Monday, April 22, 2013

Rozalia Project Intern Blog: Happy Earth Day (and swimming with giant manta rays)

Today is Earth Day and the intern blog comes from someone with some unique and exciting experiences.  Anna Feyerherm comes from Kansas, goes to school at the University of Missouri and has spent some quality time in the water in one of the most exciting locations in the world, the Galapagos Islands.


My relationship to the ocean, for better or for worse, has existed in a context of tourism for the majority of my life.  Growing up in Shawnee, Kansas, my family always chose beach locales when we went on vacation. After graduating from high school, I went to Australia and had the opportunity to do an exploratory SCUBA dive on the Great Barrier Reef.  This experience was my introduction to the ocean at a greater depth (literally and figuratively) than I had experienced it before.
I am currently pursuing and will graduate from the University of Missouri in December with a degree in International Studies and an emphasis in Environmental Studies.  I have enjoyed the variety of courses this major has allowed me to take –  it has enabled me to dip into a lot of different areas of study.  As a result, my study of the environment is mostly framed by the interaction between humans and the environment.  

The University of Missouri, despite all of its great qualities, it is noticeably lacking in one regard – access to the ocean.  My interest in and preference for the ocean has been present since childhood, though I grew up in the even more landlocked state of Kansas.  I was exposed to the ocean through family vacations to Florida, Washington, and the Mediterranean as well as a post high school graduation trip to Australia.  There I did an exploratory SCUBA dive on the Great Barrier Reef, an introduction to the ocean at a greater depth (literally and figuratively) than I had experienced before.  
After this diving “test run,” I knew I wanted to get my diving certification – it wasn’t until I decided to spend last semester studying abroad in Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands that I had the impetus to do it, completing the program over the summer before my semester abroad.  A quick side note: I had a few friends who waited until we arrived in Ecuador to obtain their certifications.  I accompanied them on this dive trip to Isla de la Plata off the coast of Manta, Ecuador.  There, we got to dive with giant manta rays, which were in the area during this very specific time window while migrating.  Being in the water with the mantas was incredible because they’re so huge (12-15 foot wingspan) but completely silent.  I brought a disposable underwater camera with me and was very focused on photographing an octopus when the dive master got my attention – when I turned around, I saw a giant manta swimming just 5 feet away from me.  My friends’ certification experience blew mine out of the water, given that I was certified in a small lake in Arkansas with underwater scenery that included rocks and a couple of intentionally placed 2 foot tall mermaid statues.  
Equipped with diving certifications, my friends and I made our way to the Galápagos a couple of weeks later.  We took multiple dive trips together during the three months we were there, our last one the most exciting of all.  We were living on San Cristóbal Island but decided to go to one of the uninhabited islands, Espanola, a 3-hour boat ride south.  As we approached the island, we saw a couple of fins in the distance coming toward our boat.  We began to realize, fairly quickly, that these were the fins of both a mother and a juvenile orca.  They came up to, and then swam directly under and around our boat, for 15 minutes.  For a moment, the encounter created a feeling of mild terror to get into the water with them so close to us, but it was more exciting than terrifying in the end. 

The courses I took in the Galápagos were centered on some of the ways human activities and populations impact the environment and the relationship between these two separate yet very intertwined entities.  This study, combined with experiences like the ones I have discussed previously in this post, have led me to ecotourism as a way to synthesize my belief in the importance of travel and tourism with environmental conservation, protection, and improvement.  Working to understand the complex relationship between humans and the environment is an important component of ecotourism and is also a large part of what led me to the Rozalia Project.  I am extremely excited to combine research, action, and education to pursue the most positive impact on the ocean possible and encourage others to do the same. 

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