First time Earthwatch volunteer reflects on life-changing experience in Gulf of Mexico
Two details about Earthwatch volunteer Wit Ostrenko make his reaction to his first-ever expedition to study the loons and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill extra meaningful.
First, as president of the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, Florida for the last 24 years, Ostrenko is no stranger to science. He’s been there and done that, and he routinely gives inspirational talks on science. And second, the Gulf of Mexico is a playground for this avid sailor - and he knows it like the back of his hand.
Yet even for Ostrenko, the Earthwatch experience was profoundly transformational. “This expedition was humbling for me, and it changed my life,” said Ostrenko, who completed his one-week team at the end of March.
Wit Ostrenko, first time volunteer on 'Loons and the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill'
“Being part of the Earthwatch volunteer team allowed me to be a scientist again, and it changed my life as a science center director. I was reminded that it’s the ‘doing’ that matters, not the talking and the showing. I need to allow children and adults to be a scientist, and to do real science - to observe, record, and share that information with others,” he said.
Powerful words from someone who was the past president of the Association of Science Technology Centers (ASTC) - the worldwide consortium of all science centers, museums and aquaria in the world - and has been a professional science educator for nearly as long as Earthwatch has been around: 40 years.
“What I realized is that in those 40 years of taking people on tours of the planet and the heavens, we didn’t do any real science. The discovery of something new that no one else has ever done before is science. Showing people what we already know gets repetitive. The Earthwatch experience reminded me of that.”
Ostrenko said his expedition revived for him the wonderful mysteries of the planet, and certainly the loons.
“You can read about loons, the Mississippi River, the Mississippi Delta, the Gulf of Mexico, and the oil rigs but until you get your feet wet and start asking questions, you will never ever really understand,” he said.
“To catch, hold and study a juvenile loon in your hands is life altering. Not just because it is a wild animal but because we cared about that loon. I helped catch that loon. I looked into its eyes and the loon saw me back. We tagged this bird that was born in the North and flew over a thousand miles to land in my hands. It was taught by his mother to hunt fish and crustaceans in a crystal clear Minnesota or Canadian lake but now it is on its own in the turbid waters of the Mississippi Delta with water visibility of only one foot.”
It’s tough to deny Ostrenko’s passion for the planet and all who lives on it.
“Who is going to teach this loon to hunt under these conditions? How is it going to find its way home? Will it go back to its birth site? These are questions that I typically miss in my role as museum director, but Earthwatch allowed me to contemplate the unknown - maybe even the unknowable - again, living the life of a scientist. I took real data on these wintering loons that’s never been collected before. How cool is that?!”
Inspired? Loons and the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill is now booking for 2013!
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