Research with an Impact: Four Fall ’19 Students Share their Williams-Mystic Marine Policy Research Projects

At Williams-Mystic, students tackle real-world issues — and get out into the world as part of their research.

Independent research is at the core of the Williams-Mystic experience. There’s nothing quite like venturing into the field to help you understand how science is made — nothing like delving into the archives to understand how history is written. And with upwards of 13 different majors in a typical class of 18 students, independent research projects give students the opportunity to draw on their pre-existing interests and expertise.

In the Marine Policy course, each student chooses to study a current unresolved question impacting America’s coastlines and oceans. They then interview a myriad of stakeholders with a vested interest in the outcome of the issue; examine relevant federal and state laws, regulations; and conduct cross-disciplinary research in order to develop credible policy strategies and solutions to their real-world problem. A student researching a lobster fishery, for instance, might talk to lobster fishermen as well as NOAA fishery scientists. Someone studying the Asian carp invasion in the Great Lakes might interview activists as well as state government officials. Indeed, students often share their resulting policy briefs with the stakeholders they interviewed — many of whom include Williams-Mystic alumni. 

This problem-based approach empowers students to gain the knowledge, confidence, and skills to address major questions and issues in all fields. Communicating directly with coastal and ocean-based stakeholders to seek solutions to real-world issues instills a passion for learning that drives excellence, fosters a sense of purpose, and enables creative problem-solving. It also provides the coastal stakeholder community with an opportunity to benefit from capable research, objective investigations, and collaboration with the only undergraduate college program that examines the ocean from an interdisciplinary lens, while seeking opportunities to empower global problem-solving.

Below, four students from the Class of Fall 2019 share their policy briefs and discuss what they learned from the experience. Click any of the links below to read the full brief.

The Future of the Liquified Natural Gas Facility in Tacoma, WA

By Hazel Atwill

Image shows a student smiling in the middle of a grassy salt marsh. She is wearing a life jacket and a baseball hatOriginally from Tacoma, Washington, Hazel Atwill is a junior at Smith College studying conservation biology and coastal and marine science. Her favorite part of the Williams Mystic experience was sailing on tall ships.

Hazel on her research: 

“I gained a lot from doing this policy research, in that I was able to more meaningfully connect with my home community even though I was on the other side of the country. Because I completed this project, I feel more comfortable interviewing people and expressing how I think change should be happening.”

Excerpt from the brief:

Puget Sound Energy and Port of Tacoma are proposing Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) as a transitory solution to bunker fuel for large ships. With the climate changing more and more rapidly, there is the constant hope of new solutions to mitigate some of the damage caused by fossil fuels. However, LNG is primarily methane gas which is sourced from fracking.

One current approach to reduce dependence on fossil fuels is building the proposed LNG facility at the Port of Tacoma. LNG is a fossil fuel but considered cleaner than diesel. However, if the facility, or any of the equipment to get the LNG to the facility were to leak or break it would cause serious environmental issues. There are also treaty rights that have not been considered. The Puyallup Tribe of Indians has the right to meaningful consultation, and the City of Tacoma has not met this requirement yet. Port of Tacoma should not build this facility, but if they go ahead with the plans, there should be more meaningful consultation and more investment in truly clean fuels.

Read the full brief here. 

Protecting New Jersey’s Meadowlands and Local Communities from Floods and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

By Jeff Erazo

Image shows a student in a bright yellow rain jacket, looking off into the distance. He is standing in a small cove, with an evergreen-lined shore and other rain-gear-wearing students in the background.Jeff Erazo is a comparative literature major with a concentration in Spanish at Williams College. 

Jeff on his research: 

My policy research at Williams-Mystic allowed me to better understand sea-level rise in the greater NY-NJ metropolitan area — a place I call home. Being able to talk to stakeholders helped me understand how I can be more proactive in my community; I learned about many environmental groups in my area that I hope to join soon! This policy project also taught me the importance of listening — which is key to helping bridge competing interests between various stakeholders. 

Excerpt from the brief: 

Located in one of the nation’s most densely populated metropolitan areas, the New Jersey Meadowlands are one of the largest brackish estuarine systems in the northeastern United States. For decades, these wetlands were used as landfills, contaminated with toxic waste, and drained for urban development—the latter which has significantly reduced the size of the Meadowlands. … 

The Meadowlands will likely experience high-tide flooding in low-lying areas, even in the absence of storm surge due to sea level rise. Coupled with the projected six feet of SLR early in the next century, over 308,000 homes, 362,000 jobs, and 619 residents could potentially be inundated. The loss of life, homes, and businesses would be astronomical. The North Bergen Liberty Generating plant’s proposed site is located in a flood plain, right on the edge of the Hackensack; the Meadowlands, however, are unable to absorb storm surge from the Hackensack River. This is not solely a New Jersey problem, however. Rising sea levels threaten all coastal communities around the world.

