Last Child in the Reef

by Emilie Moore
Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com

When I first got wind of the details of the Guam and Palau research diving program, I thought there had to be a catch. A program that so perfectly combined academics and passion for traveling seemed too good to be true. However, less than six months later that skepticism has been washed away and the trip is a reality…and an irreplaceably rewarding one at that.

A student spots the first of many sharks to appear on the Ulong Channel dive. Photo by Jim Haw.

As we end the last leg of the trip on Palau, I find myself thinking more and more about the impact this trip will have on my environmental curiosity and overall lifestyle. Before this course, I had absolutely no SCUBA experience and never thought I would see scenes like those in Guam and Palau. Now, after exploring some of the most striking and fragile ecosystems, I truly feel I understand the importance of responsible human interaction with the environment.

Today, on a once-in-a-lifetime drift dive on Palau’s Ulong Channel, I was hit by the harsh realization that many people don’t even know this picturesque place exists and even fewer understand the unique environmental battles it is facing.

Some of the Guam and Palau 2011 scientific divers at a waterfall in Palau after an intensive jungle hike. Photo by Emilie Moore.

This sobering thought was due in part to a book I just finished reading entitled Last Child in the Woods. In it, author Richard Louv describes an alarming worldwide problem that is on the rise: nature-deficit disorder. He defines it as the phenomena of today’s children spending little or no time outdoors — never exploring the very world they call home.

The physiological effects of this inactivity are already being seen in the form of increased rates of obesity and blood pressure among children and adolescents. There has not been enough research on the mental and cultural effects of this phenomenon to draw specific conclusions, but they are not likely to be good.

While I am not advocating that every child needs to engage in the level of activity demanded on this three-week diving expedition, I do think the program has the right idea. If every child was given the opportunity to explore a place they will remember for the rest of their life, perhaps it would help him or her see that experiencing the environment first-hand is the best way to learn to love it and, in turn, stop nature-deficit disorder from affecting any more young people, as they are the ones that will need this planet the most.

The author on a hike to Lost Pond on Guam.

Emilie Moore is a senior in USC Dornsife working towards a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies with a concentration in sustainability, energy and society. She has worked at the Santa Monica, California environmental defense firm Chatten-Brown & Carstens for two years, and will be collaborating with Venice-based marine consulting group ASR Ltd. this summer to continue her work in ocean conservation.

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