Dolphin Swims on the Big Island

Sometimes there are no easy answers to complex problems. Dolphin swims on the Big Island have been around for several decades as a recreational activity. As visitors to the island we, like many others, enjoyed amazing experiences on dolphin swims with Dolphin

Family groups cruise by when you are near dolphins in the water.

Family groups cruise by when you are near dolphins in the water.

Journeys’ Captain Nancy Sweatt. She always provided a high quality and very ethical experience, emphasizing respect for the spinner dolphins and other marine life we would see.

 

A dolphin swim is one of the most connecting experiences I have ever had on land or in the water. Her boat, Dolphin TLC, would drop us off in an area where dolphins were sighted cruising in about 60 to 90 feet of water over light colored sand. We were instructed to wait for dolphins to come near on their own, and told not to pursue them or swim toward them. We watched, took photographs, and kept memories close to our hearts. These experiences caused us to do

It works well to just be there and wait. They come up to breathe, jump and spin, or just cruise by.

It works well to just be there and wait. They come up to breathe, jump and spin, or just cruise by.

more research on spinner dolphins and learn more about the controversies surrounding human interaction with them.

 

Spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) spend their nights diving down as deep as 1,000 meters to feed on fish and squid. In the daytime they cruise to shallow bays (100 feet or less) usually over sand or an open bottom to rest. One side of their brain sleeps while the other keeps them cruising down near the bottom for several minutes with quick moves to the surface for a breath and then back to the bottom. They need this resting period each day to remain healthy and strong enough to head back out to deeper waters to feed.

 

Some come close to take a look at us as we study them.

Some come close to take a look at us as we study them.

When we first went out with Dolphin Journeys, ours was often the only boat around, with just six swimmers and a crew member in the water to encourage respectful behavior. In recent years the number of operators has grown to a dozen or more in Kailua-Kona area alone. Dolphins in four bays on Hawaii and one on Maui might have as many as sixteen boats near them and 60 to 100 swimmers in the water each morning. Some boats have crew members helping and other seem to just drop their clients in the water, picking them up if the dolphins leave the area or their schedule dictates time to go.

 

Watching dolphins from a boat is interesting but not nearly as powerful, as connecting as seeing them close while in the water. They approach boats and sometimes cruise along with them, seemingly for fun.

Watching dolphins from a boat is interesting but not nearly as powerful, as connecting as seeing them close while in the water. They approach boats and sometimes cruise along with them, seemingly for fun.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) has a policy and enforcement role related to marine mammals and they have set previous guidelines which include directions to not harass dolphins. Recently NOAA’s scientists have expressed concern about increased pressure on dolphins from swimmers, primarily associated with commercial boat tours but also in bays easily reached from the shore, such as Honaunau Bay.

 

A new proposal by NOAA will effectively ban dolphin swims from boats and in coastal waters throughout the islands. It will require swimmers to leave areas of a bay if dolphins come in to rest. NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office is holding six public hearings to get comments about the new regulations. I attended the first one at Konawaena High School and stayed for the first 3 hours of what likely turned out to be five or six hours of comments from 100 or more people with a total audience of 200 or more. As you might expect there were comments both directions – don’t change the regulations and implement the complete ban in coastal waters. Perhaps three-quarters at that meeting preferred the “no change” option.

 

My comments were from my unique perspective with more than four decades of working in interpretation of natural and cultural resources. Swimming near spinner dolphins is one of the most connecting experiences I have ever had. While there are definitely differences in species and circumstances, the situation reminds me of the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

 

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Mountain gorillas have come back from the brink of extinction in E. Africa. Tourism is a critical component for it pays for protection and helps people understand these poorly understood primate relatives of humans.

Researcher Dian Fosse opposed gorilla tourism. After her death, other biologists worked with government officials to develop gorilla tourism in hopes of saving habitat for and providing protection for gorillas. The mountain gorilla population was down to only 220 individuals. Largely due to the anti-poaching protection afforded by tourists with armed guides and guards, it has grown to more than 900 today. A strictly regulated number of tourists go out each day in Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo with wild but habituated gorillas. Gorilla tourists often describe the experience as life changing. Swimming with dolphins has that feel also.

 

Who is helping people learn about dolphins and connect with these fascinating mammals since government agencies do not put ocean interpreters on the water with the public? More than 3,000 paid interpreters with National Park Service and 70,000 volunteers interpret 413 national parks, monuments and battlefields. A few dozen environmental educators and interpreters do similar duties in marine sanctuaries. For the most part, interpretation of dolphins and other marine mammals is left to private dolphin swim operators.

