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/.

 

Galápagos Islands Have More Than 10 Times More Alien Marine Species Than Once Thought

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Until recently, scientists knew of about five marine species that had been introduced to the Galápagos Islands from elsewhere.

A new study, authored by Williams-Mystic Director Emeritus James T. Carlton and collaborators from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and the Charles Darwin Research Center, reveals that there are more than ten times that many nonnative marine species on the islands. The authors also say that there may be many more nonnative marine species yet to be discovered.

All told, the project documents a staggering 53 species of introduced marine animals in the Galápagos.

“This is the greatest reported increase in the recognition of alien species for any tropical marine region in the world,” Carlton said. 

The majority of the introduced species are sea squirts, marine worms and moss animals (bryozoans). Some of the most concerning discoveries include the bryozoan Amathia verticillata — known for fouling pipes and fishing gear and killing seagrasses — and the date mussel Leiosolenus aristatus, which researchers have already seen boring into Galápagos corals.

Many of the species the study identified are newly discovered. Seventeen of the 53 species identified, though, were previously thought to be native to the islands.

“This increase in alien species is a stunning discovery, especially since only a small fraction of the Galápagos Islands was examined in this initial study,” said Greg Ruiz, a co-author and marine biologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

The islands are already among the world’s largest marine protected areas, with some of the world’s most stringent biosecurity programs. Yet the study’s authors observed that most, if not all, of the introduced species likely arrived aboard ships coming from tropical areas around the world.

Carlton and his coauthors also believe that many of these species may have arrived recently. The built environment, they argue, could have played a significant role. Though vessels have been arriving in the Galápagos since the sixteenth century, it wasn’t until the second half of the twentieth century that the islands had extensive shoreline structures. These structures, such as wharves, docks, pilings, and buoys, may have provided an ideal environment for arriving organisms to colonize.

“This discovery resets how we think about what’s natural in the ocean around the Galápagos, and what the impacts may be on these high-value conservation areas,” Carlton said. For a protected area like the Galápagos — places long valued as “windows into [a] former world” — this news is especially troubling. 

Much work, the authors observed, remains to be done in the Galápagos. The group gathered data from a range of field sites, beginning in 2015, but nearly all of these field surveys were restricted to one kind of habitat (harbor biofouling).

Their work also has implications for marine protected areas and other important conservation areas worldwide.

“Our study demonstrates,” the authors concluded, “that tropical marine invasions deserve significant attention, not only in a biogeographical, historical, and ecological context, but also from a management perspective.”

In other words: When it comes to conservation, interdisciplinary collaboration is more important than ever.


The study, “Assessing marine bioinvasions in the Galápagos Islands: implications for conservation biology and marine protected areas,” can be accessed online here: http://www.aquaticinvasions.net/2019/AI_2019-G_Carlton_etal.pdf

In addition to Carlton, coauthors of the paper included Inti Keith, of the Charles Darwin Research Station, Gregory Ruiz, of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

In Williams-Mystic Marine & Coastal Policy Research Group, Fall 2018 Students Put Learning into Action

In Fall 2018, Williams-Mystic students are working with partner organizations to come up with concrete solutions to real-world marine and coastal policy issues.

For most college students, early December means late nights spent studying in the library and early mornings spent poring over exam booklets.

For Fall 2018 students at Williams-Mystic, the end of the semester might involve recommending sustainable oyster farming methods to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, or suggesting ways the California State Lands Commission can incorporate social justice into its plans for coping with sea level rise.

These are just two examples of how Fall 2018 students have, as part of their marine policy class, partnered with outside organizations to craft solutions to real-world marine and coastal policy issues.

The students are working as part of the Williams-Mystic Marine and Coastal Policy Research Group, made up of four small teams. Each small group partners with a different organization. This semester, these client organizations included: Save the Bay, an environmental advocacy group for Rhode Island’s Narraganset Bay; the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, a nonprofit land conservation organization focused on Maryland’s Eastern Shore; the California State Lands Commission; and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, a nonprofit marine science center and research institute.

