Homeward Bound on the Corwith Cramer

Picture shows a student belowdecks on a ship sitting at a desk covered in a nautical chart, pencil and protractor in hand. It's nighttime, and the lighting is dim and red to preserve night vision
Terrell from SUNY Maritime plotting our position on the chart.

October 1, 2019

Sailing past the Block Island wind farm at dawn

Dear Friends and Family,

We sailed offshore yesterday and all night, having spent two nights at anchor off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. From the deck, we could see the village of Menemsha, home to the Vineyard’s last fishing fleet and one of the main shooting locations for Jaws. This end of the island — the western end — is full of remarkable things, some of which we could just about make out as we sailed past: the Gay Head cliffs, for one, and next to them the first land in North America that was ever set aside for Native Americans. Some of what has made the Vineyard so remarkable is no longer there to be seen.  In the nineteenth century, the island’s rural western half was the site of an unusual genetic bottleneck. So many Vineyarders were born deaf that the island developed its own sign language, which almost all islanders could use, and deafness carried no stigma or social consequence. Islanders who had grown up on the deaf Vineyard used to tell long stories about older relatives without bothering to remark that Uncle Caleb or Cousin Ralph couldn’t hear. It didn’t seem like a marker or a shaping factor in their lives.

We’ve turned north for home, heading toward the near end of Long Island Sound in Mystic, Connecticut.  Many are beginning to look back on the field seminar and take stock.  One of us is overheard saying that the one thing he “keeps coming back to is the humming of the boat – the humming and other sounds. Especially when I’m in my bunk, and it’s dark, and the hum is the only thing that’s sensible — droning sensations coming from outside the boat.”

Asked what most stands out about the trip, one student responds: “There are the dumb things, like dolphins, which are a giddy joy.” An hour later, another student says: “For me, the unparalleled moment has been standing at the bow under the stars, across the entire sky, with the bioluminescent dolphins. That was the best thing ever.”

So about those dolphins: Even before we set sail, most of us could picture dolphins by day, arcing tightly out of the water, keeping pace with the ship, like a pack of Golden Retrievers trotting alongside their owner. It was great to see these in person, but most of us had already seen them in our mind’s eye. What most of us had not realized is that at night those same dolphins glow in the dark. As they swim, they fire the ocean’s bioluminescent plankton, which traces their bodies in fluid, flickering outline. In the dark, dolphins look like old-fashioned light-bulb coils jetting alongside the ship at five or six knots: zapping, squiggling, dimming whenever the Tesla-porpoises dive or drift across the bow, and then flaring back into green-electric profile, with jets of neon shooting from their tails, as the plankton in their wake churn into ember. Not dolphins, then, but the animated ghosts of dolphins, driven forward by rockets of light.

Just before midnight some fifty miles from shore, we lowered a net to near the bottom of the ocean and towed it for half an hour. We brought up a collection of bioluminescent organisms. In a bucket in the lab, they continued to glow when stirred.  Then we stepped out on deck and looked up. The stars and the Milky Way glowed in equal majesty.

Picture shows a student gesturing while giving a presentation aboard a ship
Tristan from the University of Vermont presenting a poster on some of the physical and chemical properties of the water at our three offshore science Super Stations.

Tomorrow, we will complete this field seminar and disembark from our ship, SSV Corwith Cramer, in New London.  As we return to our houses in Mystic, it is hard to believe we are only in the fifth week of our semester at Williams-Mystic.  We have done so much come and together as a community of shipmates and friends.  We look forward to many more adventures together!

— Williams-Mystic F’19

We will share updates straight from the Cramer as they become available. In the meantime, you can track the vessel’s progress here:

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER

Please note that vessel tracking information is NOT updated continuously and the Cramer isn’t always able to provide updated location information. (Good reception isn’t a guarantee at sea!) If you notice that the Cramer appears to be in the same location for an extended period of time, it simply means the website has not yet been updated.

You can also look back at blog posts from previous Offshore Field Seminars here: https://williamsmystic.wordpress.com/category/field-seminars/offshore-field-seminar/.

