For the sixth consecutive year, in 2008 Earthwatch partnered with Alcoa, Inc. and The Alcoa Foundation to address critical issues in climate change, fresh water conservation, and sustainable natural resource management by sending 15 Alcoa employees from 8 different countries on 6 different Earthwatch research expeditions.
Chosen from 240 applicants from 20 countries worldwide, these 15 Fellows received on-site field research training and provided field and laboratory assistance to the following projects: Climate Change and Caterpillars in Costa Rica and Ecuador, Climate Change in the Rainforest, Costa Rica's Sustainable Coffee, Mountain Waters of the Czech Republic, Sustainable Southern Belize, and Tidal Forests of Kenya.
Through the Earthwatch Alcoa Employee Fellowship Program, Alcoans worldwide have an opportunity to become intimately involved with issues directly linked to Alcoa's own environmental objectives. As Fellows, Alcoans contribute their time, energy, and expertise to Earthwatch research projects, and then share those experiences in ways that benefit their workplaces and communities.
In fact, each year's fellows are chosen from an ever-growing pool of applicants not because of their previous accomplishments or prior experience in environmental issues, but rather for their potential to engage others in the worldwide Alcoa community in a commitment to sustainability and the environment.
As one way to foster this engagement, all Fellows submit field diaries that get shared on the Alcoa website. Through these online diaries and presentations the Fellows make when they return, thousands more-Alcoa employees and members of the communities that are home to Alcoa's offices-are able to learn from Earthwatch's expeditions.
Having fielded in Costa Rica this summer, 2008 Fellows Vivienne Talbot, an HR Coordinator for Alcoa in Switzerland, and Samantha Morely, a Mine Environmental Officer in Australia, have already presented their experiences to colleagues. Ms. Morely shared the impact of her time in Costa Rica with her local Mining Environmental group, and Ms. Talbot presented her experiences at both Alcoa's European Headquarters and at its US/Global Headquarters.
Taking what they've learned about the Earthwatch mission beyond their workplaces, the 2008 fellows have also been inspired to share their experiences with friends, family, and community members, and have become active in local environmental efforts. One third of all returning fellows plan to develop lesson plans or activities for local students.
For example, Corey Ortiz, a US volunteer, has already presented his experience in Belize to a 4th grade classroom, and Charles Soord, an Australian Alcoa employee who volunteered in the Czech Republic, will discuss natural resource conservation issues with students at his local high school.
Fellows from previous years have demonstrated the ongoing outreach and mission values of such corporate partnerships:
- Adam Benke (2007) has shared what he learned on the Tidal Forests of Kenya project with more than 250 friends and coworkers, and with several primary and secondary schools, as well as with the Budapest Water Treatment Ministry in Hungary.
- Bruce Croissant (2006) has reinstated and improved paper recycling programs in his local office in Greenwood, IN, USA.
- Elise Jeffrey (2005) has become involved in local environmental cleanups, tree planting, and company-community events with kindergarten students, and with environmental groups.
As for what they bring to the research projects themselves, Earthwatch Principal Investigators routinely testify to the Alcoans' strong sense of teamwork and their commitment to safe and effective fieldwork. In 2008, these enthusiastic and efficient volunteers contributed more than 1,100 hours of research assistance to Earthwatch scientists. Here's an overview of the 2008 Fellows and their project assignments, with links to their online diaries (if they haven't already been given):
Sustainable Southern Belize
Andrew Douglas, Corey Ortiz, Ronaldo Firmo, and Chad Kavanaugh traveled forty miles off the coast of Belize to the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve to investigate how development, overfishing, and tourist activities are affecting the Caribbean reef ecosystem. While snorkeling, Andrew, Corey, Ronaldo, and Chad recorded data on coral reef health and queen conch populations. These investigations will inform conservation management strategies in this part of Belize.
Mountain Waters of the Czech Republic
Charles Soord and Dan Frank joined Earthwatch Principal Investigator Dr. Josef Krecek on his project conducting long-term ecological monitoring in headwater reservoirs and streams in the Jizera Mountains, Northern Bohemia. Charles and Dan's contributions during water sampling activities and vegetation surveys will help Dr. Krecek understand the structure and function of fragile mountain ecosystems that have been affected by clear-cut forest harvesting and acid rain.
Climate Change and Caterpillars (Costa Rica and Ecuador)
Dmitry Safin, Samantha Morely, Donna Schneider, and Pascal Rochette collected caterpillar species and their host plants, helped grow caterpillar specimens into adulthood, and observed and recorded signs of caterpillars being attacked by-and defending themselves from-various insect parasites. Through this study-taking place in five different research locations--Dr. Lee Dyer is identifying links between climate change, the rate of caterpillar parasitism, and the implications for overall plant and insect biodiversity.
Costa Rica's Sustainable Coffee
Vivienne Talbot and Alexandre Borges conducted bird and pollinator surveys and helped with fruit and flower removal experiments on coffee plantations in San Luis, Costa Rica. These surveys and experiments will aid Principal Investigator Dr. Valerie Peters to determine how shade-grown coffee practices affect local biodiversity, and allow her to see which techniques can best promote more environmentally and economically sustainable approaches to coffee farming.
Climate Change in the Rainforest, Australia
Cesar Zuleta and Ricardo Montiel spent two weeks in Queensland, Australia working with Dr. Steve Williams to monitor a diverse array of forest animals, from small insects to larger mammals. Dr. Williams' work will provide an understanding of the complex dynamics associated with global climate change, allowing more accurate predictions of its effects on individual species, biodiversity, and rainforest ecosystems.
Tidal Forests of Kenya
Helen Holdsworth assisted scientist Dr. Mark Huxham in testing how the diversity of replanted mangrove species affects their function in Gazi Bay, Kenya. In the face of global climate change, Dr. Huxham seeks to understand the importance of mangrove forests in protecting coastlines and fisheries against rising sea levels. The findings of this research will be of great benefit to the local fishing community and to coastal communities worldwide.
Partnerships such as the Earthwatch Alcoa Employee Fellowship Program demonstrate that all sectors of society have vital roles to play in creating a sustainable future. And, as noted Australian researcher and author (The Weather Makers) Dr. Tim Flannery put it in recent remarks at an Alcoa Sustainability Fellowship Program conference, the stakes could not be higher: "In the 21st century, the central challenge will be the survival of life as we know it on this planet. We have the unique chance to be a part of rising to that challenge." Alcoa employee Andrew Douglas's words that began this article remind us, however, that in that challenge for the survival of life as we know it, we are, surely, a collective group of individuals with a common goal.