Getting Ready for Guam and Palau

by Jim Haw
Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com

On Saturday, the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern California will send nearly 30 researchers on an expedition to Guam and Palau. There they will study coastal and marine ecosystem management, the effects of climate change on coral reefs, the environmental impacts of a major defense buildup, and invasive and endangered species.

What makes this trip unique is that 24 of the researchers are USC Dornsife undergraduates with majors not only in the sciences, but also in the humanities and social sciences. The students will be American Academy of Underwater Sciences scientific-divers-in-training, and yet nearly all of them made their first-ever ocean SCUBA dive in April of this year.

This exciting trip is part of USC Dornsife’s Problems Without Passports (PWP) program, an ambitious approach to international experiential learning. When PWP started in 2007, I had the pleasure of leading one of the first courses, which studied environmental threats to the stability of societies both ancient and modern in southern Belize. Today, 20 USC Dornsife students are in Belize for the fourth edition of that course.

Last year my colleague Dr. Dave Ginsburg and I launched the Guam and Palau course, taking 14 students to Micronesia to measure coral reef health and biodiversity using SCUBA in typically 20 to 60 ft. of seawater. For many of those students it was a life-changing experience: new plans were made for graduate studies, study abroad and marine-coastal themed internships.

Students in the 2010 Guam and Palau class show their Trojan spirit. Photo by Jim Haw.

So, we are going back to Micronesia next week — with 24 students. In addition to Dave and I, the course is being led by two watermen with vast experience: Gerry Smith is USC’s dive safety officer (DSO) and a NAUI SCUBA instructor; Tom Carr is reserve captain in the Riverside County (CA) Sheriff’s Department and an instructor in their Underwater Search and Recovery Team.

In the posts that will soon follow, we will introduce the rationale for our focus on Guam and Palau — how these two Micronesian islands are similar yet fundamentally different from an environmental standpoint. Then you will meet some of the students in the course, who, in their own words, will share how we have prepared them for this expedition and their reactions to seeing tropical coral reefs and endangered habitats and species for the first times in their lives. These students, who can be expected to live until late in the 21st century, may eventually become witnesses to a world that was.

Note: Featured contributions from USC students and instructors on the Guam and Palau trip will be posted on Scientific American’s “Expeditions” blog and re-posted here. Read more about the collaboration.

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