An Open Letter to Williams-Mystic from Hayden Gillooly (S’19)

It is week two back on the Williams College campus after being at Williams-Mystic Spring 2019. I find that the ways in which Williams-Mystic changed me keep unfolding; I keep being re-reminded daily of what a special, and transformative semester I had.

This blog post is written by Hayden Gillooly, a junior majoring in Geosciences and Spanish who attended Williams-Mystic during S’19, the spring of her sophomore year. 

It is week two back on the Williams College campus after being at Williams-Mystic Spring 2019. I find that the ways in which Williams-Mystic changed me keep unfolding; I keep being re-reminded daily of what a special, and transformative semester I had. I chose to do Williams-Mystic on a sort of whim — looking for a change in learning environments — and now I cannot imagine my life having not spent a semester feeling my eyes light up like fire and flint on field seminars and in labs in the marshes of Mystic. I cannot imagine a life without my dear friends who I met through the program. 

I am sitting in my room across from a full-wall photo collage I have created, including many, many photos from the past semester. The photos were taken across the country: in Puerto Rico, California, Mystic, Louisiana; on ships and on sailboat; on the docks and in classrooms; from within vans and atop rooftops; from aboard trawling vessels and tugboats; while holding sea anemones and starfish, lobsters and sessile organisms; in cafes and restaurants celebrating birthdays. They all have one thing in common: in each and every one, I am absolutely beaming. All someone has to do is mention Williams-Mystic, and I feel a giant smile spread across my face. How could I not smile thinking about it?! Confession: I am utterly and completely obsessed with Williams-Mystic and will rant about it to anyone who expresses even a spark of interest. 

After WM, I changed my major to Geosciences with a concentration in Maritime Studies because I fell in love with hands-on outdoor learning, and with the topics in that field. Naturally, after this huge educational change, this semester feels different from past ones. This is mainly because two days a week, I spend afternoons in geosciences labs, either outdoors exploring rocks and piecing together geologic histories in Structural Geology with Professor Paul Karabinos, or in the lovely Clark Hall learning about commercial uses for rocks in Economic Geology and Earth Resources with Professor Ronadh Cox. Last Thursday, we went on a class field trip with Ronadh to D.A. Collins limestone quarry in Wilton, NY, where we spoke with geologists and directors about the precise process of quarrying the limestone and grading it into appropriate sizes. Later, we learned about the science behind making concrete, and the tests to measure strength and durability of the products. As we spoke with D.A. Collins employees about their lives and paths and passions, I was reminded of how at WM, I learned the power of people. I learned how intricate our world is: how there truly is no better textbook than the world or a storyteller in front of you. On our van ride back to campus, Ronadh treated us to ice cream, which of course reminded me of a moment on our Louisiana Field Seminar with WM: after a fun night of cajun dancing, Executive Director of Williams-Mystic, Tom Van Winkle, called our professors, asking them to please stop at Sonic for ice cream on Williams-Mystic. 

On Monday, I hiked into the woods with my classmate (yes, just one — another beauty of this field is the small community) and professor, and tried to figure out what layers of rocks and the size of their grains told us about the environment in which they were deposited. More than ever, after WM, I feel inspired to ask questions (lots of them!) of my professors and classmates, and feel like we are learning together. As we sat at Sugarloaf overlook in Vermont eating a delicious assortment of fruits and veggies with hummus and guacamole, talking about life, I reminisced about how magical it is to travel and adventure with professors: to be known and to know them beyond the classroom. 

My third class is Environmental Law — taken, of course, after Marine Policy with Professor Katy Hall at Williams-Mystic sparked my interest. I feel so engaged by the material, and with each reading, I feel myself making connections to things we learned and experienced with Williams-Mystic. In a class discussion about whose voices are heard and valued in the midst of climate change, I thought of our friends in Grande Isle, Louisiana. I thought about how crucial it is that the people most affected by climate change and sea-level rise be a part of conversations and solutions. So many phrases in readings brought back memories of Katy’s class and Friday policy snacks of blue frosting-covered brownies topped with Swedish Fish and other foodie interpretations of our readings. 

