To effectively address global rapid socio-environmental change, the International Long-Term Ecological Research (ILTER) network offers an ideal platform to integrate science and educational programs. However, there are serious limitations to maintain ecological education programs with local communities in the long-term, due to at least two main obstacles: (1) academic scientific research and publications are funded and rewarded above participatory engagement and outreach activities, and (2) locally adapted methodologies to integrate science and education at ILTER sites need be developed. To resolve these limitations, at the Americas’ southernmost ILTER site, the Omora Ethnobotanical Park in the UNESCO Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve, Chile, we have developed: (1) a partnership with a local university (University of Magallanes) and a local school in Puerto Williams, and (2) methods involving researchers and graduate students who work hand in hand with teachers and children in a weekly elective class for fifth- through eighth-grade students. The workshop combines two methodological approaches: (a) Schoolyard Ecology Inquiry, and (b) Field Environmental Philosophy. Instructors seek to hold classes outdoors as much as the subantarctic weather allows. The “Omora ecology workshop” is entering its eighteenth uninterrupted year, engaging students in research projects and scientific presentations, outreach, and conservation activities.
Omora Park’s educational program is unique in its long-term incorporation of national and international universities and researchers with citizens in their daily lives. It serves as the conduit between academics and the local community, engaging students, residents, and authorities in scientific methods, art, and philosophy practices that are integrated into biocultural conservation. Based on historical records and interviews the impact of the education program is being researched throughout 2017. Initial results show that students of Chile’s most remote school have won awards at national and regional science fairs organized by the Chilean Science Foundation (CONICYT) and guided presidents of Chile, authorities, and community members in scientific and ethical activities in the park. Students engage from an early age in scientific dialogue, gaining a sense of responsibility toward conserving the environment and an understanding and appreciation of the ecological, economic, aesthetic, and ethical values of biodiversity. Omora Park serves as a case study and model for how academia can be combined with local ecological education efforts over time, rather than sporadic, short-term collaborations. Further research is needed on how to reward academics for community outreach, as alignments with educational programs should be seen as an integral part of long-term ecological research.