In our travels, we’ve met some amazing people doing groundbreaking conservation work. We’ve decided to honor these people through our Natural Leaders series. Follow our series to find out how these leaders got started and what strategies they use to encourage environmental stewardship.
Our next spotlight is on Eric Weather, an inspiring marine biologist, environmental educator and the mastermind behind WeatherEco Tours. Last summer, Eric took our friends, the Myers and their curious daughter Kaya, out on Miss Batavia, a 30-foot Mako vessel, and spent the day exploring the coastal environment in the Gulf of Mexico. I grew up on these waters, so I didn’t expect to experience anything new, but I was wrong.
As we entered the coastal lagoon system, Eric pointed out osprey flying overhead and dolphins swimming a few yards from the boat. Both are common sightings for this area, but perhaps a new experience for four-year-old Kaya Myer. Eric parked the boat next to Red Mangrove Island, an ecological treasure trove. He grabbed some nets, a large, floating Tupperware container, and jumped into the calm water. It was hard to see the bottom, but once we plopped down into the water, we discovered the water was actually quite shallow. Eric showed us how to move the net across the seagrass around our feet and empty our net into the water-filled Tupperware. Instant ecological jackpot! We caught several pinfish, a couple gulf pipefish, which are relatives of the seahorse, and the cutest baby Southern puffer fish I have ever seen. I realized that these creatures, although new to me, were not in my backyard – I was in theirs. Reflecting on moments like these, Eric said, “I love when I am on a tour and we pull up to an island to do some exploring; I’ll anchor the boat and then jump in the water and come up with some sort of critter to look at. This moment always seems to turn on a light bulb for my guests, it seems to break down some barriers, like, ‘oh, we are not confined to the safety of this boat, we can get out and explore and get wet and get dirty and find new things ourselves.’ Even though they know that is part of the tour, it doesn’t seem to click until I dive in. I love seeing that barrier fall, it does a lot for the human soul.”
“My tours are just the beginning of my mission, which is to inspire a generation to connect with, care for and take responsibility of our natural world.”
Little Kaya was having revelations of her own as she giggled and pondered over her new aquatic friends. Eric is great with kids, which makes sense because he has two boys of his own who inspired him to create WeatherEco Tours. Eric said, “the day that sparked the idea was when my boys were two and four years old and we visited an Aquarium. In the morning, the boys were standing in front of a shark tank tapping the glass to try and get the sharks attention. Later that day we were at the beach and they were both afraid to go too deep into the water because there might be a shark out there. I realized that the experience of seeing a shark taught them very little to nothing about the environment and our place in it. I found myself wanting to give my family access to the environment in a way that didn’t just teach them what some creature looks like, but what it really is, how it smells, where it lives, what else lives around it, how those things interact and how they interact with us. It is with that mission in mind that I started to outline WeatherEco.”
We were very careful not to harm any animals and always put them back where we found them. Kaya’s pink sandal decided to stay behind in the mud, but she seemed okay with it as she busily enjoyed the real-life “Magic School Bus” adventure. It was a full sensory experience: we held the fish, touched the seaweed, and smelled the mud. We felt like a kids all over again. Eric said that, “for parents and adults, it’s a relaxing and fun experience where they can rejuvenate, forget about their schedules, while at the same time reach inside and connect with that inner child again. For kids, it’s the opportunity to connect with their environment in a way that they haven’t before, to discover their inner explorer, adventurer, to confront fear and break through some barriers and ultimately come away from the experience with more self-confidence and self-awareness. My tours are just the beginning of my mission, which is to inspire a generation to connect with, care for and take responsibility of our natural world.”
“Ultimately, the things we care about are the things we protect and take care of.”
Later in the tour, Eric took us close to a mangrove forest, explaining the forest’s importance not only as a nursery for growing fish, but also as a water filtration system and protective buffer against erosion and damage caused by storms and hurricanes. We learned that mangrove propagation happens when trees release torpedo-like seeds, which drop down into the water and float until they find the right sediment to grow in. From that point roots take hold and a fully formed mini-mangrove emerges rapidly from the seed. Eric conveniently breaks all the information down into both layman adult and 4-year-old-speak. He says his, “favorite thing about environmental education is getting people out into the environment where they can relax and have fun in a place that stretches their comfort zone and gives them an opportunity to grow as people and connect with their environment in a way that is meaningful and memorable for them. Ultimately, the things we care about are the things we protect and take care of. I hope my guests come away with a deeper, more meaningful relationship with their environment.”
If you’d like to experience one of Eric’s amazing eco-tours yourself, the Myer’s family and I can highly recommend it. Just drop him a line at www.weathereco.com.