 

Spinner dolphins out swim us with little effort. When they come close, you feel privileged to get a good look. They are amazing.

Spinner dolphins out swim us with little effort. When they come close, we feel privileged to get a good look. They are amazing.

I think these activities should be allowed with some reasonable and enforceable regulations, but the proposed regulations do not seem reasonable or enforceable. NOAA law enforcement representative indicated fines could be as much as $100,000 and a year in jail – just for swimming near dolphins. NOAA lacks the staff to actually monitor these rules and if they did make arrests and get convictions, the public relations reactions could be more damaging than helpful.

 

Most of us who have been near them in the water have stories of dolphins coming over to inspect us, sometimes playfully, sometimes slowly, watching with care. Several who gave comments told anecdotes of dolphins seeking human help to untangle fishing line from their flippers or tails.

 

Largely missed in this conversation is the opportunity for citizen science. If the researchers at NOAA provided survey forms and training to boat operators and dolphin watchers from the shore, data could be collected that might answer some of the many unanswered questions about these unique creatures. Are spinner dolphin populations increasing, staying the same or in decline? What time of day do they arrive at each bay and what time do they leave? What exactly do they do while resting if undisturbed and how does that differ from when they interact with humans? It was interesting that everyone in the room shared a passion for helping dolphins. How do we harness that passion and commonality?

 

Can dolphin watchers, lovers, swimmers and advocates be allowed some accommodation to sharing the waters of Hawaii?

 

If ever we needed more inter-species understanding it is now and those who love dolphins would enjoy being involved in better protection and interpretation of them. NOAA is an agency of science and policy charged with protecting oceans and the atmosphere. We do appreciate what they do as an agency. We also need a grand effort to interpret oceans and connect people with these vital bodies of water and their inhabitants. Here is a great chance to collaborate, protect and interpret these fascinating animals.

 

– Tim Merriman

 

 

Off-Grid Lessons Learned

On April 2nd I wrote about our plans to install an off-grid solar system with Aquion batteries on our new bamboo home on the Big Island of Hawaii. It seemed we had little choice. Off-grid solar was less expensive than hooking up to the electrical grid.

 

Our bali-style bamboo house has nine 275 watt photovoltaic solar panels.

Our bali-style bamboo house has nine 275 watt photovoltaic solar panels.

Seven months later, we live in the home and monitor our 2,475 watt off-grid system on a daily basis. Nine 275-watt panels are mounted on the south-facing roof and an Outback Inverter system and six Aquion 48-volt batteries manage the electrical storage and conversion to the usual AC (alternating) current of our 1,180 square foot home.

 

We rented another home for the 9 months it took to get through this building project that was also off-grid solar. It had lead-acid batteries and I had a taste of monthly checks of the batteries and addition of distilled water. I could hear the boiling liquid in the batteries on sunny mornings. I used a hygrometer to check the condition of the batteries with coaching from a neighbor. I knew to be careful with any acid spillover and scrubbed away corrosion with a bicarbonate of soda bath. When our electricity suddenly disappeared one day, I asked our solar contractor at the new house to look at the system. He found a loose connection where acid had totally eaten away the bolt connection. He quickly fixed it and it all worked again. It was a lesson in the importance of careful maintenance with lead-acid batteries.

 

Six Aquion S20+ saltwater batteries sit behind the house in their own shelter, storing electricity each day.

Six Aquion S20+ saltwater batteries sit behind the house in their own shelter, storing electricity each day.

I generally like new technologies because they often demystify existing technology. I am a new adopter with home computer devices but I am not usually a new adopter with mechanical or electrical systems. Off-grid solar systems seemed to teeter on that uncomfortable edge of being a little too technical for me. But we took the plunge into off-grid solar for good reasons. We like getting away from fossil fuels. We love supporting new technologies that make sense. We love the idea of not having an energy bill monthly. It was simply cheaper up front with the great tax credits from the state and federal government. So, HOW DID IT GO?

 

It’s been great, actually.

 

  • We have no electrical bill at all. On-grid charges in Hawaii are 48 cents a kilowatt hour, about 4 times the rate in most of the U.S.
  • Our viewscape of the ocean is uninterrupted by power poles. On-grid we would have had to install about $20,000 in ugly power poles, that due to the easements, would have obscured our view. Here you have to drill into solid rock to put in transmission poles and that doesn’t come cheap or easy.
  • An Outback Invert regulates the system and converts the DC storage to AC current for the home.