Each team completed research that culminated in a policy brief, which offers concrete solutions for the small group’s client organization to implement.

In crafting these policy briefs, the student researchers drew on knowledge from their marine policy class. They interviewed dozens of stakeholders, including attorneys, congressional staffers, commercial fishermen, and scientists.

The students also incorporated knowledge from a variety of disciplines. The group working with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, for instance, used a variety of ecological models to assess how oyster aquaculture might affect coastal ecosystems in Maine. Students working with the California State Lands Commission, meanwhile, investigated tools the Commission could use to identify environmental justice communities.

This week, the students’ work culminated not just in four policy briefs (look below to read the briefs in full!), but also in presentations to each of the four client organizations. At several of these organizations, students connected with Williams-Mystic alumni, including Jonathan Labaree (S’84) at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

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A research team presents their findings to the Narragansett Baykeeper and policy and legal staff from Save the Bay. They explored how the advocacy organization can partner with scientists, fishermen, and other stakeholders to improve how fisheries stock are managed.
For the client organizations, the presentations and briefs were an opportunity to learn more about issues they might not have had the time and resources to delve into otherwise.
For the student researchers, the projects have been a chance to learn by incorporating knowledge from a wide range of disciplines in order to solve real-world problems — and to meet people active in marine and coastal policy from across the country while doing so.
You can read the students’ briefs for yourself below:
To hear more, you can also attend the Williams-Mystic Marine and Coastal Policy Research Group’s public presentations!
The presentations will take place on Tuesday, December 18, 2018 from 9–11 am in the Masin Room of the Mystic Seaport Museum’s Thompson Exhibition Building. (Simply ask visitor reception staff at the Museum for directions to the Williams-Mystic presentations when you arrive.)

 

41st Reunion in Review

“Life changes, but Williams-Mystic is something that will always bring us together.”

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. 

Every college program deserves a homecoming of sorts: an opportunity for people to reflect on their experiences and learn from fellow alumni. Williams-Mystic’s homecoming is the annual alumni reunion that takes place right where it all started: Mystic, Connecticut.

The 41st Williams-Mystic Reunion took place September 21-23 under the direction of Lyndsey Pryke-Fairchild (F’03), Katy Robinson Hall (S’84), and countless other alumni and faculty and staff members.

For maritime historian Alicia Maggard, this was her first time experiencing a Williams-Mystic reunion.

Alicia fully enjoyed her time speaking to alumni of various ages. Each conversation taught her something different about what it means to be a Williams-Mystic alumnus.

“I was struck by the robustness of the community. I believe that speaks to the impact the program has on the lives of each and every student,” Alicia said. “Knowing that brings about great responsibility, but also such great joy.”

As a faculty member, Alicia worked behind the scenes to help make sure the events on each day went smoothly. While doing so, she was able to connect alumni with current F’18 students.

“Connecting current students with alumni was exciting because those students could learn how Williams-Mystic could affect different aspects of their lives, both personally and professionally.”

Alicia thoroughly enjoyed meeting alumni who have dedicated their lives to the maritime industry as well as those who are working in different career fields.

For example, Alicia mentioned an S’88 alum who spoke to how many of his classmates chose to work in the maritime industry or remain passionate about maritime topics — and also how Williams-Mystic teaches students how to approach issues in a way that can be useful whatever career you pursue.

Matt Novosad, an F’17 alumnus, commented on the live auction portion of the reunion.

“There was a pretty good bidding war between two groups on a stay in Johnston House,” an item only available to recent alumni, Matt said. “Seeing Katy [Robinson Hall (S’84)] take on the role of being an auctioneer was so memorable and hilarious.”

Alicia also enjoyed the live auction.

“It was so zany, so exciting!” Alicia said. “I enjoyed seeing fellow faculty members, [Executive Director] Tom, and alumni getting super into the bidding.”