Read the full brief here.

Towards Sustainable Native Hawaiian Access to Green Sea Turtle Take

By Colin Goodbred 

Image shows a grinning student sitting on the deck of a ship. He is holding up what appears to be a grill rack, and you can just barely see a large bucket in the foreground. Behind him, there is a series of coils of rope — lots of rope.Colin is a member of Dartmouth College class of 2021 and Williams-Mystic F’19. He is majoring in quantitative social science and minoring in philosophy, and he is interested in working at the intersection of science, government, and ethics, exploring how science can be used to inform ethical policymaking.

Colin on his research: 

Being able to do my own extensive policy research project at Williams-Mystic challenged me to interact directly with stakeholders – many with passionate beliefs on how to best protect their communities. Not only was I reading academic articles online, I was actually talking to people, hearing in their voices how much they cared about the environment, their culture, their livelihoods, and all of our futures. It was humbling to realize how many people have dedicated their lives to this issue, and while I cannot bring the expertise and lived experience to the issue that they can, I can offer my ability to listen and do my best to share their voices with others. 

An excerpt from the brief:

In May 2018, Native Hawaiian Bronson Nakaahiki was arrested for killing a green sea turtle and harvesting its meat, violating the Endangered Species Act as well as Hawaii state law. This arrest, one of several cases of harassing and killing sea turtles in 2018, intensified Native Hawaiian efforts to enact policy change and allow for the cultural practice of harvesting sea turtles, or honu as they are known in the Hawaiian language. Indeed, green sea turtle populations have recovered significantly recently, particularly in Hawaii, thanks to strict state and federal legal protections, but they have not yet reached the official benchmark set out by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1998 of 5,000 nesting green sea turtles per year. With the increasing abundance of sea turtles, more Native individuals are pushing for access to harvesting honu, which was considered a mythological guardian of children and was utilized in the form of meat, bones, and eggs for ceremonial events and subsistence until the listing of green sea turtles as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 1978. I recommend the amendment of the Endangered Species Act to permit Native Hawaiians the ability to take endangered and threatened species, modeled off of the exception granted for Alaskan Natives, as well as the passage of a bill amending Hawaii Revised Statutes, Chapter 195D-4-E and Hawaii Administrative Rules 13-124-9 to decriminalize such take.

Read the full brief here.

The Future of Maine Aquaculture: Growth and Sustainability in Fish Farming

By Zach Arfa 

Image shows a grinning student holding a baby alligator. The gator's body is about a foot long; it's mouth is slightly open to reveal minute, razor-sharp teeth.Zach Arfa grew up in Shelburne Falls, MA and is a fourth year at Oberlin College. He studies Psychology and Dance and, thanks to Williams-Mystic, will put these skills to use in solving the environmental crisis after college.

Zach on his research: 

The policy project isn’t just an academic assignment, it was a chance for me to immerse myself into a real issue, with real stakes. It embodies Williams-Mystic’s philosophy, that learning should be engaged and experienced, not just passively absorbed. The project also builds the confidence and skills to be able to actually talk and interview stakeholders, again making it an experience not just of learning an issue but engaging one.

An excerpt from the brief: 

Through the comparison of two large scale, Atlantic Salmon, RAS aquaculture projects in Maine, I will propose a framework for comparing such aquaculture facilities to each other, and to other, traditional, facilities. This system will weigh three factors: impact on the environment, the community, and the economy. I will also compile the ways that governments can regulate this industry through existing legislation. Through these methods, communities across the country can evaluate and regulate the growth of this industry over the coming years.

These two projects are similar, but even though they are planned to be located only twenty-five miles apart, they have had different receptions from the local communities. The community of Bucksport has welcomed the Whole Oceans facility. The company promises to bring many local jobs to the small town, and the operation is being advertised as having a strong mind to conservation, with the Conservation Fund as their partner. The Nordic Aquafarms project in Belfast has seen more opposition. Wastewater has been a point of contention, as Nordic Aquafarms will discharge about 7.7 million gallons of water per day, which would increase outflow into the Penobscot Bay by 90% (Hinckley, S.). With this outflow comes a concern for eutrophication, the increase of nutrients into the water that can cause harmful algal blooms.

