By Daniella Hernandez, 2019 Ignite Fellow
Despite the heat, humidity, and swarms of mosquitoes, Texas brought opportunities for growth and exploration for high schooler and Ignite fellow Daniella Hernandez, who recently returned from the Earthwatch expedition Protecting Whooping Cranes and Coastal Habitats in Texas. She shares some of the highlights from her week spent collecting data.
My Earthwatch Ignite expedition, Protecting Whooping Cranes and Coastal Habitats in Texas, was definitely more intense and different than I thought it was going to be. There were many times I had to step out of my comfort zone and do the tasks that were required, whether I felt confident or not. Another surprise? I didn’t expect to get as wet as I did on this trip. Since I didn’t bring the proper shoes to go crab catching in the marshes, I had to use my hiking boots, which filled up with mud and water.
However, the biggest challenge I faced during this trip was keeping my patience. The humid Texas heat tests people a lot, myself included. At the beginning of the trip, my team and I were definitely shy around one another because we had not gotten comfortable yet. That soon changed when we began to do research in the heat and humidity of the Gulf Coast and people’s true personalities were revealed. Right after midday, many of us would get tired, grumpy, or hungry. Some of us would get a little bit moody, but we all managed to push through our discomfort.
Despite the physical elements, I am glad that I took advantage of this opportunity because I want to major in biology or environmental science when I am older and this gave me a chance to experience what that might be like. When the lead scientist told us that we were seeing parts of Texas that most people will never see, I began to get more excited about my trip than before. There were a lot of different bugs and animals that a typical city dweller like myself does not see very often. I got to see dolphins, wild hogs, white-tailed deer, bumblebees, sea turtles, turkeys, vultures, armadillos, alligators, and of course, lots of mosquitoes. During our free day in Corpus Christi, we visited the Selena monument and the Texas State Aquarium. This was super exciting because I got to see people who actually live in the state. It was the first time since the trip started that we saw people who were not part of our team.
Being away from home was also very exciting because I got to see more of the world without my family. Traveling independently is one of my dreams, and slowly but surely, opportunities like this one are making it come true. I wasn’t very homesick on my trip because I was constantly working so I didn’t really have time to miss my family very much. There were times when I was feeling a little homesick because I missed my mom’s food, but the feeling wasn’t very strong and didn’t last long.
Over the week, I got really close to my teammates because some of us come from similar backgrounds and understand the struggles we all face as people of color. Every teammate of mine had completely different personalities, which made the expedition full of surprises. We all had to work together to get the research done and none of it would have been possible if each of us didn’t do our tasks.
The best part of the expedition was when we would go to each other’s cabins and just talk to one another about our day. We would joke and dance until dinner time, and sometimes continue the fun after dinner.
The work we did was quite tiresome, but in retrospect, it was great to know that our research will make a difference for the endangered Whooping Cranes. I can definitely say that I have never been on a trip like this one.
This trip improved my patience, made me face mental barriers, helped me conquer fears, and made me more knowledgeable about ecology. Overall, I am proud of the hard work my team and I put into the research, and I am very thankful to Earthwatch Ignite for allowing me to see more of the world.