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An island of change

Emily Pozo, founder and president of Galapagos ICE Organization, wants to help the ecological and economic threats of the Galapagos Islands, located 600 miles off Ecuador's mainland. Pozo, formerly of York, helps improve health care and education for the nearly 30,000 residents of the islands and teaches them about environmental preservation.
Emily Pozo, founder and president of Galapagos ICE Organization, wants to help the ecological and economic threats of the Galapagos Islands, located 600 miles off Ecuador's mainland. Pozo, formerly of York, helps improve health care and education for the nearly 30,000 residents of the islands and teaches them about environmental preservation.

Emily Pozo, daughter of York residents Wood and Jane Caldwell, has captured the attention of Dan Rather with her efforts to improve the environment and the lives of people on the Galapagos Islands.

Pozo, 35, founder and president of Galapagos ICE Organization, or Immerse Connect Evolve, recently appeared on HDNet's "Dan Rather Reports" to discuss the ecological and economic threats of the Galapagos Islands, located 600 miles off Ecuador's mainland in the Pacific Ocean.

"They were interested in the footprint humans were leaving in the Galapagos," said Pozo, who added that the threat to the islands didn't happen overnight. "The Galapagos was really put at risk when the first human stepped foot in the Galapagos in the 1500s."

Rather and a film crew spent a couple of weeks in the Galapagos in May interviewing Pozo about her conservation and educational efforts. Many residents are unaware how their daily lives affect the environment, and poor economic conditions aggravate the situation, Pozo said.

"There are outside forces that continue to try to conserve these islands, but it's the people on the inside who really need to be educated about where they live," she said.

The program that focused on Pozo and her work aired on Dec. 9 and was rebroadcast Dec. 12 and 16. It will be available for download from iTunes at a later date.

Pozo -- who lived in York with her parents briefly before leaving for the Galapagos -- founded the international nonprofit in 2006 to help improve health care and education for the nearly 30,000 residents of the islands. She also wanted to teach them about environmental preservation.

She receives help and support from her husband Mauricio, 33, her parents and a brother, Eric Caldwell, executive director of the U.S. office of Galapagos ICE.

After graduate school, where Pozo studied Spanish, she took a job as a recruiter for Brethrens College Abroad, a study-abroad organization. In June 2004, she sailed to the Galapagos Islands to oversee a seminar for professors.

As she got to know the islands, she wanted to help.

The Galapagos, located at the convergence of three ocean currents, consists of 19 islands, which have produced abundant vegetation and species such as the land iguana and giant tortoise.

Charles Darwin spent time there in 1835, observing plant and animal life, which served as inspiration for his study of evolution by natural selection. Today, the Galapagos Islands are a national park and home to the Charles Darwin Station.

Since the archipelago is a national park, there are rules to follow for residents and tourists alike. "The Galapagos is a paradise destination; however, there are people who have to make sure the paradise remains as it is and that the tourist is happy when they leave," Pozo said.

Many people visit to enjoy the flora and wildlife, not realizing the islands support human life as well. "There are places you can go and see beautiful local dancers and listen to local music," Pozo said.

Most tourists go on cruises, which means they don't stay in hotels or spend money in the local towns, Pozo said. As a result, only about 20 percent of tourism dollars stay on the islands.

There is a push for organizing local tourism, which would include hotel stays, eating at restaurants and day tours to various islands, Pozo said.

In 1978, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization -- UNESCO, which works to protect and preserve the world's natural heritage -- named the Galapagos Islands the first Natural World Heritage site. Last year, the organization added the islands to its "at risk" list, confirming the environmental threat.

Galapagos ICE relies on volunteers and the number has increased each year, from five in 2006 to at least 74 this year. But after the islands were added to UNESCO's endangered list, some volunteers feared their presence would add to the deterioration.

However, Pozo said it's all about striking a balance. "It would be impossible to take out all the humans who are living in the Galapagos," she said.

From doctors to artists, people from all over the world have volunteered to work on special projects, which they initiate themselves, or to help with ongoing campaigns, such as school improvements and repairs. Recent special projects have included community medical check-ups and the building of an ecological playground.

Rhonda Glasscock, corporate contributions manager of Toyota Motor Sales in the U.S., accompanied 30 teachers last month to the Galapagos Islands through the Toyota International Teacher Program.

Glasscock, who created the program 10 years ago, has worked with Pozo for the last couple of years. "Emily is an amazing woman, and her organization is doing fine work in the Galapagos," she said.

The teachers spent several days collaborating with nine Galapagos teachers on ways to teach conservation in the classroom. They were in awe at the wealth of wildlife on the islands, Glasscock said.

"Since the area is a national park, the animals have not been hunted and don't feel threatened," Glasscock said. "You're looking at marine iguanas and blue-footed boobies. It re-emphasizes the responsibility we all have for the environment."

For Pozo, the battle to preserve the environment and people on the Galapagos Islands means living her dream. But part of building that dream meant finding acceptance from the Galapagos people, which has happened, although it took time.

"I had to prove that I wasn't going anywhere," Pozo said. "This is where I'm supposed to be. Many people go throughout life not really fulfilling their dreams and hopes. I'm living a dream."

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