission is broad, helping youths learn skills, improve academically, and give back to their communities, all based on a shared passion for the world’s most popular game.
In partnership with Seacology, Futbol Con Corazon is increasing its focus on environmental awareness, education, and responsibility. Our funding will provide equipment for about 200 underserved boys and girls, and support our partner’s environmental programs. The participants will learn about the many species that inhabit the island and its surrounding waters, clean up trash, and plant mangroves in wetlands that have been degraded by pollution and unsustainable development.
Seacology has long understood the important role that young people play in the conservation movement, in changing attitudes and priorities, and advocating for long-term solutions to environmental crises. By supporting environmental education and young islanders’ aspirations in sports, we’re helping them not only become champions on the field, but leaders and advocates for the long-term future of their homes.