Eco-Hero Award Takes Young Scientists on Trip of a Lifetime

By: Carly Huffman

One of Ron Magill’s biggest goals as an animal conservationist is to educate and empower the next generation to prioritize conservation. As he famously says, “we did not inherit the Earth from our parents; we are borrowing it from our children.”

As a part of Magill’s efforts to excite students about conservation, he has teamed up with WPLG-Local 10 to create the Eco Hero Award, which offers the opportunity for one South Florida high school student to go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip that will further excite them about the environment and animal conservation, all while being documented by Kristi Krueger and her team from Local 10. Their incredible footage is turned into award-winning 30-minute documentaries aired on Local 10.

Winners have gone to Machu Picchu, the Canadian Rockies – and next year Antarctica will be added to that list.

Below are some incredible glimpses of past Eco Hero Award winners.

Peru (2013):

Kelsey Peeples, then a 14-year-old at South Miami Middle School, was chosen the winner of the 2013 Eco Hero Award. Kelsey beat out more than 400 local students and received more than 51,000 votes as a finalist for the award.

Kelsey spent an entire summer tracking the effects of cloud cover on solar radiation using NASA-donated equipment. Her and classmate Daniel Crair’s findings were compiled and published in Harvard’s Journal of Emerging Investigators, which publishes middle and high school student’s scientific work.

Her prize trip? A 5-day adventure exploring the Peruvian rainforest and UNESCO World Heritage site, Machu Picchu. They hiked deep into the muddy jungle of the Andes Mountains and learned about the ancient Inca empire. Deep in the jungle, they visited a conservation center for the endangered spectacled bear.


Canadian Rockies (2015):

Ron Magill, Kristi Krueger and the WPLg crew announced the winner of the 2015 Eco Hero Award in the middle of José Martí MAST Academy’s Earth Day celebration.  Justine Padron, then a 13-year-old, participates in an annual clean-up of Biscayne Bay and is a proud leader of her school’s Green Club.

“When it comes to protecting nature, our neighbors to the north are leading the world,” said Krueger. That’s why the 2015 Eco Hero won a trip to the wild Canadian Rockies. They explored the rugged terrain and saw glaciers, lakes, mountains and of course, some incredible wildlife. The crew even spotted a grizzly bear on the side of the road!

Antarctica (2017):

The 2017 winner of the Eco Hero Award was high school freshman Bela Perdomo, of Miami Beach. The environmental conservation project that won her a trip to Antarctica is called Cleaner Bottoms. Bela is aiming to protect the marine ecosystem by creating a non-toxic, chemical-free alternative to the paint currently used on the bottom of boats to prevent barnacle growth.

In January of 2018, Bela, Ron Magill, Kristi Krueger and the Channel 10 team set off on the adventure of a lifetime. They flew to Punta Arenas, Chile, the base from which they would attempt to fly into King George Island off the north coast of Antarctica, weather permitting. Punta Arenas is located in the Patagonia region, on the Straits of Magellan, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Everyone was excited to see not just a few, but hundreds of penguins up close in their natural habitat, ‘because they don’t have a natural fear of humans yet,’ Magill points out, ‘so this is a wonderful experience to go into a place and be accepted as if you’re part of the natural landscape.’

The crew was outfitted with gear to bear the frigid temperatures. The current summer temperature was a mere minus 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The weather was monitored closely by the expedition leaders. Eventually the group was cleared for takeoff for the 1 hour and 20-minute flight to King George Island. Unfortunately, with just 20 minutes left of the flight, heavy clouds set in, visibility became minimal, and they were forced to turn around and head back for Punta Arenas. The expedition allowed for the possibility to depart two more days after the scheduled departure if the first one is grounded. However, the expedition was officially cancelled because of extreme weather moving in guaranteed for the next week.

While that was a disappointment at the time, the expedition team has arranged for Bela and the Eco Hero team to head back in January 2019.

Antarctica, here they come!

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