Today in Earth Resources lab, as we analyzed the properties of various minerals in class, something magical happened. When “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel came up on shuffle, my classmates and I danced and were silly; I felt myself exhale, and thought, ‘This feels right.’ All the pieces lined up, everything feels as it should be: the classes I am taking, the people I surround myself with; my excitement about the world around me.

Williams-Mystic, was, and continues to be exactly what I needed: as a person, a student, a friend and as a global citizen. I think of Williams-Mystic more often than sometimes. Of chasing sunsets against a backdrop of tall ships at Mystic Seaport before dinner. Of laughing hysterically while almost capsizing during sailing class and having brunch downtown with housemates. Of days spent counting sessile organisms for our Marine Ecology research project. Of staring up at redwoods and feeling small, yet calm. Of piles of blue duffel bags in airports and van rides through the rolling highways of California. To say that I feel myself changed by Williams-Mystic and that community is an understatement. Mystic very quickly, and probably always will, feel like a home, and my friends from S’19, a family. 

 

Reflecting and Disconnecting, Halfway through F’19’s Offshore Voyage

There is much to look at with fresh eyes: small, silvery fish pulled from a midnight Neuston tow; rocks older than the Atlantic hauled up from the deep ocean floor; dolphins weaving back and forth in front of the bow; a finback whale in the near distance.

 

September 26, 2019

Dear Friends and Family,

It’s Thursday evening, and our journey offshore is nearing its halfway point. Over the last day, we’ve passed Georges Bank, the historic cod fishing grounds east of Nantucket, and are currently sailing across the northern end of Gilbert Canyon, just east of Oceanographer Canyon, neighboring features of the North Atlantic floor that only seem to have been named for Williams-Mystic oceanographer Lisa Gilbert. (Anyone following along from home can find us by tracing a line east from Asbury Park, NJ.)

We’ve had our queasy moments. Some rough seas a few nights back sent most of us to the rail. But the sea has settled, and our bellies with it, and there is much to look at with fresh eyes: small, silvery fish pulled from a midnight Neuston tow; rocks older than the Atlantic hauled up from the deep ocean floor; dolphins weaving back and forth in front of the bow; a finback whale in the near distance. The teaching crew, meanwhile, points high to a sail and asks us to tell the luff from the leech. Then they pass around a sextant, a centuries-old navigation device that one might at first mistake for an old-timey movie camera, and coach us in celestial trigonometry.

A listener overhears students talking. One talks about how free he feels not carrying his cell phone.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I feel more connected because I’m not connected, like I’m living in the moment for the first time in years, like I can just pay attention to what I’m doing.”

Another imagines describing life on the Cramer to someone who has never been to sea. It wouldn’t be enough just to list the day’s activities, she says. They wouldn’t communicate what life offshore is like.

“What — am I going to say that I woke up in a tiny bunk and couldn’t find my socks, and then I picked tiny shrimp out of salps for six hours? That’s not it. The ship is a machine that just keeps running, and what’s interesting is how you get absorbed into it.”

Until next time,

Williams-Mystic F’19

We will share updates straight from the Cramer as they become available. In the meantime, you can track the vessel’s progress here:

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER

Please note that vessel tracking information is NOT updated continuously and the Cramer isn’t always able to provide updated location information. (Good reception isn’t a guarantee at sea!) If you notice that the Cramer appears to be in the same location for an extended period of time, it simply means the website has not yet been updated.

You can also look back at blog posts from previous Offshore Field Seminars here: https://williamsmystic.wordpress.com/category/field-seminars/offshore-field-seminar/.

Underway on the Corwith Cramer

The first days at sea are a matter of learning everything at once. But we are also re-learning things we thought we already knew.