    An Outback Invert regulates the system and converts the DC storage to AC current for the home.

    The entire system we ended up with cost $24,000, but tax credits give back $11,500. Payback for this system from savings with no electric bill is likely about four or five years.

  • We worried that a 2.475 kilowatt system might not be enough to support our needs so living with it has been a learning experience. We usually draw down the batteries about 15% each night with daily use of a refrigerator, microwave, low-speed overhead fans, lighting and electronics. We also run the washing machine once or twice a week. If we get four hours of good sunlight on any given day, it brings the batteries back up to 100% by noon.
  • It would take seven days of no sun at all to draw down the system to 0 and that just doesn’t happen here. The system has a generator backup system that we likely will never need. With saltwater batteries it is okay to draw batteries down below 50% (a bad idea with lead-acid batteries).
  • We installed propane for cooking and a dryer because stoves and dryers require 220-volt power. Our system only produces 110 volts, a choice we made to save some installation dollars.
  • We went with a Solahart 80-gallon unit for hot water at an extra cost of $7,000 with a 30% federal tax credit (so $5,000 as an after-tax expense.) A heat pump would have met the state requirement for being solar powered because it would get its energy from our photovoltaic cells and would have cost one-fourth as much. We didn’t fully understand this until we were committed on the Solahart system. It works well and we are happy with it, but the heat pump option would have been easier and less expensive and if we had to do it over, we would probably go that route.
  • The control panel shows us the level of charge at any time we wish to check.

    The control panel shows us the level of charge at any time we wish to check.

    We simply have no maintenance requirements with the saltwater batteries. Checking the battery storage level daily is reassuring, but is not really necessary for the system performs as promised. RES, a family-owned business in Honokaa, has been our contractor and their installation work went very well and it all works as expected.

 

Certainly, there will be lessons to be learned over time. Aquion batteries are sealed, require no maintenance and should last 20 to 30 years, but time will tell. This is technology available only in the last few years so we

A Solahart 80 gallon collector heats and stores water for our home.

A Solahart 80 gallon collector heats and stores water for our home.

took the risk of seeing how long these batteries will last, having only the manufacturer’s projections.

 

The tax credit incentives provided by the federal government and most state governments are “window in time” opportunities. Eventually the window will close and those incentives will disappear, but they are making affordable solar energy systems a great bargain in most situations. If you haven’t looked into the costs and potential return on investment, now is the time to take a look. The sun will always be shining for you but you have to have the right system to take advantage of it for your home or business.

 

– Tim Merriman

 

The Uncertain Future of Elephants

Earth’s largest land animals, elephants, have never been more threatened. Dozens, if not hundreds, of organizations and individuals are working on various tactics in hopes of turning the current very negative trend.

 

Sheldrick Wild Animal Trust allows daily visits to the orphaned elephants, a chance to tell the story of poaching and habitat destruction.

Sheldrick Wild Animal Trust allows daily visits to the orphaned elephants, a chance to tell the story of poaching and habitat destruction.

Since 1977 the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has been devoted to protecting elephants. Their Orphans Project is noted for rescuing, raising and rehabilitating elephants and rhinos for eventual release at Tsavo National Park. Tourists are moved by seeing orphaned baby elephants at Sheldrick Trust’s elephant orphanage in Kenya and they chip in to help by “adopting” an elephant or rhino, helping to pay the costs of raising these big babies. It’s hard to resist these youngsters and certainly, we didn’t even try to do so on our visit there, promptly adopting two elephants and one rhino for a two-year period.

 

Females have tusks so they are at risk with poachers. The little ones will only survive if their mothers do also.

Females have tusks so they are at risk with poachers. The little ones will only survive if their mothers do also.

Safaris take people out to see elephants in the wild, but too often people enjoy the safari experience without understanding the unseen threat of poachers that is one of the causes for so many elephant and rhino orphans. These highly engaged tourists could be donors if their guides would share the stories of how populations are declining and options for where to make contributions.

 

An old bull is nicknamed a "tusker." This identity reminds us that their tusks are so valuable that these mature animals are especially at risk.

An old bull is nicknamed a “tusker.” This identity reminds us that their tusks are so valuable that these mature animals are especially at risk.

