Ocean Heritage Guides this Oceanography Major

by Toby Mcleod Wed, 23 Jul 2008 10:04 PM PDT

I grew up on the Swinomish Indian reservation in the very small town of LaConner, Washington. My dad’s side of the family were mostly laborers of various sorts; subsistence and commercial fishing was among the most prominent of occupations. My father has been a fisherman for about the past fifty years, ever since he was an eleven-year-old boy stealing his uncle’s boat and trying to return it unnoticed to pursue his hobby and lifestyle choice. He has caught salmon and crab on a large scale as well as various other species in Washington and Alaska and is the self-proclaimed number one fisherman. A few jobs my grandfather held among the myriad of work in his life included commercial fishing and the role of Swinomish Tribal Senator; he was heavily involved in politics, especially those involving indigenous civil and fishing rights, which includes intense legal battling that resulted in the historic Boldt Decision of 1974. Humbly, I chose to follow the academic route of a pursuit in marine studies.

During high school, I was involved with competitive academic extracurricular activities such as Knowledge Bowl, Science Olympiad, and Ocean Bowl. Senior year, when I was captain of the Ocean Bowl team, my school almost went to nationals and placed second in state against Friday Harbor. I have volunteered at the Ocean Bowl state competitions which are held annually at the University of Washington.

The summer before my freshman year in college, I worked for David Butterfield at NOAA studying hydrothermal vents and analyzing fluid samples from the Axial Seamount. When I began college in the fall of 2005, I got a job as a lab assistant for Frieda Taub in the Fisheries Teaching and Research building studying enclosed and semi enclosed freshwater ecosystems.
During the summer of 2006, I traveled to Ecuador for a month on my first study-abroad experience. This course was based primarily in the Galapagos where I traveled among the islands by sailboat with a small group of students. I spent a lot of time snorkeling and hiking on the islands. My research paper focused on the management of marine resources, particularly, the over-harvesting of sea cucumbers and illegal fishing of other tropical species.

In August 2007, I took a second study-abroad course studying chemistry and climate change in Bahia, Brazil for one month. This course included a visit to the Atlantic Rainforest, lab work at the Global Atmospheric Weather (GAW) station in Arembepe, and various lectures in Santo Antonio and Salvador, which occasionally expanded into lessons about Brazilian culture. My research papers included a summary of the lab results, a synthesis of the cultural experience and the socio-economic impact on climate change, and a reflection paper on what factors provide the positive and negative feedbacks for those environmental problems and how they should be managed. I stayed for three additional months on my own. During that time, I traveled by foot and bus around the northeast corner of the country; from Salvador to Sao Luis and back, along the coast going north, then through the interior heading south.

I am now approaching my senior year as an oceanography undergraduate at the UW. When asked about what my career goals are, I typically respond by saying something to the effect of “traveling around the world and playing in the water.” I honestly have few ambitions beyond that and will use my degree as a tool for achieving that goal. So far, I have used my academics effectively to that end which is what brings me here on the Insite08 cruise, one of what I hope will be many more seagoing experiences.