Born in Nassau, Ricky Johnson, 47, was exposed to plants and their medicinal properties at an early age by his mother and grandmother, though he really didn’t have a great interest in plants or their names at the time. After childhood, Ricky moved to Grand Bahama, and spent several years in SCUBA, helping others learn about the underwaterworld of the Bahamas. A visitor’s question, about a tree located outside of the Underwater Explorers Society (UNEXSO) in Port Lucaya wher Ricky was working, shook his world. When asked by the visitor to The Bahamas about the type of tree, he didn’t have the answer nor did any of the other locals. The visitor was disappointed and her remark “And you live here?” made a huge impression on Ricky. He personally felt he had done a great disservice to his country, and especially himself, b ynot being able to educate a visitor on the ecology of his own country. This spurred him on a quest to learn everything he could about his island and its ecology.
Since the tree incident, Ricky has traveled an interesting path. He took a year off from SCUBA and worked for Erika Gates, the proprietor of Kayak Nature Tours—one of the first eco-tour businesses in The Bahamas. He was very impressed with the information and knowledge gained under the tutorage of Mrs. Gates. Next Ricky signed on as the Fitness Trainer for Baker’s Bay Golf & Ocean Club, where he often was asked to accompany the sales representatives to interject his knowledge of the ecology during sales tours to potential residents of the development. After training sessions in the club, Ricky would often take guests outside of the fitness arena taking them on smaller scale eco-adventures around Baker’s Bay. He knew guests could go fishing and boating, but in terms of gaining an understanding on the interior orthe ecology of the environment, very little was available. “Edutaining”quickly became Ricky’s passion and he eventually decided to follow his heart and the “Call of the Wild” by opening the doors of AbacoNature Tours.
Where do you currently reside? My wife Judy and I are residents of Sandy Point and we have three daughters—Bionca, Cassie andMelinda, and one son—Joinal, who range in age from 17 to 30.
What are your eco-tourism qualifications? I was certified as aBird Tour Guide in 2001. I am also a Tour Guide Trainer and Kayakand Canoe Instructor. On the safety side, I’m First Aid and FirstResponder Certified. And, although not eco-tourism related, I have acertification in Fitness from Florida International University.
What types of adventures tours does Abaco Nature Tours specialize in? Four primary areas: birding, kayaking, biking and paddle tours. All tours are customized based upon participants’ interests, age, experience, and fitness levels.
What is your favorite tour? For me, one of the most amazing tours Abaco Nature Tours conducts is our Birding EcoNature Tour,which actually encompasses a cave and blue hole segment. We visit Dan’s Cave and Sawmill Cave, both which were featured on the coverof National Geographic Magazine in 2010, as well as other caves based upon available time and interest by the group. So our clients not only get to see birds, they gain a better ecological perspective on what’s going on and what has happened to this area over thousands of years. Dan’s Cave is actually the most decorated cave on the planet because of the stalactites and stalagmites found within its system
What is one of the most profound statements a guest has made resulting from one of your tours? I had a client who had been coming to Abaco for 15 years and had never made it beyond Marsh Harbour. He came by boat and visited the outer cays, but never the interior of Abaco Island. I took him on a birding tour to teach him about the Abaco parrot. We were walking through the forest tracking the parrots and arrived at a specific location where we saw the birds. The man turned to me and said he never knew all of this was here. At that point, two parrots flew to two branches, where the moon, golden in color that evening, was dead center between the birds. He looked at me and said “I can die now.” This man was a nature lover, but he never knew what was waiting for him to discover in the interior of the island. The experience opened his eyes to all the beauty of The Bahamas he had been missing.
Ultimately, when the tour is over what do you want your gueststo remember? I want guests to know they are a part of what’s going on and I want to reinforce our American-Bahamian connection. Additionally, I want them to enjoy themselves while they are learning, create memories that last a lifetime, and to realize there is a lot to do in Abaco. Foremost, I want them to leave saying they can’t wait to return.
To Ricky, every person who takes an Abaco Nature Tour is the lady who once asked about the tree outside the office. He will never again disappoint a visitor, his country nor himself, by not being able to knowledgeably answer a question on the flora or fauna of his country.
To learn more about Abaco Nature Tours, visit www. AbacoNature.com. Tours are available year-round and aredesigned to accommodate nature lovers age 10 and older.