In 2014 Jess was supported by The George Alexander Foundation in an Earthwatch Student Challenge expedition, Underwater Landscapes of Queensland’s Islands. Now interning at Earthwatch, Jess reflects on what originally sparked her love of conservation, how her Student Challenge experience led to her internship and how she is helping others lead environmentally conscious lives.
Why did you decide to apply for the Earthwatch Student Challenge Program?
I was studying Environmental Science in Year 12 when my teacher suggested to the class that we all apply for the Earthwatch Student Challenge, a program supporting the work of scientists conserving our environment, while also providing students with an insight into the world of field science. The Earthwatch Student Challenge looked like an amazing opportunity to delve straight into the world of science and environmental conservation, plus, who wouldn’t want to swim with dugongs, dolphins and turtles in Queensland? So, I was over the moon to find out I was accepted into the Student Challenge with a full scholarship from The George Alexander Foundation.
What did you enjoy most about participating in the program?
The scientists and field operation managers at Earthwatch really gave us full control of our expedition. They allowed us to fully immerse ourselves in the data collection and analysis, and as a 17-year-old kid, I had never been given such a large responsibility. As well as collecting data I was immersed in the spectacular environment of Moreton Bay. Being surrounded by prestigious scientists and like-minded people, the Student Challenge provided me with my first look into the scientific community and the vast range of possible careers in science. The whole experience is one that I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.
Did your experience of the Earthwatch Student Challenge influence what you decided to study at university?
After Year 12, I went on to study a Bachelor of Science at Deakin University majoring in animal biology. The Student Challenge definitely made me a more environmentally-conscious individual. Even to this day, the actions that I take every day have a link back to my time during the Student Challenge, including promoting reusable alternatives to single-use plastics and educating others about the importance of conserving our biodiversity and ecosystems. During my time at university, my Student Challenge experience helped steer my studies in the direction of environmental conservation, undertaking several classes in conservation as well as being involved in an international placement in Belize, Central America, where I learned about and was actively involved in protecting our world’s oceans through science, action, and advocacy.
How did you find yourself interning at Earthwatch?
After completing my university studies and looking towards my future, I found myself in a very different position to that in which I was in when I finished Year 12. Wanting to pursue a career more involved in environmental conservation rather than that of animal biology, I decided to look back to what had originally sparked my love of conservation and for me, that was the Student Challenge. So, I decided to email the field operations manager who accompanied us on our trip to Moreton Bay, enquiring about interning and volunteering opportunities with Earthwatch. She told me that they would love to have me back as an intern, landing me the amazing internship position I have today.
What does the internship involve? And what have you learnt so far?
My Internship with Earthwatch has allowed me to work alongside the field operations managers, helping with the logistics that underpin the Earthwatch expeditions. These expeditions include the Student Challenges, corporate programs and public expeditions. As well as working with the field operation managers, my time at Earthwatch has seen me help out the ClimateWatch Program Manager, working with the general public, school groups, corporate groups and parks groups to involve individuals in contributing to the largest phenology dataset in the Southern hemisphere using the ClimateWatch app.
My time with Earthwatch has taught me and continues to teach me, the importance of creating an inclusive scientific community where everyone can feel welcome to contribute to a sustainable future for our planet. It’s a surreal experience to go from participating in the Student Challenge to now be organising and watching children and adults participate in expeditions similar to the one I undertook, all of which are working to empower people to save the natural world.
What does a typical day at Earthwatch involve for you?
Although there are no two days that are the same, when I walk into the Earthwatch office my typical day usually begins with being briefed by the field operation managers. They inform me about the current expeditions that are running and what is required in order to make sure that they run as smoothly and as safely as possible. You can usually find me at my computer attempting to help with the logistics behind a few of the expeditions whether it be health and safety, booking various components of the expeditions or creating content for the expedition participants. No matter what I do during my day at Earthwatch, I always know that my typical day will end with me heading home feeling proud about the work I have done and excited for the days to come.
What are you working on now? Where do you see yourself in ten years?
One project that I have been working quite closely with, that is our Scientist for a day program which is a partnership between HSBC, Earthwatch, and the Blue Carbon Lab at Deakin University. This program is a corporate expedition which invites employees from HSBC offices in Melbourne, Sydney, and Auckland to collect data alongside Dr Peter Macreadie and his team at Blue Carbon Lab to understand and measure the value of coastal wetlands as sinks for carbon, helping us mitigate climate change. Working so closely on one project has also meant that I was lucky enough to tag along on one of the expeditions and watch how all our hard work unfolded, while also getting the chance to be involved in some fun field work.
Well, with how I’m tracking at Earthwatch, in 10 years I think I’ll be CEO… just kidding, I’m not taking anyone’s job! My current work with Earthwatch has made me really interested in the civic-science aspect of environmental conservation. I believe that we really need to start engaging individuals who don’t regularly or ever think about environmental conservation. I strongly believe that every individual should have the knowledge and understanding of the monetary and environmental value of our world’s ecosystems, in order to allow them to make more environmentally conscious decisions at work, in classrooms and during everyday life. In saying that, I would love to go back to university to study environmental conservation and urge people to make a more conscious decision to choose our environment over convenience and money.