Read the full brief here.

 

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.

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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.” 

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.)

 

Alejandro Flores Monge’s (F’18) Williams-Mystic Story

Alejandro Flores Monge always knew he wanted to be an advocate for the environment. Williams-Mystic’s interdisciplinary curriculum and marine policy class helped him see how he could connect this goal to his other interests.

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. 

Since early in his educational career, Alejandro Flores Monge (F’18) has been looking for ways to challenge himself inside and outside of the classroom. Williams-Mystic is just the most recent step in this process.

A sophomore at Williams College, Alejandro plans to double major in environmental studies and art history. He hopes to focus on Latino/Latina studies to complete his degree.

Alejandro was born in Colorado and spent his childhood growing up in Colorado and Mexico. In seventh grade, Alejandro was required to do future education planning on a career preparation website.

“While I was digging through the website, I began to understand the distinction between the educational approaches of liberal arts colleges and larger universities,” Alejandro said. “I enjoyed the liberal arts approach more and eventually wanted to attend a university that was focused on it.”

Alejandro attended United World College in New Mexico for high school. He believes his passion for environmentalism came from this time in his life. His high school education had numerous liberal arts components too.

While searching for a college, he was drawn to Williams College because it paired a liberal arts curriculum with a strong environmental program.

“I was also very satisfied with the curriculum,” Alejandro said. “Another large factor in my decision-making was Williams College’s dedication to sustainability.”

The summer before he started his first year at Williams College, Alejandro visited Mystic with other incoming first-year humanities and social science students. He thought the area was beautiful but did not initially think of incorporating the maritime world into his environmental studies education.

“At the time, I was more focused on urban areas, water resources, and urbanizing arid environments,” Alejandro said.

As he made his way through prerequisites for his major, he heard more about Williams-Mystic from professors and the Williams-Mystic admissions team. By the fall of his sophomore year, he was ready to give it a try.

As a Williams-Mystic student, Alejandro has connected with his professors and believes the program operates under an effective model of interdisciplinary education.

From day one, he has also noticed Williams-Mystic’s commitment to building and strengthening communities — especially on field seminars.

Going into the program, Alejandro expected sailing aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer in the Gulf of Maine to be rough and cold. In fact, F’18’s Offshore Field Seminar was warm and sunny. Learning to sail the Cramer together, Alejandro feels, helped him and his shipmates foster community. He doubts they would be as close to each other without having worked together to sail the Cramer.

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Alejandro, at far right, along with his housemates during F’18’s Pacific Northwest Field Seminar.

Back in Mystic, Alejandro soon found his marine policy project particularly invigorating.

Before his semester began, Alejandro assumed Marine Policy would be much like the political science classes he’d already taken at Williams. He quickly found out that nothing is quite comparable to the Williams-Mystic policy class experience — especially when it comes to the policy research project.

For one, Alejandro got the chance to connect with Williams-Mystic alumnus Jonathan Labaree (S’84) via Labaree’s work at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI). GMRI seeks to improve shellfish aquaculture while minimizing harm to coastal ecosystems. This involves finding solutions that are sustainable not just for the ecosystems in question but also for the people who rely on coastal ecosystems to make a living.

As part of Alejandro’s research, he evaluated a variety of ecosystem models — including not just biological models but also economic, social, and even mathematical ones — to help determine the point at which shellfish farms start to have significant impacts on riverine ecosystems.

Alejandro’s policy research also led to some complex questions: How many aquaculture farms will riparian landowners tolerate? At what point might the success of commercial fishermen be compromised? How will aquaculture initiatives, even environmentally sustainable ones, impact locals’ ability to swim and fish for leisure? As Alejandro learned, questions like these rarely have a single, simple answer.

For Alejandro, the experience has helped him realize that there are a variety of ways to advocate for the environment. Like many alumni before him, Alejandro finds the prospect of working in law especially exciting.

Most of all, Marine Policy — and Williams-Mystic in general — has made it even more apparent to Alejandro that language matters. Alejandro is fluent in five languages and believes multilingualism is vital to a prosperous society.

“Language helps you understand the stories of individual people,” Alejandro said. “Law and policy add a tangible and physical reality to the idea that language dictates reality. What you say and what you write down has  the power to determine what you are and are not capable of doing.”