By Julie Householder | firstname.lastname@example.org
For Flagler College Alumnus Zach McKenna, launching a business in St. Augustine was more than just creating kayak and boat tours for tourists. McKenna wanted his business to help change the way people treated local ecosystems.
“The idea of starting a company without an academic backbone didn’t make sense to me,” said McKenna. “I wanted this component of giving back.”
St. Augustine Eco Tours uses its sailing, kayak and boat tours as a way of communicating science in a hands-on approach. On board the boats, guests are educated on the local environment, and the wildlife that lives here. McKenna explained that they have taken education back to what it was: “learning by doing.”
Tour boats are constantly picking up trash, looking up wildlife in field guides and sometimes even listening to dolphins talking to each other thanks to underwater microphones.
Beyond tours, the company has been researching dolphin populations in the area for the past 10 years. The information the company gathers is especially helpful when learning what human behaviors negatively impact wildlife.
“We have a significantly increasing population and we have a lot of pressure on the ecosystem without a lot of regulation,” said McKenna. “The animals are definitely in conflict with the way recreational and commercial boaters behave out here.”
Eco Tours responds to animal strandings and does marine wildlife rescues. The combination of research and rescues gives invaluable insight on the current status of the environmental health of the area. This allows the company to be able to use their information as a form of activism. McKenna explained that the company does not hold back from educating the community.
“If there is something going wrong out here, we are typically the company to bring it to everyone’s attention,” said McKenna. “We are not afraid to not make friends because if you ask someone to stop doing something, they’re not going to think favorably of you whether it’s for the good or not.”
McKenna hopes to continue expanding in the future with more education outreach programs with local schools and continue work with Flagler College’s Coastal Environmental Science Department.