Though small, a Del Mar nonprofit is making a big impact on the world.
Since 1997, Nature and Culture International has helped protect millions of acres of endangered ecosystems in Latin America.
“We work directly with local communities and governments to develop a vision for conservation and a better life for the people living around conservation areas,” said NCI President Byron Swift.
Although it was more than 20 years ago, NCI founder Ivan Gayler, a Del Mar native, vividly recalled the day his tears moved him to action.
While flying over South America in the early 1990s, Gayler looked down at the Amazon rainforest and saw a lattice of logging roads and land-clearing fires.
Perhaps better known locally as part of the Del Mar Partnership that built Del Mar Plaza, Gayler, a longtime developer, decided to concentrate on conservation more than 15 years ago with the launch of NCI.
“That transformed me,” said Gayler, who co-founded Del Mar Partnership with business partner David Winkler in 1979. “The world’s last great ecosystem was disappearing before my very eyes.”
With Gayler still serving as co-chairman of the board and president of the company, Del Mar Partnership donates office space to NCI. And Winkler, co-chairman and chief executive officer of Del Mar Partnership, previously served on NCI’s board.
When Gayler first launched the foundation, he used his own funds to help build the San Francisco Scientific Station on the northern edge of Podocarpus National Park in Ecuador. There, the German Research Foundation runs what is described as the largest tropical forest research program in the world, while offering training to locals.
Since then, NCI and its partners in Ecuador, Mexico and Peru have conserved 13 million acres of critical ecosystems, ensuring the survival of countless species, through land purchases, community reserves and government reserves. This includes directly supporting the creation of 6.5 million acres of protected areas, and three United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) biosphere reserves spanning another 6.5 million acres.