September 24, 2019

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Dear friends and family,

It’s Tuesday evening, and we’ve been underway for almost twenty-four hours aboard the Sailing School Vessel Corwith Cramer. We’re deep in the Gulf of Maine, well out of sight of land, east of Skate Bank and Newfound Ground. By afternoon, we had already reached the edge of US territorial waters and were gybing (turning around) to keep from sailing into Canada, whose waters we’re allowed to enter only if we turn off all of our research equipment.

We’re a big group: eighteen Williams-Mystic students; three faculty; and, offshore for the first time, Williams-Mystic director Tom Van Winkle, who is sailing as “Chief Morale Officer”; plus a professional teaching crew made up of a captain, three mates, four ship scientists, two stewards, and an engineer.  We left Mystic Sunday morning and took a bus to Rockland, Maine, where we boarded Corwith Cramer and immediately began orientation.

The first days at sea are a matter of learning everything at once. Most of us are learning new things: how to set and strike sails; how to tie bowlines and slippery reef knots; how to deploy nets and buckets over the side of the ship; how to read charts and compasses and how to tell the strength of the wind just by looking at the surface of the water; why the lobster fishery off the coast of Maine is healthier than the one in Long Island Sound; why Herman Melville thought the ocean was the right place to commune with the universe.

But we are also re-learning things we thought we already knew. We are learning to walk again (how to move low and alert in sympathy with a rolling ship). We are learning again to sit at a table (how not to capsize the salon’s loose and swinging tabletops, which are engineered to stay level even when the ship is not). We are learning to speak a new and alien English, how to say the special names that common objects carry at sea. One student looks over at another and whispers ” ‘Sole?’ That means ‘floor,’ right?”

Tomorrow we are due to conduct our first scientific superstation. The weather service just informed us that the wind overnight will be blowing from the north, which is good news for a ship that will soon be pointed south.

— Williams-Mystic F’19

We will share updates straight from the Cramer as they become available. In the meantime, you can track the vessel’s progress here:

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER

Please note that vessel tracking information is NOT updated continuously and the Cramer isn’t always able to provide updated location information. (Good reception isn’t a guarantee at sea!) If you notice that the Cramer appears to be in the same location for an extended period of time, it simply means the website has not yet been updated.

You can also look back at blog posts from previous Offshore Field Seminars here: https://williamsmystic.wordpress.com/category/field-seminars/offshore-field-seminar/.

 

Williams-Mystic F’19 Embarks on Offshore Voyage

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After spending two weeks exploring Mystic and nine days exploring Alaska on our inaugural Alaska-Washington Field Seminar, the Class of Fall 2019 has embarked on their next adventure: our ten-day Offshore Field Seminar!

Held aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer in collaboration with the Sea Education Association, Williams-Mystic’s Fall 2019 Offshore Field Seminar began Sunday in Rockland, Maine. Students and faculty will spend time getting oriented under the guidance of professional crew before heading out to sea. There, they will learn how to sail a tall ship, conduct shipboard science, and explore the Gulf of Maine, spending days at a time out of sight of land. The voyage will conclude close to home; at the end of F’19’s ten-day journey on Wednesday, October 2, the Cramer will arrive in New London, Connecticut, just ten miles away from Mystic.

The Class of Fall 2019 comprises eighteen students. Together, they represent thirteen different home colleges and universities from across the US. Their majors are just as varied, spanning not just marine biology and history but also film, political science, economics, and psychology.

For the offshore voyage, students are joined by Executive Director Tom Van Winkle along with three of their five faculty members: Assistant Professor Tim Pusack, who teaches Marine Ecology; Associate Professor of Geosciences Lisa Gilbert, who teaches Oceanographic Processes; and Professor of English Christian Thorne, who teaches Literature of the Sea.

Throughout the journey, F’19 will learn what it means to live at sea, sharing experiences with seafarers throughout history and literature. They’ll also learn what it’s like to gather scientific data from the side of a ship, and get experience analyzing this often-messy information in real time.

