PULLMAN — After flying all night and half the day, Michelle Kalamandeen arrived at the WSU Pullman campus on July 15. Barely an hour later, the 27-year-old native of Guyana stood in front of her fellow classmates for the first time, hooked up her laptop, and gave a presentation. 
Kalamandeen had just completed an online course called Business Planning for Protected Areas sponsored
by the Center for Distance and Professional Education (CDPE). As the first bilingual course offered by CDPE, the course helped train environmental professionals in the financial aspects of managing protected areas. Students enrolled from countries across the world, including Uganda, Costa Rica, Brazil, Indonesia, and Namibia.
At the conclusion of the course, CDPE instructors invited 20 students to spend three days in Pullman, where they presented business plans, discussed how they will be implemented, and shared ideas.
The Business Planning for Protected Areas program was developed in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, along with UNESCO World Heritage Centre, and members of the Conservation Finance Alliance. The CDPE offered the certificate program simultaneously in English and Spanish to 213 students in more than 40 countries, offering 30 hours of training, nine tutors, and three levels of certification.
Kalamandeen’s presentation concerned the protection of sea turtles on Shell Beach, a 90-mile-long stretch of undeveloped
land in northwest Guyana.
Scientists sometimes neglect the financial considerations involved in preserving habitat, said Kalamandeen, a project manager with the Guyana Marine Turtle Conservation Society.

“It’s fantastic to say you want to conserve an area, but if there’s no money to run it then it’s not going to be effective,” she said. “This program helps me understand more about the financial aspects.”

In Guyana, which is south of Venezuela and about the size of Idaho, finances are key to stopping people from slaughtering turtles. There are three indigenous settlements on Shell Beach, Kalamandeen said.

“Many of these communities are very, very poor. You can’t just tell them it’s wrong to slaughter turtles. If I’ve got five kids, and I see a sea turtle, do I say ‘Let’s protect it’? Or do I look at my children and say, ‘Oh, they’re hungry, let’s kill the turtle to feed ourselves?’”

Part of the answer is providing other sources of income, so people won’t be hungry and turtle hunters won’t roam the beach.

The turtle conservation society set up a small business called Northwest Organics, which markets local products, such as crabwood oil and soap, casareep (a condiment made of cassava), and cocoa sticks.

 “The business has been running for two years, and grown by over 600 percent,” Kalamandeen said. More recently, the society began a group called Moruca Embroidery, which sells traditional embroidered items.

Chanda Carpenter, an e-learning designer/developer with The Nature Conservancy, said the course was the first time the organization has worked with WSU to deliver training. Although creating the pilot program was time-consuming, she said, the course content can be reused, providing a good return on the initial investment. Another benefit is the chance for students to interact, creating “learning communities,” Carpenter said.

Kalamandeen’s trip was also a team effort. The conservancy covered her expenses, and the Greenheart Trust paid her tuition. She’ll return to Guyana with a better understanding of how to protect turtles, including her favorite – the olive ridley.
At 100 pounds, the olive ridley is considered a fairly small turtle. It’s best known for its unique nesting habits. The turtles gather off-shore, then flood the beaches in what’s called an arribada, with hundreds or even thousands of females laying eggs in the sand.
“One of the sad things is we haven’t seen a lot of those come in for the last couple of years,” said Kalamandeen, adding that in past years as many as 100 turtles have swarmed the beach.

She suspects that climate change is forcing the turtles to change their historic nesting areas.
“This year we’ve only seen two or three olive ridleys,” she said. “Last year, we saw one.”

For more information on Business Planning for Protected Areas, go to capps.wsu.edu/sustainablefinance.

Business planning for protected area students in July 2008.