Professor John Shepard is on a sabbatical with a mission: to investigate the current state of the Gulf Coast of the US, home to a plethora of unique biomes, species, and cultures.
In recent years the region has been plunged into several ecological disasters including the much-publicized oil spill that began just over a year ago.
"The oil spill was just a battle in the on-going war for the coastal environments,” said Shepard, a professor with Hamline’s School of Education and Center for Global Environmental Education. “I wanted to investigate the area from a variety of perspectives to gauge what’s really happening to the area.”
During his travels, Shepard has interviewed and traveled with a wide variety of individuals including shrimpers, marine scientists, and ranking members of several Gulf states’ disaster response organizations.
Between kayaking trips through estuaries, aerial surveying of coastal beaches, and conducting field research, Shepard has also investigated the human tolls and reaction to the disaster and its aftermath.
“In ecology, border areas are the most interesting. The Gulf Coast is at the border of many different cultures, and there’s a fascinating amount of fusion,” he said. “The oil spill has had some very serious social consequences on the local communities.”
Another product of Shepard’s on-going research has been a new perspective. Though a major ecological disaster, the amount of oil released from the Gulf spill is less than the annual inland pollution that drains into U.S. coastal waters every year.
“Our everyday pollution is a major threat to the natural environment, though it goes largely unpublicized,” he said.
Shepard plans to use the massive amount of data, footage, and experiences from his adventure to directly influence new curriculum and programs at Hamline, carrying on the tradition of environmental awareness for which the university is already known.
See photos, video clips, and learn more on Professor Shepard’s blog