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The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Reflections on Connected Oceans

Posted by | December 8, 2023 | Filed under: Observations

Two months ago, I boarded an airplane for Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, filled with excitement and a sense of adventure. I applied and was chosen to join the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic two-week “Wonders of the Western Pacific” expedition as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship Alumna, assisting National Geographic Explorer Dr. Jom Acebes with her whale research. While traveling from Vietnam to Malaysia to Indonesia to Palau, I participated in all of the voyage’s incredible activities with the other guests, such as snorkeling with stingless jellyfish, swimming amongst sea turtles, and visiting orangutan, sun bear, and proboscis monkey sanctuaries. And on the days when our ship was at sea, we conducted research from sunrise to sunset, scanning the waters off the bow for whales. It was an amazing educational opportunity that had me feeling inspired and in awe each day, filled with tremendous gratitude!

Boarding the National Geographic Resolution

Back in 2013, when I participated in my first Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship expedition in Svalbard, Norway, I experienced a great many similar awe-inspiring moments while in the company of walrus, polar bears, reindeer, and beautiful ice-covered Arctic landscapes. And yet, I also remember feeling so surprised and saddened to see plastics washed up on a remote island we were hiking upon in the Barents Sea. We were so close to the North Pole, seemingly worlds away from sources of plastic pollution, and yet there it was at my feet.

Hiking along a fjord in Svalbard

Fast forward ten years to this past October, while traveling across the South China Sea from Vietnam to Borneo in search of whales, where I had a similar surprising encounter with plastics. The seas were very calm, making it easy to detect breaks in the water’s surface. I at times excitedly thought that I had spotted a whale fin in the distance, when the sighting only turned out to be a plastic water bottle afloat. Sometimes we really did see whale fins, and what an exhilarating experience that was! One time we were cruising over 15,000 feet of water and witnessed sperm whales diving, presumably in search of meals of squid. I couldn’t help but wonder whether plastics were also being inadvertently consumed.

Sperm whale diving

In these last two months since my expedition, I’ve reflected on all of the incredibly beautiful sights I experienced in the Western Pacific. There are so many! And I’ve also reflected upon what is at the core of the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship—enhanced geographic awareness. For me, the concept that resonates so powerfully after my recent voyage around the world is the interconnectedness of the oceans. They may have different names and be thousands of miles apart, but their water flows as one. As we say during Wells Reserve education programs, we all live in a watershed, whether inhabiting inland or coastal towns. The choices we make upstream affect habitats downstream and ultimately, the world’s one vast connected ocean.

Sunset from the bow of the National Geographic Resolution

*I will be sharing photos and stories from my expedition experience during a public Lunch & Learn via Zoom on January 30 (12-1pm). I hope you will join me! And in March, National Geographic Explorer Jom Acebes will be giving a public presentation via Zoom about her whale research. Stay tuned for more details!

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