The picture is taken from behind. Yolanda, and environmental educator, is sitting around a group of teenagers, smiling, and paying attention to something that is going on next to them. The picture doesn’t show what are they laughing at.

3 tips you need to know before starting a career in conservation education

Do you remember the first time your passion for the environment felt nurtured? Was it after an education workshop or outdoor experience with an educator? Did you make a change of habit after it?

If you do, chances are those educators are thrilled the same way Yolanda Sánchez is, every time she finishes an activity! Yolanda is an oceanographer and international consultant working in Europe, South America, and Africa with one goal in mind: educate and communicate for ocean conservation.

Originally from Spain, Yolanda studied Marine Science and got a Masters in Science Education in Chile. In the past ten years she worked in different marine protected areas from Chile and Africa. She engages with universities, non-government organizations and the government to design education and engagement activities for kids, adults, and teenagers.

Yolanda is always encouraging young adults to be ocean advocates and educators in their community. She also co-founded the first Latin American Education Network for the Ocean called RELATO and was awarded as an Edinburgh Ocean Leader Program in 2020.

Yolanda, an ocean conservation educator, is holding and showing a book she wrote. She is smiling. The book’s cover has a little girl, with a snorkel on, diving underwater. Fish and algae are next to her.

Yolanda Sanchez wrote the children’s book “Me Asustaste” (“You Scared Me”, in English). The book tells the story of Alicia, a girl who travels around the northern coast of Chile searching for the “most dangerous marine animal”. Credit: Yolanda Sánchez.

As 2024 begins, she continues to spread the word and helps organizations apply to OCEAN Grants Programme. A new competitive grant that will support innovative proposals from projects to be implemented in ODA-eligible (Official Development Assistance) countries by local coastal communities and organizations aiming to deliver marine protection and reduce poverty.

The application period opened on February 5, 2024; organizations can submit applications until March 18th and April 2nd, 2024 to two different grants pathways for projects that run up to 31 March 2029.

It has been a long journey for Yolanda to get to where she is today and gain value and respect around colleagues and conservationists alike. Although this journey has been a challenging and non-linear one at times, her experiences and skills are worth keeping in mind if, like Yolanda, you dream of starting a career in conservation education.

Tip 1: Make waves for ocean education in every scenario.

Educators work across many diverse fields including the marine space – trying to build and reinforce human connection with the ocean in different cultures and age ranges. While this work isn’t easy, Yolanda believes it to be incredibly important.

To create effective marine educations projects, she says, first, you need to understand what the community needs, and then, arrange yours and their knowledge and interests to move forward to ocean conservation together. To do this, educators must use, adaptation, creativity, empathy, and confidence on an everyday basis.

From her experience, she shares:

“Education needs time. Time for people to give their opinion and lose their fear to talk to each other. Time for the educator to better understand the community’s fears, beliefs, and connection with an ecosystem. Before applying any methodology, make time to build a personal connection with the context and people you are working with.” 

Yolanda, an ocean conservation educator, and six young adults and almost ten school kids are smiling and posing all together. They’ve just finished an educational activity. The picture is taking in a classroom, there are sea animals’ toys in the floor and marine posters at the back.

Yolanda at an education activity in Ghana. Credit: Yolanda Sánchez.

After understanding and engaging with such different communities like fishermen in Chile and Africa, school students, and conservation professionals, there is one thing that Yolanda really enjoys. Even though sometimes can be hard, realizing her work had an impact – and seeing how people she has worked with go on to build a strong connection with the ocean afterwards. As she proudly shares:

“One anecdote I really enjoy is while in Chile, my team and I worked for sustainable fishing, so we explain to high schoolers how to consume marine resources responsibly: when and which species to take out depending on the reproduction size. After the activity, we give them a ruler for them to size the fish every time they went to the market. One afternoon while walking in the neighborhood, a girl came to say hi, and the mother told me: She always remembers you. She is all the time sizing the fish I bring to the house!! – Those experiences are incredible!”

For Yolanda, her master’s education was an outstanding chapter of her professional journey. It gave her the opportunity to better understand how education works, the methodologies, educational skills available to create a successful program, and tools to evaluate and adapt all her interventions.