Most of all, every participant on the voyage will become an integral part of the ship’s crew. The nature of tall-ship sailing is that every person on board must take their share of responsibility for helping the ship get to its destination — whether that means cleaning the galley (i.e., kitchen) or standing watch at the bow at two in the morning. Under the guidance of professional crew and working together as part of six-person “watch groups,” F’19 will learn to do just that.

We will share updates straight from the Cramer as they become available. In the meantime, you can track the vessel’s progress here:

https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:426493/mmsi:366724450/imo:8617445/vessel:CORWITH_CRAMER

Please note that vessel tracking information is NOT updated continuously and the Cramer isn’t always able to provide updated location information. (Good reception isn’t a guarantee at sea!) If you notice that the Cramer appears to be in the same location for an extended period of time, it simply means the website has not yet been updated.

You can also look back at blog posts from previous Offshore Field Seminars here: https://williamsmystic.wordpress.com/category/field-seminars/offshore-field-seminar/.

 

Setting Sail, Take Two: Kathryn Jackson’s (S’17) Offshore Voyage Journey

This post was written by S’18 alumna Audra DeLaney. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. 

When Kathryn Jackson (S’17) began her Williams-Mystic semester, the opportunity to sail in the Caribbean aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer was one of the experiences she most looked forward to. Her class’s sailing voyage had just begun when an unfortunate event altered Kathryn’s experience.

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Kathryn after breaking her elbow.

“Day two was fine. That night at 11:30 our watch was striking the JT [jib tops’l] and I fell and broke my elbow,” Kathryn said. The ship’s crew stepped in to care for Kathryn, determining that Kathryn would need to depart the ship to recover. Two days later, the Cramer had returned to port so Kathryn could board a flight home, where she would spend the rest of class’s offshore voyage.

As Kathryn made the journey from the ship to shore aboard a small boat, she still couldn’t believe that her offshore voyage was over.

As it turns out, there was one last, almost magical experience in store.

‘The third mate, the medical officer, [ Williams-Mystic oceanography professor Lisa Gilbert (S’96)] and I were sitting on the rescue boat looking at a rainbow right over San Juan harbor and then two dolphins [surfaced] under the rainbows,” Kathryn recalled. It was precisely the kind of moment that Kathryn had been dreaming of since her semester began. This was also the moment she realized, without a doubt, that her elbow was broken and her voyage had to end. 

Throughout the rest of their voyage, Kathryn’s classmates made sure to include her in their experiences. They kept a journal for her, for instance.

“The class carried a cardboard cut out of my head around on the ship and even tried to take it snorkeling,” Kathryn said. “There is a photo of our whole class on the beach in St. Croix where it looks like I was there.”

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S’17 on the beach in St. Croix. If you look closely, you can see the cardboard cutout of Kathryn.

Kathryn was invited to join a future semester’s Offshore Voyage to make up for the journey she had missed.

In the meantime, though, there was the rest of the semester to complete. Kathryn enjoyed the academics of the program. She especially relished exploring topics from different perspectives.

“I loved the policy class. I liked picking my own [research] project and thought the interviews were eye-opening because you were talking to people from both sides and made you think about your stance,” Kathryn said.

For Kathryn, it’s small moments with her classmates such as late-night study sessions that stand out. She felt close to her professors, too, and appreciated being able to talk with them about anything and everything. 

Kathryn completed her Williams-Mystic semester. She graduated from Millersville University with a degree in Marine Biology in 2018.

But her Williams-Mystic experience wasn’t quite finished yet. Two years after her own semester began, at the beginning of the Spring 2019 semester, Kathryn was able to return to William-Mystic for the Spring 2019 students’ Offshore Voyage — also in the Caribbean aboard the Corwith Cramer. 

Initially, Kathryn felt nervous about her return, and about sailing with a class that was not her own. From the moment she stepped aboard, though, she was welcomed into the group. From there, much of the programming felt familiar.

S'19
Kathryn, third from right, with some of her S’19 shipmates

For Kathryn, the first three days of the voyage felt like a “refresher.”

