In 2006, Galapagos Conservancy had the pleasure of meeting an 11-year-old named Kharis Schrage. After visiting the Galapagos Islands with her grandparents the previous year, Kharis was inspired to host a fundraising party for her 11th birthday, with the proceeds to benefit Galapagos Conservancy. The games and activities at her party were geared toward educating her guests about Galapagos and its unique species, and included a slideshow from her trip and an explanation of how the proceeds would support conservation efforts in the Islands.
Kharis’s love of turtles — the original reason for her trip to Galapagos — and ocean life have intensified over the years, and her visit has informed many of Kharis’s interests and passions today. GC recently caught up with Kharis, who is now a sophomore at the College of William and Mary pursuing a biology major and a marine science minor.
GC: What most inspired you about your visit to the Galapagos Islands in 2006?
KS: At age 10, the sheer volume of interesting animals was overwhelming. I took lots of pictures, printed them as note cards, and gave them out as gifts for years after my trip. Nature photography has since become a hobby, and my trip to the Islands inspired me to study photography throughout high school.
GC: Describe a particular Galapagos memory or experience that has resonated with you long after your trip.
KS: One of my favorite memories is from when I was snorkeling: a sea lion swam up to within a foot of my face and turned at the last second. It was so cool. I also got to follow a three-limbed sea turtle; my favorite animal.
GC: Did your trip to Galapagos have any other lasting impacts?
KS: My visit solidified my interest in biology, conservation, and photography. I am currently a biology major at the College of William and Mary, where I also work in a marine biology lab and am a member of the Marine Science Society. Galapagos has remained an important part of my life in that I am always curious about what’s going on there, and the Islands serve as a constant reminder of how I got where I am today in my studies.
GC: How did your visit to Galapagos impact your decision to support conservation efforts for the Islands?
KS: In Galapagos, I discovered an environment that really excited me. There were turtles and sea lions and frigatebirds and sally lightfoot crabs. They were all so cool. When I got back from my trip I was inspired to do anything I could to help, so for my 11th birthday I held a fundraising party where I asked for donations instead of gifts. It was a carnival-themed party with games related to some of the animals I had seen on the Islands. There was also a jump-athon called “Jumping for George,” where I asked friends to collect donations from sponsors for participating in the jumping activities of the party (jump rope, hop-scotch, pogo sticks, etc.). I raised over $800 for Galapagos Conservancy that day.
GC: What is the most important issue to you regarding protection of Galapagos?
KS: I think that the major thing is to keep it all as undisturbed as possible. Galapagos is a model system used in every biology class I have ever taken. It is the basis for every lecture or lesson on diversity and evolution. As long as it can continue to live up to that reputation, we are doing something right. I don’t want to see a place that is so central to our idea of ecology and evolution fade out of prominence because we failed to keep it that way.
Kharis hopes to return to the Galapagos Islands following her college graduation. The entire experience had such an impact that Kharis’s grandparents opted to take her two younger siblings on similar trips when they were each 10 years old — one to Costa Rica; the other to the Bahamas. Both siblings followed Kharis’s footsteps by holding their own fundraising birthday parties to benefit conservation efforts in those areas. GC is honored to know Kharis and her family, as they are truly an inspiration to the budding conservationists of the world.