Caye Caulker Ocean Academy

Caye Caulker Ocean Academy: Aquatic Tourism Program: Kayak and Fish with Purpose

Caye Caulker, BelizeCaye Caulker, Belize
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
Project Stage:
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Across Belize, only 40% of secondary-school-age youth attend school and youth unemployment is 30%. Ocean Academy high school offers physical education classes and social enterprises in kayak, scuba, fly fishing and tour guiding skills. Students earn tuition, stipends and gain real-word job skills.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

all Belizeans could learn social enterpri skills while in high school and become entrepreneurs with a deep sense of community responsibilit?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Across Belize, education is not free and only 40% of secondary-school-age youth attend school. The youth unemployment rate is 30%. The combination of these two issues is a contributing factor to the rise in youth violence and disengagement in Belize, as well as increase in low-pay low-skill jobs that are destructive to the environment (ex. dredging or over fishing).

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Ocean Academy has created two small businesses in which students accompany tourists by kayak or fishing rod and interpret the marine ecosystems and share local knowledge. Students are "hooked" to enroll in high school because of real-world learning relevant to the local economy and student interests. Trip profits are credited to the student leader's tuition and family income, thus further encouraging retention to graduation. Apprenticeships often lead to employment offers after graduation. Related electives include marine biology, tour guiding, leadership, first aid, communication and entrepreneurship skills. Environmental stewardship, particularly of the mangrove and reef ecosystems, is integrated into all tours.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Kyle was not a valedictorian like his older sister, and did not plan to attend high school. However, Ocean Academy's scuba certification program "hooked" him into the academics. He learned fly fishing and kayak, as well as marine ecology, communications, accounting, entrepreneurship, tour guiding skills. He graduated 2014 and earned a National Youth Award for Tourism. Ocean Academy hired Kyle as an assistant fly-fishing instructor one afternoon per week and he now mentors youth. Kyle is studying now to certify as a guide. Moreover, five tour operators have already offered him fishing and guiding employment, based on the skills he learned at Ocean Academy. Fly Fishing is one of the highest-paid tourism jobs and is very specialized.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Ocean Academy’s Aquatic Tourism Program attracts island youth to attend high school by appealing to their interest in the island’s sport tourism economy. Across Belize only 40% of youth attend secondary school. On the island of Caye Caulker even fewer students advanced because there was no high school until Ocean Academy opened in 2008.Prior to 2008 only 32% of graduates from the one island primary school continued their education. 93% students enrolled in high school in 2012. This year, Ocean Academy saw a 140% new enrollment over last year. 70% of OA graduates go on to Jr. College, well above the national average. Of 34 graduates to date, 3 are working in dive/snorkel shops, 1as an environmental NGO’s boat captain, and 4 are studying tourism or marine biology. As well, 3 current students work after-school with dive/snorkel shops.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Create a Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship that would house the high school, Jr. College specializing in Tourism & Hospitality, Marine Biology, and Teacher Training and be a research and learning lab for social enterprise and place-based education. Each would operate a social enterprise for sustainability: hotel, restaurant, Kayak/Fish/Bike with Purpose tours. We also want to develop a national curriculum and certification program for youth to become National Jr. Tour Guides. We have a campus property in mind for this expansion project (an abandoned waterfront resort).

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Kayak and Fish with Purpose Tour profits are reinvested in students' tuition, stipends, and school operations. The goal is financial sustainability through social enterprise. Local tour operators volunteer their time, expertise and equipment to train the youth at no cost.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Ocean Academy is the only high school (2008) on the island of Caye Caulker. There is no Jr. College, no employment centre. Aquatic tourism is the main industry on our island, and while there are many tour operators offering kayak and fishing trips, none is a social enterprise. We consider it positive that the Department of Youth Services is starting to promote entrepreneurship and financial literacy initiatives in schools, and we are happy to share our school's sustainable model of place-based education and social enterprise.

Founding Story

Ocean Academy’s Founder, Heidi Curry, was a Scuba Diving instructor on the island for two years prior to opening the first high school. She watched as visitors came to certify and dive the Belize Barrier Reef, yet locals were excluded due to lack of education, resources, and confidence. The highest paid tour guiding jobs were also being filled by foreigners. Now, Ocean Academy high-school students earn valuable certifications in Scuba, Fly fishing, Kayak and Windsurfing. Kayak and Fish with Purpose school business profits provide stipends, tuition and school income. Additional course offerings include tour guide training, marine biology, first aid, entrepreneurship and leadership classes.


Ocean Academy Founders are Joni Miller M.Ed. and Heidi Curry, M.Ed. Ocean Academy is accredited by the Belize Ministry of Education, and has an active Board of Governors. The Aquatic Tourism Program's tour operator partners are Haywood Curry - owner Anglers Abroad; Allie Ifield - owner Toucan Canoes and Kayak; Belize Diving Services instructors.
About You
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About Your Project
Organization Name
How long has your organization been operating?

Organization Country

, BZ, Caye Caulker

Country where this project is creating social impact

, BZ, Caye Caulker

Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Customers, Other.

Awards: What awards or honors has the project received?

UNICEF and Beyond Sport, Sport for Education Award (2014)
Panel speaker at Beyond Sport Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa (2014)
National Youth Award for Environmentalism and Social Enterprise (2014) First place in Coastal Management Zone Video Competition: Sustainable Development (2014)
US State Department WHA CARSI Grant "Alternative Livelihoods for Youth at Risk" (2013-2016)
National Youth Award for Youth in Tourism (2013)
Early Bird Prize National Geographic GeoTourism Challenge (2010)

Where have you learnt about the competition?

Ashoka newsletter email.

Tell us about your partnerships:

Local tour operators are the keystone of our Aquatic Tourism Program. They are mentoring the youth. Nationally, the Department of Youth Services is our main partner for leadership trainings; we work with the Forest and Marine Reserves of Caye Caulker; BELTRAIDE wants to integrate their entrepreneurship curriculum at Ocean Academy. International grants from the US State Department, Beyond Sport, 501c3 Friends of Ocean Academy.

Challenges: What challenges might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

High-school students are not certified by the Belize Tourism Board as national tour guides. We must explain to clients that they are renting the kayak or fishing rod, and in exchange for a donation to the school, students will accompany them on a tour. Our goal is to create a national Jr. Tour Guide curriculum and certification program, similar to the scuba diving credential system.