Fulbrighter to Alaska Valentina Melica attends the Our Ocean Conference in Washington, DC

Valentina Melica, Fulbright Ph.D. student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, attended the Our Ocean Conference in Washington DC earlier this month. Read below to learn more about her experience, research and her first ever Fulbright Enrichment seminar.

This month I had the honor to participate to my first Fulbright Enrichment seminar. Together with other Fulbright student we attended the Our Ocean Youth Leadership Summit in Georgetown, Washington DC, a two-day conference held in conjunction with the Our Ocean Our Future 2016 summit, specifically addressed to the new generations. On the first day, we attended presentations from VIP speakers (e.g. Philippe and Ashlan Cousteau, Sylvia Earle) involved in ocean stewardship and conservation and took part in breakout sessions with sea advocates from every edge of the world. I feel confident in saying that listening to all these presentations and building such a broad network has brought a new wave of optimism and determination to all us students. In the evening we attended the Our Ocean concert at the Kennedy Center. Welcomed by Secretary of State John Kerry and Mr. Rubenstein, we enjoyed the wonderful performances of Mr Eric Whitcare, Mr Norm Lewis, and Ms Grace Potter. Also actor Adrian Grenier presented his foundation the Lonely Whale (http://www.lonelywhale.org/#intro).

On Friday morning, Admiral Robert Papp shared his experience as a coast guard officer in Alaska and highlighted the commitment of the current presidency in protecting the Arctic. Then, we were invited to two discussion panels. The first on,e moderated by Dr. Thomas Banchoff, hosted ministers from France, Argentina, Panama and Sweden, sharing the effort and commitment of their countries in ocean protection. In the second one, moderated by Mr.Hellman, Secretary of State John Kerry and actor Adrian Grenier answered questions from the student audience. One question addressed to secretary Kerry was: “What is the biggest issue on climate change you had to face?” He answered with one word: “Ignorance”.

In the afternoon we reached the US department of State, to visit the Our Ocean Exhibition of piece of arts made out of plastic and debris collected through beach clean-ups. Experts from different fields (science, technology, journalists) were there to present their recent results and products, while in the next room the Our Ocean conference came to a close.

The take-home message for me is the urgency of action to protect the oceans, but at the same time the knowledge that we CAN do it. Interacting with fellow students of different backgrounds, pursuing different projects, reminded me of the big-picture. Each single research may be focused on a species, on a specific area or problem, but at the end of the day it is just a piece of a big puzzle that is the ocean. Each piece equally counts and has no purpose without the others.

On Saturday, our last day, all Fulbrighters went on a day trip to the Chesapeake Bay. We visited the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and we volunteered for the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP), an organization for designing and implementing oyster restoration projects in the Chesapeake bay (http://oysterrecovery.org/). After some hard work under a wonderful but hot sunny day, we enjoyed some delicious oysters, courtesy of a farm partnering with ORP. Back to Washington DC we enjoyed a farewell dinner at the China Chilcano restaurant, where the Peruvian, Chinese and Japanese cousines meet and fuse harmoniously.

This was my first Enrichment Seminar and I may say I definitively returned to Juneau “enriched”, not only because of the participation to such a meaningful event as the Our Ocean Summit, but also because I got to meet the great family I did not realize I have: the Fulbright family.”