Sunday, May 11, 2014

Rozalia Project Intern Blog: Makai—To the Sea

Today, you'll hear from 2014 intern, Valerie Pietsch. Valerie attends Cornell University studying environmental engineering and just wrapped up a semester in Hawaii!

“Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around.” –Henry David Thoreau
My summer memories at Camp Thoreau were some of the most defining experiences of my life. It was here that I learned to love the outdoors and to want to protect nature. As a camper, I learned to sail for the first time at the age of eight, on small Sunfish boats on White’s Pond. I remember an overwhelming feeling of freedom and adventure when being on the water, and spent as much of my free time there as possible. As a counselor, I continued spending my time on White’s Pond, now teaching this skill to young campers. 
Getting to college, I enrolled as an environmental engineering major. Although I wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted to go with this, I knew that I wanted to protect and restore the environment so that others could connect with it in the same way I was able to. Over the years, it has become more and more apparent that water quality is where my interest lies. I think this passion has stemmed from visiting my family in Colombia. There, tap water must be boiled before use, and bottled water is the main source of drinking water. Having grown up with constant access to clean drinking water, this was mind-blowing to me.

More recently, I was fortunate enough to spend a semester in a field studies program in Waimea, Hawaiʻi. I have been able to travel around the Big Island, as well as Oʻahu, Maui, and Kauaʻi. Connecting to the ‘āina (land) is a huge part of the Hawaiian culture, and my time here has allowed me to understand nature in a much more intimate way. 

In our marine conservation class, I was able to spend class time wading through coral reefs, learning about different types of coral and surveying the health of each reef. We spent time watching whales breech and dolphins spin from shore and on a boat. During our first class out, I spotted something strange at the bottom of the reef. I swam down and pulled it out, and sure enough it was a car floor mat. It was an eye-opening experience for me to see something so dull and familiar in such an incredible and foreign place.

Free diving underwater, I heard a whale song for the first time. It was shocking how close the whale sounded to me, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was also able to get my scuba certification while in Hawaiʻi. Scuba diving for the first time was a completely surreal experience, like entering a completely different world. Always having loved adventure and exploring new places, I couldn’t wait to get back out there.

I currently am spending my last few weeks in Hawai’i interning with both a local scuba center and an educational outreach group, removing marine debris from and educating others on coral reefs. I have loved the work I have done here so far, and I can’t wait to continue exploring and protecting the ocean as an intern on the Rozalia Project this summer.

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