Elephant orphanages and ecotours do not offer a panacea in the battle to save elephants. They are one piece of a complex puzzle that might build greater empathy among tourists for the plight faced by elephants. Better monitoring of populations is important to detect and interdict poachers. Research informs biologists how populations are changing. Enforcement officers must be on hand to catch poachers and get them prosecuted. Laws have to hold poachers and ivory buyers accountable. Sadly, the big money behind ivory poaching also contributes to corruption among government officials. Some are paid to look the other way and in many places this allows poaching to go unchecked.

 

Legitimate government and non-government organizational commitments to support habitat conservation, anti-poaching efforts, and education programs all require money and very often, that does not come unless there is broad understanding by people of the importance of the issues involved.

 

Most folks will never take a safari or see baby elephants in an orphanage. The zoo or a television program provides their one chance to learn about the plight of elephants in the wild. Can you imagine telling your grandchildren one day of the majestic herds of elephants that once roamed the forests and savannahs of Asia and Africa that have been wiped out? Although keeping such a large, social animal in a zoo is certainly controversial, we need opportunities to tell the elephants’ stories skillfully. Many zoos, even some without captive elephants, do that quite well. Some also take donations to protect habitat, hire rangers and guard remaining wild populations.

 

We live in a time when our knowledge of environmental threats has never been greater. And yet our political will and tools to protect elephants may not be adequate to the challenge. About 400,000 African elephants remain in nature with more than 35,000 being killed each year. About 40,000 Asian elephants live in their greatly diminished range. And the current rate of killing could reduce this noble animal to near extinction in a dozen more years at this level of poaching.

 

I think it has been shown over and over that we need ecosystems approaches to how we deal with the world’s environmental problems. Thoughtful policy, law enforcement, habitat protection, monitoring and interpretation each play a vital role. Some agencies and organizations choose one or two of these tools in preference to using all of them, but a balanced approach is needed overall. Strategic partnerships are vital in getting organizations working together to save the world’s elephants. Individuals can simply reject the purchase or display of anything made of ivory and help advocate for better support for elephant conservation.

 

World Elephant Day approaches on August 12th and it’s a chance for people from all over the world to speak up about the threat to elephants and the need for diverse approaches to protecting them. A balanced approach is needed if elephants are to be saved as keystone species in their natural ranges.

 

– Tim Merriman

 

Only elephants should wear ivory.

 

 

 

Great Things Happen to Good People

 

You often hear “bad things happen to good people.” It’s sometimes true and unfortunate, but sometimes great things happen to good people. Ange

Ange Imanishimwe

Ange Imanishimwe, a Mandela Washington Fellow and Intern.

Imanishimwe was selected to participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowships (MWF) this summer. We first met Ange when training Certified Interpretive Guides in Rwanda. Ange organized Biocoop Rwanda to defeat poverty in his region of Rwanda and to better protect the unique ecosystems in Nyungwe National Park where he guides. Their work has created more than 600 jobs for local people while improving community health, removing invasive species from the park and organizing beekeeping and milk production coops to assist local farmers.

 

Ange arrived in Berkeley this past weekend to participate in President Obama’s Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) as part of the MWF program. It starts

Ange (upper right) met his Rwandan and Congolese colleagues at Kigali Airport for the trip to the United States just a few days ago.

Ange (upper right) met his Rwandan and Congolese colleagues at Kigali Airport for the trip to the United States just a few days ago.

with six weeks at a major university, University of California in this case, with intensive courses in entrepreneurship, leadership training and skills building. After the six weeks, the 500 Fellows convene in Washington, D.C. for a summit with President Obama. One hundred, including Ange, will remain another six to eight weeks for internships with major businesses and organizations. Ange will deliver public lectures at Harvard and Yale Universities during his internship with The Nature Conservancy in Boston.

 

The U.S. State Department invests an additional 5 million dollars in grants to these YALI participants over the next three years to assist with creating or improving non-profits that benefit communities. This kind of capacity building offers opportunities to young leaders who have already shown their ability to mobilize people and resources, helping to improve their African nations.

 

If any of our friends or colleagues in the San Francisco Bay area or Boston would like to meet Ange and show him around the region a bit, you will find he is interested to learn all he can from his visit to the USA. He is a very talented naturalist and guide with broad interests in people and the world. Let us know if you might share some of what our country has to offer and we can make the introduction for you but it must be soon as his time in Berkeley is limited. He is there now and moves on to Boston around the first of August.

 

Thanks to the thoughtful contributions of Marvin and Marion Kleinau and Tom Christensen, we recently sent three more new laptops to Rwandan park guides. Ange has one of those computers to use in his work. Access to the Internet is important to stay in touch with grant opportunities and colleagues around the world.

