I’ve never really had the opportunity to pour out my life story so what better place but here. The following is a condensed version of my existence; an overview of what I’ve done, where I’ve been and who I am. After taking a long awaited leap out of the comfortable nest that is my hometown of Bellingham, WA, I have been bouncing around the globe, fulfilling my previously suppressed nomadic urges. I took my time in earning my undergraduate degree (with some extended breaks) and squeezed all I could out of the college experience while participating in 3 internships and designing several research projects abroad for school credit. I studied a very versatile range of environmental subjects; from writing to war to whales…
After a full year of study, I left Western Washington University in the spring of 2007, where I had been studying environmental journalism and science at the Huxley School of Environmental Studies. I had the chance to write and photograph for Huxley’s award-winning Planet Magazine and wrote the fall 2006 cover story “Diving into the Dead Zone” and with the aid of my scuba diving skills earned my first taste of underwater photography. After being bitten by a strange and wondrous Costa Rican travel bug on spring break and being fed up with massive, impersonal science lecture halls, I took a somewhat random job offer to nanny for a family on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai. As the 5 weeks of the originally planned time frame neared an end, I watched the calendar with dread. I did not want to leave. One morning, after toying with the idea of pushing back my plane ticket, I woke up and decided to stay. I’d never felt more sure of anything in my life: I wanted to live on Kauai. I wanted to get to know the rich island culture, learn to catch waves, and eat fresh fruit everyday. So I decided to stay for the rest of the summer…then the fall as well…and the winter…maybe the spring?! 11 months later, I had learned to surf overhead waves, could easily navigate the 25 square mile island by hitchhiking and could understand a bit of dakine pidgin. Sure, maybe it sounds like morphed into a surf bum, but that island taught me more about myself, work ethic, culture, friendship and life than I had gathered from the previous 22 years. I also performed an internship with Save Our Seas, a local marine conservation organization where my passion for marine field research was sparked. I made some amazing friends and will never deny that my time on Kauai changed me forever. I love that small volcanic rock in the middle of the Pacific with all my heart…but I had to leave. It was for my sanity. After feeling the claustrophobia of “island fever,” I increased my work load and started stuffing my piggy bank with travel funds. I worked hard as a server and naturalist guide to buy a digital SLR and a plane ticket from Quito to Panama City from Guatemala City back home to Seattle for my dear friend Jasmine‘s wedding. My 2 month solo journey through 7 countries was fast paced and filled with wonderful moments, exciting places and many stories.
Back in the Pacific Northwest, I transferred to the Evergreen State College where I immediately started to scheme how to use an academic disguise to travel. I completely clicked with the school’s innovative curriculum and progressive style of teaching. I studied with the interdisciplinary Environmental Health program, where I learned how human-introduced toxic chemical’s abundance are taking a toll on health and our environment. I realized I could combine my passions for environmental science and human rights. I finally began to feel focused as I saw my commitment to better the world begin to mesh in both realms of the environment and humanity. With overwhelming scientific proof, the fact cannot be denied that the environment affects our health as much as our existence affects the environment. We are not separate. I became interested in the issue of Agent Orange after studying how chemicals can have severe adverse effects and often third world health is the most devastating example. Agent Orange was used as a defoliant in the Vietnam War…a chemical spray that contains TCDD, a toxicant so powerful, it dissolves rain forests. I was drawn to the issue because of it’s severity, the lack of public knowledge, my own country’s disregard for responsibility after the Vietnam War and perhaps the fact that 40 years after the initial application of the chemical, babies are still born with deformities. After much research and preparation I traveled to Vietnam, and performed an independent research project about the adverse health effects of Agent Orange and how scientific studies could be implemented to remediate the dioxin that still contaminates the once pristine jungles of Southeast Asia. I flew into Hanoi and then made my way south where I worked with the Hue Medical School and their studies on this issue. My ultimate goal was to raise awareness about overlooked environmental issues and to reiterate the point that the years gone by do not simply dissolve; You cannot bury the past. I wrote a long detailed paper on how scientists, NGOs, non-profits and the government work together and more often do not work together to tackle the growingly outdated but relevant issues of Agent Orange and health of the Vietnamese that are continuously under exposure. My paper is available if you are interested in reading it.
