One of his motivations for starting this program was to provide stable job opportunities for the children of the Galápagos but specifically for the children of fishing families.
Though the government imposes a large number of regulations on fishing practices, they do not provide these families with any alternatives, Ballesteros said. That is why an integral part of his program is about giving his students careers as opposed to the seasonal fishing they were raised with.
His other motivation to start a program was to ensure that locals could become the best representatives to speak on the issues of the Galápagos.
Though many of his students have lived their whole lives in the Galápagos, Ballesteros said that they don’t know anything about the marine ecosystem.
Ballesteros, 41, recalls sitting in one of his former classrooms to hear the lessons not that long ago. It was 20 years later, but the curriculum had not changed.
His program became about more than just providing exposure to the youth that would not see it without it. Ballesteros said it became about providing incentives and extracurriculars that put them on the right path, a program that the government fails to provide.
“A teenager doesn’t know how to motivate themselves,” Ballesteros said. The government should be doing more to motivate the youth of the island with things like workshops and classes, Ballesteros said, to keep them away from the many vices and distractions.
Alexis Chango, 25, remembers the day he knew he decided to be a naturalist guide. When he was 9, he won a contest to go snorkeling around the Leon Dormido rocks. He said that he had never seen the beauty of his island like that before, and if it were not for that opportunity Chango thinks he probably would have never had the chance.
Chango credits the event for igniting his passion for ecology, motivating him to study to be a naturalist guide and to learn English and French to better communicate in his tours.
Ballesteros also provides free scuba diving lessons to locals. The only thing he asks in return from participants is that they research the importance of protecting the marine ecosystem and help around his shop.
Ballesteros has always been inspired by the ocean — from the first time he saw a starfish cleaning his uncle’s fishing boat to the ethereal feeling he gets when he’s weightless during a dive. The ocean has given him everything. Now, he wants to return the favor.
“I give her people to take care of her,” Ballesteros said.