 

If you wish to buy a laptop ($260) or donate a gently used one to send to a guide at a national park in Rwanda, just let us know and we will handle the logistics of getting it to the hands of a guide after loading it with free open source software. You can help make great things happen for good people.

 

– Tim Merriman

What’s in a battery?

It is an exciting time in the energy innovations business. And I am wishing I had paid more attention in high school during physics class. It was my worst subject. I just did not know how to relate it to the real world. After a lifetime of applied physics lessons, I am actually learning how electricity works. Battery design and use has become my most recent study. Since we are building an off-grid solar house, batteries are required. Battery research has led me down many rabbit trails.

 

Right away I learned that lead-acid batteries have a limited life. They require regular inspection and addition of distilled water. They should not be drawn down too often or too far in stored energy. They must be recycled to keep the lead in them from being a hazard after they are no longer useful. Some innovative folks have been working on other, more environmentally-friendly options.

 

Nonagenarian Earl Bakken, inventor of the pacemaker, is converting his 17,000 square foot house to off-grid solar on the Big Island and getting away from diesel generators. His 176 kilowatt solar panel array will charge into a new battery type based on saltwater, not lead-acid. RES, our solar contractor is also working on his project and has taken on distribution of the new line of Aquion batteries to do his project and others. Our modest 1180 SF house will use their new S-20 batteries designed for small projects.

 

m100-ls81-homeThe Aquion story is innovation at its best and Dr. Jay Whitacre tells the story well in his 2012 TED talk. He worked for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as a post-doc after earning a Ph.D. in physics from Oberlin College. He became a senior staff scientist involved with the Mars Science Laboratory development team. His research into energy storage led him into experimentation with batteries based on using the most common elements on Earth. He invented the Aquion battery when he left JPL for a professor position at Carnegie Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh in 2007.

 

Eight years later the battery is in production and distribution with Hawaii being an important demonstration location due to the Bakken project, a microgrid-sized application. Aquion has attracted major investors in the past two years including Bill Gates of Microsoft fame. In 2011 Gates posted a blog article entitled “We Need an Energy Miracle.” He explained in that blog the need for a low-cost energy storage system to make solar and wind technologies more useful in diverse settings. Aquion is one of several approaches that show great promise so he invested.

 

Aquion makes a battery with no Haz-Mat implications. It requires no maintenance such as adding water. It lasts for 10 to 20 years and can be cycled up and down thousands of times. It is more expensive than a lead-acid battery system at the start, but should not be over the total cycle of 20 years. And it will be less expensive to buy each year as sales volumes increase and production costs are reduced.

 

In the early 1980s I was a nature center director employing solar hot water, composting toilets and a solar greenhouse to demonstrate new technologies. Many new trends we thought would endure did not, but nature centers are a great place to demonstrate and explore new technologies that show hope for a more sustainable future for the planet. New technologies offer a good opportunity for grants funding because they are one-time purchases with a sustainability value in support of the nature center, zoo or aquarium.

 

Batteries never looked exciting to me before, but they do now. And I am learning some of the basic physics principles I missed in high school. If you operate a facility or home in a sunny location, take a look at the options to go off-grid and start learning more about batteries. It really is an exciting time in the energy innovations business.

 

-Tim Merriman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Off-grid – A Lesson in Energy Consumption

 

In the early 1980s I was a nature center director in Pueblo, Colorado. The energy crisis nationally energized us to be early adopters and models of conservation measures. We put a solar hot water heater on the center, added clivus multrum composting toilets and built a solar greenhouse both as demonstrations and to show our commitment to our own core values. The technologies were somewhat clumsy and challenging to use back then, but we learned much from doing it and conducted workshops as part of our programming to teach others about emerging technologies that protect the environment.

 

Photovoltaic power has never been so affordable.

Photovoltaic power has never been so affordable.

Decades passed and I moved on to be an association director. As private citizens, Lisa and I paid our energy bills and enjoyed the benefits of on-grid electricity at reasonable rates. In 2008 we used the exceptional U.S. and Colorado tax credits and Xcel Energy stimulus funds to add 48 on-grid solar panels to our home in Fort Collins. We had no electrical bill after that, except for a $7 clerical charge monthly. The system repaid us for hard costs in five years with the savings on electrical bills.

 

We just moved to the Big Island of Hawaii where we currently rent a home that is off-grid solar. Electrical power poles do not make it to this secluded location. It is actually a wonderful reminder every minute of the day that energy is not as free and easy as it seems in much of the United States. The normal cost for electricity of 42 cents a kilowatt-hour on the Big Island (3 times the mainland rate) encourages important choices in how you build and consume. We have decided to build our new bamboo house with off-grid photovoltaic cells, solar hot water and catchment water for irrigation.