While still in Vietnam, I landed a summer internship with Northern Arizona University (NAU) and Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP) working for the Region 9 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in San Francisco…also known as a crash course in bureaucracy. I worked in a cubicle 5 days a week tracking down GPS coordinates of tribal minor pollution sources. My objective was to build a Graphic Information System (GIS) and then present the locations of minor pollution sources on tribal lands of Region 9 (Arizona, California and Nevada). This meant hours of planning meetings to meet with people in different departments that would tell me people they thought I should meet with in different departments. Gahhh. At times I felt like a dog chasing it’s own tail but I did learn to create a GIS and attended inspiring seminars about working with tribes and the environmental history of the Bay Area.
Fall of 2009, I began my 6-month internship with Ventana Wildlife Society where I learned the wonders of working as a wildlife biologist. I lived in Pacific Grove and commuted to Big Sur each morning except when I stayed high above the Pacific ocean in the field station. I worked with the Songbird Conservation Ecology program where my duties included mist netting, identifying, banding migratory and resident birds in the riparian area of Andrew Molera State Park. Majority of my time was spent working with the California Condor Reintroduction Program where I frequently used telemetry, observation, nest searching, and participated in the handling and feeding of critically endangered condors. I spent much time in the Ventana Wilderness and indulged in being alone up at base camp.
Although I loved working with the largest bird in North America, often I would find myself distracted by the distant spouts of migrating leviathans. My love of the ocean became stronger than ever with such close proximity and I spent all my spare time watching for cetaceans and identifying invertebrates in rocky tide pools.
For my final quarter at Evergreen, I designed a research project studying toothed whales (odontocetes) with Cascadia Research Collective in Hawaii. During April 2010, I worked on a 2-week field project as a data recorder on rigorous surveys offshore of Kona on the Big Island; a crash course in cetacean ecology. However new I was to marine mammal work, I gained experience data recording, observing seabirds, collecting video/photo data and recording data during biopsies and tagging of odontocetes. I saw over 10 species of cetacean I had never seen before. I processed biopsies, recorded data using Access and prepared equipment and digital cameras each day. It was a great deal of hard work but a very rewarding experience nonetheless. For my final thesis, I wrote a scientific paper on the impacts of the fishing industry on Hawaiian odontocetes. I attended the False Killer Whale Take Reduction Team meeting on Maui and learned a great deal about the alarming rate of decline of many little known species of rare odontocetes in Hawaii. My paper is available if you are interested. After my graduation in June, I continued to work as a naturalist and crew for Safari Boat Excursions where I practiced free diving, marine identification and taking underwater photographs.
I then traveled back to Santa Cruz, CA to work as a marine mammal observer on a NOAA transect survey over the Davidson Seamount. It was an amazing experience at sea for 5 days, good pay and over 200 Fin whales! That’s the second largest whale in the world which means I saw some serious tonnage in terms of blubber. The survey will aid in the protection of the seamount in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. After the California survey, I was invited back to participate in another Hawaiian odontocete project during July and August, this time with a smaller crew, less resources which ended up being in my favor. I was able to not only data recorder but also act as photographer, collect prey samples, record underwater bioacoustics which allowed me to gain more field experience overall. It was an amazing opportunity to combine my passion for photography and science.
I’ve used my passions for the environment and humanity to fuel my travels. I look at each new opportunity as a chance to learn how I might better serve the world. I want to experience life to the fullest and have some amazing adventures on the way.
I owe much appreciation and thanks to my family and friends who have helped me struggle through the many challenges I’ve faced. I’ve received an amazing amount of support from my friends and family who have given me so much to be thankful for. I could not possess the courage to pursue my dreams if it were not for your love and encouragement. I am so lucky to have an incredible network of friends and family that never fail to stand behind me and my endeavors.