Another highlight for both Alicia and Matt: Josiah Gardner (alias Glenn Gordinier, Williams-Mystic’s just-retired maritime historian) made an appearance.

“Going to the reunion this year was a great chance for me to catch up with my classmates, one of whom flew in from Minnesota,” Matt said. “Life changes, but Williams-Mystic is something that will always bring us together.

THANK YOU to all those who helped with the Reunion this year. Your dedication to Williams-Mystic is evident. See you next year! 

America’s Vanishing Coastline: Climate Adaptation and Decision-Making in Southern Louisiana

When Spring ’17 student Natalie DiNenno stumbled across an article about climate refugees in Alaska, she wondered if she had found her marine policy research topic. Studying sociology at Williams had taught Natalie to “think about research in terms of people and places,” and she hoped to carry this approach over to her policy research project at Williams-Mystic.

Guided by marine policy professor Katy Robinson Hall (S’84), Natalie decided to explore climate adaptation not in Alaska but in southern Louisiana — and, in particular, in many of the communities, we visit during our Louisiana Field Seminar.

“I never would have thought about this in terms of policy,” Natalie notes a year later. But as she explored the topic further, she “realized that people can’t just decide,” in isolation, whether to “restore the coast or retreat.” They require “government organization, legislation, and funding.”

Just over a year after Natalie’s Williams-Mystic semester began, Natalie and Katy presented their research at a Log Lunch, a weekly gathering hosted by the Williams College Center for Environmental Studies and featuring speakers on a range of environmental topics.

In advance of their talk, Natalie reflected on her research, on how her experiences on the Louisiana Field Seminar complicated it, and on the lessons, it has to offer other communities imperiled by rising seas. Read on to hear her thoughts.

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Chris Hernandez, Town Supervisor of Grand Isle, LA, speaks to students about his barrier island town’s eroding beaches.
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Chief Shirell Parfait-Dardar speaks in front of a community cemetery threatened by land subsidence.

When I was originally looking into project ideas, I found an article about Alaskan climate refugees. I thought that might be interesting to explore, but I didn’t know how it intersected with marine policy. I’m a sociology major, so I tend to think about research in terms of places and peoples. [Marine Policy Professor] Katy [Robinson Hall] suggested that I look into land loss into Louisiana, and the decision that the people living there have to make: restore the coast, or retreat? I never would have thought about this in terms of policy, but as I did further research I realized that people can’t just decide to do either of these things by themselves without government organization, legislation, and funding. Another key takeaway: land loss is fast, and governments are slow. This is a dangerous combination.

Approaching the project, I asked questions including: Why restore the coast? Can it be done? What work has to be done in order for people to conduct organized resettlements? Who advocates for restoration, and who advocates for retreat? Where does funding come from, and what happens if there is no funding?

My conclusion, in brief, is that while Louisiana should pursue restoration where possible, due to the rapid loss of land, the government should prioritize resettlement and dedicate funding to this effort. Land loss happens more rapidly than restoration. It is better to save communities by moving them than to focus purely on restoration (particularly in places that primarily benefit energy and oil interests), because if they are not saved now, they will simply break up and wash away as residents move individually.

Describe a moment of the Louisiana Field Seminar that stands out to you.

I distinctly remember meeting Chief Shirell [Parfait-Dardar of the Grand Caillou-Dulac Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha Choctaw Indians] and being surprised by how young, energetic, and passionate she was. The way she spoke about her tribe and what they will lose if nothing is done was heartbreaking, but she also had an incredible amount of joy and hope despite how desperate their situation is.

How did your experiences in Louisiana shape your research — either the way you carried it out or the questions you asked in the first place?

Katy told me before we left that I would return from the field seminar even more confused and conflicted than I already was, and she was right. Without the field seminar, my analysis of the issue would have been much colder and less personal, with more emphasis on advocating for retreat. But seeing the people who live there, and how connected they are to their land, made me reconsider how difficult it really is to just pick up and move.