 

Even a solar trash compactor can tell its story.

Even a solar trash compactor can tell its story.

In the meantime we have four to five months in the rental house to learn how to manage our daily lifestyle with less energy demand. Our current daily use of electricity is:

Light (1 – 60 watt) – 2.5 hrs.

Refrigerator – 24/7

Microwave – 5 minutes

Blender – 30 seconds

TV/Dish controller – 2.5 hours

Computer/phone recharge – 4 hours

Printer – 5 minutes

Toaster oven – 45 seconds

 

We have no heating or air conditioning with lows of 62 degrees and highs of 84 degrees Fahrenheit. We have no dishwasher, clothes washer, or dryer, a choice you make when going off-grid to decrease electrical demand. It’s a climate where clothes dry quickly outside and we just do not wear as many clothes with shorts and a T-shirt as the preferred daily apparel. (Lisa notes that she does wash clothes, but by hand, as needed, in the bathtub. It takes roughly one hour per week.) We cook with propane and have on-demand propane-fueled hot water.

 

Hawaii offers opportunities to lower our energy demand and live with no connection to the grid for a reasonable investment in photovoltaic solar power and hot water. The tax credits make it all more affordable and new technologies keep lowering the cost. Solar panels that cost $350/watt produced two decades ago are selling for $1/watt now so the opportunities to use solar on or off-grid have never been greater.

 

People like learning about your extra efforts to protect the environment.

People like learning about your extra efforts to protect the environment.

Nature centers, aquariums, zoos, museums, and parks, which use solar and other appropriate technologies make a valuable contribution in stimulating people to think about new options. When you employ these technologies, be sure you create the exhibits and other media to share your reasoning and the costs involved. Adding programs that help people learn how to do it can be very popular.

 

Climate makes going off-grid challenging in most places but year-round warm climates offer a great opportunity for people to return to a simpler way of life by making a few different lifestyle choices that are healthier for humans and for the planet. For more information, check out Home Power magazine to get more acquainted with the burgeoning technologies.

 

– Tim Merriman

 

 

Gift Shops – Eights Ideas to Consider

Great gift shops extend the learning experience in a community or at a natural science or cultural site. They encourage us to invest and take home a symbol of the visit. These are traits that you might consider in planning or revamping your gift store.

 

gift11) Sell fair trade goods, sustainably crafted, with enduring value. Guests notice whether your sales items support or are in conflict with your organizational values.

2)  Sell experiences that support local or site-based themes. Experiences such as off-site tours, visits to dinosaur digs, and behind the scenes tours can be booked from the shop using an exhibit to pique interest.

3) Stock memorabilia in a broad price range. Items can be as inexpensive as a polished local rock or a unique T-shirt or as expensive as a locally handcrafted item, but every item should be related to the place or message regardless of price.

4) Use the gift store as a learning place that helps guests better understand the stories and mission of the community or organization. Signage and exhibits in a store help people make informed choices about what to buy that might improve their experience at the site or support a local community group that deserves assistance.

5) Support local craftsmen, artisans, and fabricators to build a

Xanterra also employs exhibits in the gift shop to encourage thoughtful choices in using water bottles.

Xanterra also employs exhibits in the gift shop to encourage thoughtful choices in using water bottles.

sense of community related to your natural or cultural history site or heritage community. You can keep art and craft skills alive related to your story and purpose for the benefit of all. Hangtags with names and personal stories of craftsmen who made them help people remember the experience and the message long after their visit.

6) Be sure your bags match your organizational core values. Encouraging wildlife conservation and then requiring each customer to carry away their purchases in plastic bags creates dissonance they will notice. Consistency is important in everything you do.

7) Design your shop around the exit so people walk through it as they leave. Studies of museum stores have shown that sales are ten times as much if people exit through the store when compared to an exit with a side door into the store. If this seems like crass commercialism, then you may not be selling the right stuff.

8) Some portion of the sales items should extend the learning experience. Books, videos, maps, charts and I.D. cards provide people with the next steps in growing their knowledge and passion.

 

A great store extends the experience for guests in wonderful ways. A poor store that seems designed only to sell “stuff” can degrade a good experience. Make your experience even better by a thoughtful assessment of your store’s power to extend the learning experience.

 

– Tim Merriman