What is more, thanks to a scholarship from the National Marine Educators Association (NMEA) for expanded audiences, she traveled to NMEA’s conference in the USA. This conference was a safe space to share with other educators their failures, successes, and new approaches in marine education.

After this revealing trip, she realized community building between organizations is important to empower education for conservation. And that passion and need drove her to build RELATO.

Yolanda, an ocean conservation educator, and four other women are smiling and posing at an auditorium. They are all wearing RELATO shirts and name tags.

RELATO team at a meeting in Lisboa. Credit: Yolanda Sánchez.

Tip 2: Optimism and resilience in the most challenging times.

One of the biggest challenges for education, especially in the conservation field, is funding. For almost ten years, Yolanda has been working hard to ensure funding comes to her projects. She truly believes there is a need to showcase the impact and value of education –-and this includes demonstrating this to donors, funding bodies and grant opportunities.

That is why, her new role as Fund Engagement manager for OCEAN Grant is so important in her career. She is excited to introduce this opportunity to communities where funding is an issue and help them write an impactful and suitable project.

With her new role for the Ocean Grant, while working for many projects in Ghana, Chile and UK, Yolanda works as freelancer. The newfound freedom of this entrepreneurial lifestyle comes with challenges such as making time for her own self-care and mental health, dealing with burn outs, and translating meaningful connections into work opportunities.

She openly shares that throughout her career, some projects haven’t turned out the way she wanted to. So, how did she deal with frustration when she put so much effort in an idea? Anger, disappointment or any emotion she might feel is something she has to deal with.

But afterwards, Yolanda starts to look for new solutions and ways to move forward. Even though at times it feels exhausting, her passion and purpose are what keeps her going.

A group of 10 teenagers are joining ocean conservation educator Yolanda for an educational activity at an aquarium. In the center, there is a pool with sea animals like sea stars, urchins, and anemones. Yolanda is talking while teenagers are touching the sea stars. Everyone looks interested in what Yolanda is telling them.

An education activity in Chile. Credit: Yolanda Sánchez.

Tip 3: Never leave your passion behind.

Educators work in every scenario with a massive challenge ahead of them: to build or strengthen a connection between humans and the environment. To achieve this, educators must do a lot of background work and gather academic knowledge on education, understand how it works, and cultivate curiosity in people.

Yolanda also suggests that expanding your network is an important part of any journey in conservation education. Being around other professionals to share successes, failures, and ask for advice is where opportunities are found!

And most importantly, Yolanda truly believes any person working as an environmental educator should never forget the bigger reason why he or she started this journey – your why!

From Yolanda’s experience, the most important elements of her work in developing conservation education programs are connect her passion with participant’s passions, work ethics, and being flexible to find out how is the best way to involve people on conservation. As she shares with a smile on her face:

“When working in education for conservation, it is important to realize it is more than giving a workshop to a community. Education is a long process that requires connection, creativity, adaptation, and openness. It is important to start being critical about the methodologies you want to apply in your programs while always remembering why you wanted to be here first.”

The picture is taken from behind. Yolanda, an environmental educator, is sitting around a group of teenagers, smiling, and paying attention to something that is going on next to them. The picture doesn’t show what are they laughing at.

Yolanda at a young leader’s activity in Cape Verde. Credit: Yolanda Sánchez.

Keep in touch

Are you ready to share your passion and connect with ocean educators alike? RELATO – Latin American Education Network for the Ocean is the first Latin American network created to strengthen, make visible, and professionalize marine education to promote ocean literacy/culture in Latin America and the Caribbean.

You can join for free and connect through their website here.

If you want to learn more about OCEAN Gran Opportunity you can visit their website, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Applications are opened from February 5th, 2024 to March 18th and April 2nd .

If you want to connect with Yolanda Sánchez, you can find her via LinkedIn, Instagram or her new website!

Author Profile | Giuliana Vomero

Giuliana is a Marine Biologist born and raised in Uruguay, South America. She is passionate about bridging ocean and marine science with society. She has gathered experience in coordinating environmental outreach projects, events, and networking building. In her free time she loves to write and share the wonders of the ocean and stories behind the work of passionate conservationists worldwide.

Connect with Giuliana on LinkedIn, follow her on Twitter or Visit her website.

Check out more conservation interviews by Giuliana.

Interviews, Celebrating Diversity in Conservation, Educator