“I remembered a lot more than I thought I would,” she reflected. “But then day four came and it felt different.”

With new challenges came new accomplishments.

“When our watch struck the Jib and I went out on the bowsprit to furl it, I felt so accomplished. … I am so thankful and blessed to have been able to sail again,” Kathryn said. “I am forever grateful to Williams-Mystic for giving me the opportunity for a second time.” 

“We Know What We Experience:” People, place, and climate change in southern Louisiana

Our trip to Louisiana showed me how climate adaptation, mitigation, and resiliency look different everywhere. In southern Louisiana, community itself is a form of resilience. Traveling there showed me the face behind climate change; there is no better textbook than a storyteller sitting in front of you.

by Hayden Gillooly

Hayden Gillooly is one of our student bloggers for Spring 2019. She is a sophomore at Williams College, studying Spanish and Geosciences with a concentration in Maritime Studies. She is from North, Adams, MA. 

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A sunset over the marsh at LUMCON (Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium), a marine lab where we stayed for most of the Louisiana Field Seminar.

One sunny day, I was walking through the Seaport with my friend and science partner, Phoebe. We were on our way to deploy equipment for our science project: a series of ropes with plastic attached at various depths, to see how depth affects the diversity and biomass of sessile fouling marine organisms. Wagon in tow, filled with buoys, zip ties, and our ‘deployment chains,’ we weaved our way through the Seaport, and noticed that there was a sign in front of the Mystic Chapel that said there would be a chantey singing performance at 1:30. It was 1:27. Perfect! Sessile marine organisms could wait.

We parked our science wagon and went inside, only to find that the church was empty. A museum-goer entered, and we struck up a conversation. We ended up talking about our research projects, and the visitor knew something about all of our topics. He had read the same books we had read, and even knew the cases we had studied in Marine Policy! We exchanged emails, and I promised I would follow up to interview him for my Marine Policy project, which looks at sustainable fishing through a sociological lens. It was such a serendipitous encounter; Phoebe and I walked away feeling energized and excited.

I emailed him last week, and he responded, putting me in touch with another gentleman as well. That gentleman said, “We save what we love. We love what we know. We know what we experience” (a mixture of his ideas along with that of Jacques Cousteau and others). It made me think about Mystic immediately. Here, we are learning to love the planet through learning and experiencing it. How glorious.

Specifically, it made me think about our trip to Louisiana earlier this month. For years, I have learned about global warming, but nothing felt so relevant and necessary as learning about it in Louisiana and speaking with people directly impacted by climate change and sea level rise. No textbook can bring a story and concept to life like experiences can. We only know what we experience.

In Louisiana, driving in our rented minivans vans over a bridge, we could see wetlands disappearing. The bridge itself did not exist just five years prior; the road it replaced was already underwater. We saw ‘ghost trees,’ which are dead trees that have been killed by saltwater as sea level rises. They look eerie and haunting, scattered along roads and highways: A reminder that the sea did not used to come this far.

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Cajun dancing at the Jolly Inn in Houma, La.!

While traveling through Louisiana, I was amazed by the kindness of everyone we encountered. They welcomed us with open arms, eager to talk to us and answer our questions. Williams-Mystic has built such special relationships with people there. After visiting semester after semester, the program has found a family in these people. It was magical to watch our professors’ faces light up when they saw these old friends. At Cajun dancing one night, the dancers pulled us into their routine with tenderness and joy; before we knew it, we were doing line dances with huge smiles across our faces. The sound of the washboard, band, and laughter filled the dance hall.

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Mr. Chris Hernandez, town supervisor of Grand Isle, La., shows the group his DIY flood control measures.

While learning about sea level rise in the classroom, I always wondered (albeit naively), why, if someone had the means to, they would not just move. After this trip, I learned that the answer is not so simple; it is full of intricacies, complexities, and does not really have one answer at all. As we spent time with our hosts in Louisiana, I felt my understanding shift. Chief Shirell Parfait-Dardar, of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, talked to us about how sea level rise is inundating and flooding the burial grounds of her tribe’s ancestors. Mr. Carl Sevin, a vessels technician at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), talked to us about how his job, like so many others, is dependent upon this place. While his wife is a biology teacher and can find employment elsewhere, his livelihood is dependent upon the land of Louisiana.