I think that if I had written the same paper for a class at Williams, and not at Williams-Mystic, I would have lacked an understanding of the coastal way of life and just how important the ocean is to people’s lives. Williams-Mystic allowed me to see the world in a way that was completely different than learning that takes place solely in a classroom.

What do you wish more people understood about climate adaptation in coastal Louisiana and regions like it?

For these people, climate change is happening now. That’s true for a lot of places — in the form of extreme weather conditions, storms, and changing temperatures, but the actual physical loss of land is more concrete. There are people living in these regions who can point to a body of water and say “there used to be a beach/house/restaurant there.” It doesn’t even matter if there aren’t any more storms; the land will continue to sink and the sea will continue to rise. When people think about climate change, I don’t think they often picture land disappearing. But it is.

How One Alumna’s South Pole Journey Earned Williams-Mystic $25,000

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Jaime Hensel (S’03) arrives at the ceremonial South Pole, Williams-Mystic burgee in hand.

By Meredith Carroll, Assistant Director of Admissions and Director of Social Media

During Alumni Reunion Weekend 2017, Alexander “Sasha” Bulazel (S’85) posed a challenge to his fellow Williams-Mystic alumni: Take a picture with the Williams-Mystic burgee at one of our planet’s extremes,* and Bulazel would donate $25,000 to Williams-Mystic.

Not two months later, Jaime Hensel (S’03), arrived at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station with the Williams-Mystic burgee in hand.

For Hensel, a nurse practitioner who is half of South Pole Station’s medical team this austral summer, this moment had been years in the making.

It began during her Williams-Mystic semester, when her experience offshore — she spent her twentieth birthday sleeping on the deck of the Corwith Cramer — inspired her to pursue tall ship sailing after graduation.

Throughout her five years in the tall ship world, Hensel met shipmates who’d been to Antarctica. As on the Cramer, an idea took root.

That idea persisted, even as Hensel found herself in other places she never expected to.

Aboard the schooner Adventuress, for instance, Hensel read a book by the vessel’s captain about his experiences walking the Camino de Santiago.

As she puts it: “Like many things in my life, [the idea] took hold and I thought, ‘I should do this one day.’”

Not long after, she found herself on the Camino. It was there her life took another turn, when a new friend she met there helped her decide to pursue nursing.

Throughout her years at the Yale School of Nursing, Hensel continued to consider going to the South Pole. She applied three times after graduating in 2013 before, in the spring of 2016, she was granted an interview.

“They said, ‘How about the summer season of 2017/18?’ I … wasn’t totally certain [until a few months later] I had been hired.”

 

Hensel reached the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station on November 1, 2017. The station, her home until February, sits at 9,306 feet above sea level, perched atop a 9,000-foot thick ice sheet that drifts as many as 33 feet each year.

For Hensel, this world of extremes felt familiar.

“It’s an awful lot like living on a boat here,” she explains over the phone five weeks after her arrival at the South Pole. Resources are scarce. The station’s inhabitants, numbering up to 150 most austral summers and 40 most winters, relate to each other as shipmates.

Like sailors, they communicate using their own argot. Their uniform comprises government-issued red overcoats (“big red”) and white boots (“bunny boots”). Inhabitants even refer to their kitchen as a galley.

They work hard too. Everyone takes turns cleaning shared spaces. Hensel and the station’s doctor spend sixty hours a week in the clinic and alternate being on call during off hours.

“We run a hospital, basically,” Hensel reflects. “We’re our own pharmacists. We’re our own lab … We want to take care of [people] because they’re our community.”

The entire station is that way: a self-contained unit. All its supplies have to be flown or hauled in over three summer months. Though the station is moored atop more than a mile of ice, residents are limited to two two-minute showers each week because even extracting water demands scarce fuel. Inhabitants manufacture their own fun, too; Hensel’s learning to unicycle, cross-country ski, and even drive snowmobiles.

