ALPENA - Alpena High School senior Hannah MacDonald recently returned from a trip to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Santa Cruz Island in Santa Barbara, Calif. MacDonald participated in the Ocean for Life Program by writing a series of essays about her life in Alpena, her connection to the water and how she could find common ground with people of different nationalities.
The Ocean for Life program joins 30 high school students from all walks of life, taking15 students from different areas of the Middle East and 15 students from the United States.
"I thought the culture barrier would be the most challenging part of the program, but it wasn't how I expected," MacDonald said. "They all spoke English very well and were very open in their culture."
MacDonald enjoyed every aspect of the program. She was able to swim and snorkel in the kelp forest off of the Channel Islands, learn about new cultures while studying ocean acidity and work with world-renowned filmmakers.
"One of my favorite moments was meeting Jean-Michel Cousteau, the first son of ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau. He's a huge ocean conservationist and explorer," MacDonald said. "It was really good to spend the day with him on the beach. That was definitely a major high point of the trip for me."
MacDonald was able to spend four days and three nights camping on the Channel Islands with fellow program participants. They organized beach cleanups and analyzed the most common types of litter, studied water quality and clarity and put together an action plan to help preserve the oceans, or in MacDonald's case, the Great Lakes around them.
"The Channel Islands were beautiful," she said. "We were in the mountains and on the ocean at the same time. It really gave me a chance to feel at peace with nature."
While she was doing research and learning about the ocean, MacDonald was shooting film and documenting her research with photos.
"We had a media mentor from American University with us the whole time," she said. "I shot underwater footage, which was really cool, and we had media camp every night and went over stuff from the day."
The program participants put together a film to showcase the Ocean for Life program and all worked together on the script and editing.
"I learned how films can move people," she said. "It's made me more aware. I also learned how to confront someone I see litter. We learned how to approach them and make it awkward so they pick it up."
The Ocean for Life program runs every two years, and focuses on helping students understand how the ocean connects everyone and everything, how to practice conservation and keep the oceans clean, and different aspects of researching areas of the ocean.
"I have a more open mind now, and want to meet more people so I can talk with them about it," MacDonald said. "I know for sure my job will have something to do with the water, maybe marine archeology or something like that."
MacDonald will be putting her action plan into effect as soon as the school year starts. She plans on trying to add a plastic recycling plan to AHS and organizing beach cleanups around the area.
"I'm really excited for school to start so I can start teaching people about what I learned," she said. "I'm going to take what I've learned and put it to use."
Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5687.
Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.