With the help of a grant from Community Engagement at Middlebury, I spent J-term on board a 37-foot sailboat in the Caribbean, traveling and conducting environmental research. The expedition was founded by Henry Bell (Middlebury ’14) and his childhood friend, Grant Bemis (Eckerd ’14). I, along with fellow Middlebury student Lizzy Reed, joined Henry and Grant for four weeks out of their four-month voyage. On board we helped them carry out three separate environmental projects: taking water samples to track microplastics for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, beach cleanups as part of the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, and shark catch and release as part of NOAA’s Cooperative Shark Tagging Program.
Through this incredible experience, I developed an appreciation for how much work goes into a conservation project like this. I learned that tagging a shark doesn’t just mean going out and getting one your first try, but spending night after night with rods in the water, patiently waiting to find a shark big enough to tag. Additionally, I saw firsthand just how much trash is overtaking the beautiful beaches of the Caribbean, and understand the enormity of the problem. The majority of trash in the area has drifted ashore from countries to the east. Because it originated from external areas, there is no local organization in place to pick it up. Nicer beaches on the islands that are maintained by staff have relatively clear sandy areas, but if you step back into the woody areas you will find it too is covered in trash. Even worse, is that when trash is removed more will drift ashore in the coming days to replace it. Efforts to alleviate this problem must be massive, and our beach cleanup surveys contributed to a valuable initiate to gain insight into what types of trash end up where.
In addition to experiencing an eye opening exposure to the need for conservation and the invaluable lessons you learn through life confined to a sailboat, this trip taught me the importance of following through on your dreams. Henry and Grant worked endlessly for the year leading up to the expedition to get their plans arranged, and personally watching their trip fall into place was a huge inspiration. I’ve learned to be honest about the problems I want to tackle in the world, and ambitious in the way I go about contributing to a solution.
-Kerry Daigle ’15
You can also learn more about CCCS grants here!