Who thrives here? For Hensel, “the short answer is a sailor: Someone who is used to living in close quarters. You also have to be willing to put up with a certain amount of discomfort. To quote Glenn, ‘if you’re cold, you’re dumb.’ ” Since limited satellite coverage means you can only access the internet three hours most days, you also have to be “willing to connect with human beings around you.”

 

When Hensel sailed aboard the schooner Adventuress, she learned to view the “boat as a metaphor for a small planet”: a world of finite resources, resources that must be managed by the people reliant on them.

For Hensel, this “small dot in the middle of a large, frozen sea” felt like home for precisely this reason.

“[South Pole Station] is definitely station as metaphor for small planet,” she reflects. “It’s also one of those crazy, once-in-a-lifetime experiences… I love it here.”

 

* These extremes include: the North and South Poles; the Marianas Trench and/or another significant point on the ocean floor; or, the top of one of the world’s tallest mountains (e.g., Everest or K2). Bulazel has pledged up to $100,000; i.e., he will donate $25,000 for each of the first four alumni (including Hensel) who takes a picture with our burgee at one of these places. Contact us at wmalumni@williams.edu if you are going somewhere that might qualify!

Notes and Further Reading

We’re profoundly grateful to Alex Bulazel for his generosity and to Jaime Hensel for her adventurous spirit (and for taking the time to talk about her experiences during a rare moment of satellite coverage).

If you want to hear more about Hensel’s experience — or simply learn more about life at the South Pole — I highly recommend her blog: https://henselbelowzero.wordpress.com/. If you want to embark on a South Pole journey of your own, Hensel says she would be happy to hear from you; you can reach her at jaime.hensel@gmail.com.

Some additional resources I drew on in writing this piece include:

https://www.nsf.gov/geo/opp/support/southp.jsp

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/south-pole/ 

Long-Distance Life Rafts Transported Hundreds of Species Across the Pacific, Study Led by Williams-Mystic Director Emeritus Finds

On March 11, 2011, a tsunami devastated Japan’s coast. More than six years later, marine organisms naScience Tsunami Covertive to Japan and representing nearly 300 species are still washing up on North America’s coasts.

These are some of the findings of a major study published September 29 in the journal Science and authored by a team led by Williams-Mystic Director Emeritus James T. Carlton.

Most of these organisms, the study revealed, clung to manmade materials. The implication: Plastic marine debris, already polluting the world’s oceans, could increase the number of non-native marine species that cross these oceans.

“This study of a remarkable ocean rafting event of unprecedented magnitude and duration reveals for the first time the profound role that plastic marine debris can now play in transporting entire communities of species in the world’s oceans—for far longer lengths of time than historic dispersal on natural substrates (such as wood) would have been possible,” Carlton says.

The study drew together a team from across the country. Williams-Mystic’s own James and Deborah Carlton joined with researchers from Oregon State University, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, and the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology. They also relied on more than 200 volunteers to collect marine debris starting in 2012 and continuing through today. As late as this September, Jim and Debby could be found cataloging dozens of specimens in Williams-Mystic’s Marine Science Center.

The team has won accolades not just for their study’s scope but also for its imaginative approach.

“These scientists have taken the unusual tack of looking at a natural disaster and coming to new conclusions about how our activities and structures influence species distributions in the oceans,” says David Garrison, program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Sciences, which co-funded the research.

In short, Carlton’s ground-breaking research suggests, natural disasters like the Japanese tsunami coincide with social and economic developments to radically alter marine ecosystems the world over. The upshot–that now more than ever, addressing marine environmental issues demands an interdisciplinary approach–should sound familiar to any Williams-Mystic student.

 

The full paper, “Tsunami-driven rafting: Transoceanic species dispersal and implications for marine biogeography,” can be found here.

See also this accompanying video, articles in the New York Times and Washington Post, and features on the websites of Williams College and Mystic Seaport.