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Brian Callam of the Louisiana WLF Oyster Research Lab discusses oyster aquaculture. The bags in the background contain algae used to feed the oysters. 

At an oyster hatchery, we learned that 47% of US oysters are from Louisiana, and that oyster reefs can protect coasts from erosion and storm surge. A threat that is facing this industry is that the Gulf of Mexico has been identified as highly vulnerable to ocean acidification. Sediment buildup can also be a threat to these crucial oysters reefs, along with attempts to build out the coast by importing sediment. As Brian Callam at the Louisiana WLF Oyster Research Lab said, “When you build up land mass where it was open water, then people who were exploiting that water are displaced. Real people are affected, and their everyday lives, by these changes.”

In the town of Grand Isle, on Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island, we spoke with Mr. Chris Hernandez, the town supervisor and right-hand man to Mayor David Camardelle. Living in western Massachusetts, far away from the coast, it is hard for me to imagine preparing for hurricanes and having my home flooded by rising waters. Conversations with Mr. Chris in his ‘man cave’ were humbling and gave me chills. “When you think you’re prepared for a hurricane, you’re not. You’re never prepared enough.” At Mr. Chris’ house, we also spoke with Captain Floyd Lasseigne; he said that with marshland disappearing, there are fewer places for shrimp to lay their eggs, resulting in declining stocks.

The way that Mayor David talked about Grand Isle reaffirmed that it truly is people who make a place and build a community. “Our homes are gone, but we have our lives.” He described saving a homeless man from drowning in a flooded street during Hurricane Katrina; that man still calls him every few months to thank him. Mr. Chris said that if anything, people must help each other. Even when they have nothing, they help.

On the last night of each field seminar, we do an exercise called ‘around the room,’ where each of us takes a turn reflecting on the trip. I always find these conversations to be eye-opening. Everyone’s comments made me think about the trip through another lens, deepening my appreciation for the experience. My classmate and friend, Angus Warren, said something in his reflection that stuck with many of us. He said, “Is what I am doing good for others?” I followed up with Angus about his comment. He replied, “I am filled with anxiety that my chosen discipline [Classics] serves nothing and no one apart from myself. I have the same reaction to working on sailing ships: sure, I would love to spend the rest of my days floating around the world, but what good am I doing? Being down in Louisiana, amongst people for whom Latin is nothing more than a long-dead language, has hammered home my dread that I’ve isolated myself from large segments of the very same ‘humanity’ I purport to study.”

We furthered our conversation over coffee with my friend and housemate Kylie Wiegel. We questioned what it meant to live a meaningful life and to make a difference in the world. We concluded that if we cannot change the whole world, perhaps we should focus on perpetuating a ‘locus of passion.’ That is, delving into our passions, and sharing them with the people around us so that a cycle of passion is fostered. I find that at Williams-Mystic, in-class discussions often lead to philosophical chats after class and during meals; the topics we are studying feel so relevant and necessary to engage with.

Our trip to Louisiana showed me how climate adaptation, mitigation, and resiliency look different everywhere. In southern Louisiana, community itself is a form of resilience. Traveling there showed me the face behind climate change; there is no better textbook than a storyteller sitting in front of you.

I left the trip feeling changed by the experience, wanting to further study global warming and environmental sciences. Angus’ question rang through my head on repeat: “Is what I am doing good for others?” A week after returning from the trip, I decided to add a Geosciences major with a concentration in Maritime Studies to my Spanish major. My Geosciences professor at Williams, José Constantine, always described climate change by saying “That’s your brothers and sisters out there.” I nodded in agreement in class, but did not feel this line until this trip. How can we stare climate change in the face for what it is? This is more than merely a scientific or political issue: it is an inherently human issue.