Contributed by Pam Denish (’15)
Last fall, I studied abroad in Bonaire, a small island in the southern Caribbean. The program focused on coral reef ecology and tropical marine conservation. I chose the program because I have always been passionate about marine biology and conservation, and I knew it would give me first-hand research experience in a beautiful location. Throughout the program I spent a lot of time SCUBA diving and learning about different marine ecosystems, the species that inhabit them, how human activities are threatening the oceans, and what can be done to protect them.
Among the most shocking of my experiences were beach clean-ups, during which we collected trash and disposed of it in the island’s sole waste management site. Many of the locations we cleaned were not popular recreational areas, but rocky shores and dense marshes. These places were overwhelmed by trash that had washed ashore from the ocean. I couldn’t help but think that if this much trash had been washed ashore, there must be much more still circulating in the oceans.
These trash collections caused me and my classmates to consider how we could encourage the public to reduce the amount of trash they throw away and teach them why it is important. We hosted a children’s environmental fair with booths showing the life in the oceans as well as suggestions for easy ways to reduce our impact, including recycling and creative ways to repurpose trash. We had an arts and crafts station where we made wallets and Christmas ornaments out of old boxes, and snow globes out of jars; the children were amazed by how many fun things could be made from trash. We also distributed flyers about how to reduce trash output by using reusable shopping bags and purchasing groceries with minimum packaging.
Another rewarding experience was the work I did once a week with children from a local after-school program designed to keep kids off the street. Through snorkeling activities and games, we taught them the basics about coral reefs and how humans affect the reefs. It was fun to see the kids’ curiosity and enthusiasm each week. I truly believe that if we can inspire children to care about sustainability and protecting the environment, then we have the ability to preserve and restore many beautiful and important ecosystems.
Going abroad enriched my life in many ways, and continues to do so. Not only did I get to experience and learn about my passion – the ocean – but I also learned that we have the power and responsibility to protect our environment. We are inextricably linked to the earth, and it is to our own benefit that we learn to live sustainably and protect it. This experience abroad imbued me with the spirit of helping the community to protect the environment and it definitely channeled the familiar and beloved spirit of Pro Humanitate.