Working in Antarctica: Alumna Maggie Dewane realizes her environmental career dream

What do most high school students envision themselves doing after graduation? An array of dreams fill the heads of seniors, but few students have goals as big as Maggie Dewane. Just ask Cedar Cliff’s senior class of 2006. They voted her Biggest Dreamer for her senior yearbook, and she has certainly earned that title.

Dewane has made a commitment to devote her entire life to protecting nature. Her work has taken her all over the planet. She said her adventures include “motorbiking trek through northern Vietnam, volunteering at an elephant sanctuary in Cambodia, snorkeling off the coast of Cuba, feasting on the best food in the world in Italy, mountain biking down the longest fjord in Norway, and by the end of this year traveling to every continent on Earth.” Her biggest exploration, though, might have been to the South Pole.

A spark of awe for the environment struck Dewane’s heart as an early child. She grew up along the Yellow Breeches Creek, where she fell in love with nature. “As I grew older, I learned how humans have a direct effect on the health and protection of the nature that I love, so I wanted to grow up and help people to love the environment as much as I did.” This is exactly what Dewane is doing. Currently, she is the US Communications Manager for an international nonprofit that works with the seafood industry to make it more sustainable. “One in ten people worldwide depend on seafood for their jobs and primary source of food.” Her organization helps keep the oceans and people healthy.

On the side, Dewane is a freelance journalist, which has led her to write for news sites like the Huffington Post. In her spare time, she also paints and is a photographer. She made a 5-minute film on climate change called In Search of the Adelie Penguin, which can be found on YouTube and was featured at the Environmental Film Festival in Washington D.C. 

On Meeting Dewane

I first met Dewane as the guest speaker at an Antarctica presentation hosted by the Audubon Society, which I had heard about from my Grandpa. Dewane talked about her experience at the bottom of the Earth. Antarctica has intrigued me since the dawn of my childhood. Throughout elementary school I wrote multiple stories about penguins, and in middle school I made a declaration that I would someday go to Antarctica for my honeymoon. Dewane got the opportunity to live out my dream. Her presentation has since inspired me to follow my heart’s desires, and most of all, to be mindful of how my actions impact the environment.

How and Why Dewane Traveled to Antarctica

After Dewane finished Grad School at Columbia University in 2013, her adventurous spirit was continuing to grow. This was partly inspired by having the opportunity to study abroad four times in Costa Rica, Italy, Czech Republic, and Oxford University while being an undergrad at Seton Hall.  She yearned to see the effects of climate change first hand in Antarctica, where they are quite evident. She applied to and was accepted by the extremely selective group 2041 that was going to Antarctica to do volunteer work. 2041 represents the year that all countries will renegotiate if Antarctica should stay as a place of complete wilderness, peace, and scientific exploration, or if it should be used as a place for mining and other things that would lead to destruction. 2041’s goal is to protect Antarctica and the Arctic from harm.

On the Experience of a Lifetime

             Dewane described the feeling when she first reached the continent of Antarctica as ¨pure joy. Elation. Awe.¨ Dewane’s pictures of their arrival at the peninsula were mystical and indescribable. Although Dewane was working and certainly not taking a vacation, the trip still was an experience of a lifetime. She said that the best part was when¨one day while riding on a zodiac boat with a group of friends, we watched humpback whales feeding.” They spent hours watching this phenomenon, which led them to share the feeling of childlike happiness. They got close to many animals, but always respected the health of the creatures.

Penguins were a very common thing to see, but they presented some heartbreaking signs of climate change. Some penguins were panting, and the Adelie Penguin was nearly impossible to find due to them being pushed further and further into Antarctica, where it is still somewhat cold enough for them. The krill population is also rapidly shrinking due to the warmer waters. Dewane talked about how climate change doesn’t affect the Earth equally in every spot. Some places on Earth (specifically Antarctica) are changing much faster than others. The outer peninsula in Antarctica is heating up much faster than even the center of Antarctica (hence why the Adelie penguins are desperately trying to move inland.) 

On How to Follow Dewane’s Footsteps to the South Pole

            If this is for you, then it is time to start fundraising. Going on a vacation to Antarctica with organizations such as National Geographic can cost at cheapest $18,000. Dewane said, “Currently around 30,000 people per year visit Antarctica as tourists, and it is predicted that by 2030 that number will reach 100,000.” This may seem cool, but it has potential devastating consequences. Pollution could skyrocket due to an increase in shipping traffic, and the noise pollution could greatly disturb wildlife. It is a great fear that the “novelty of this special place (Antarctica) could be lost. People could take it for granted and treat it like a commercial spot like Disney World.”

Another option would be to go to Antarctica on a working trip. This is a much cheaper option. Dewane went to Antarctica for $12,000 and found many creative ways to cover that cost. Because there are many ways to travel to Antarctica, the cost can range greatly. Some people go as janitors, cooks, and scientists for the cheapest way of travel.

On How to Protect the Environment in General

Dewane explains how citizens can make a difference throughout the Earth. “We can all take big and small actions that, collectively, will make a big difference and there are a lot of things people can do to make a difference.”

Much goes into protecting the environment. “It’s not just recycling or cleaning up trails. It’s big and small issues, from holding companies accountable for the fossil fuels they’re emitting to making smart purchasing decisions when you’re at the store.”

She talked about a challenge that families can do where every member makes a list of plastics they encountered throughout the day, and then discuss how they can eliminate using that item made of plastic, or exchange it for a more eco-friendly item. Some examples could be using reusable silverware, stainless steel straws, bamboo toothbrushes, and reusable bags. The possibilities are endless. Even making simple changes such as washing clothes on cold, and waxing or using electric trimmers and razors can make a big difference.

Families can also support small, eco-friendly businesses such as buying toilet paper from recycled materials, purchasing second-hand goods, and using soap and shampoo bars. Installing solar panels and changing your means of transportation can all greatly reduce the amount of pollution that a family creates. She also suggests eating as little meat as possible to reduce your carbon footprint. Dewane includes how important it is to pay attention to the ingredients in your food, such as Palm Oil, which causes damage to the environment.

On Helping the Environment at the Polls

Another very important, but underrated way of protecting the Earth is to vote for candidates who prioritize environmental concerns (like maintaining clean water rules, protecting national parks, investing in clean energy, etc). Dewane said that voting for eco-friendly politicians is the most important thing.

On Knowing the Facts

One main issue regarding climate change, according to Dewane, is that Americans aren’t educated on the subject matter. “We’re still talking about the percentage of Americans who believe in climate change. This is not how we should be framing the problem. You don’t ask people if they believe they need food and water to survive…This is a fact because science (however basic the example is) proves them to be so.”

She said things that used to sound crazy and scary are now considered normal since they were proved by science. “Computers were scary when they first arrived. iPhones seemed so unnecessary when they were invented. And now look at us. It’s cool and socially acceptable to use these things. The same goes for climate action.” She also presents a challenge to read one unbiased news source about climate change at least once a week. She says that The Guardian, BBC, The Washington Post, NPR, The Economist, and National Geographic are all good examples.

One of the greatest misconceptions of climate change is that many Americans believe that they will not be affected by it, but Dewane points out the mass evidence that it is already making a negative impact on the world. “We’re seeing more severe hurricanes in the South, increased wildfires out West, and floods (which lead to mudslides) in the Mid-Atlantic.”

She then mentioned how those having to move because of these catastrophes might just move to your town. This will lead to more traffic, fewer jobs, and more expensive goods and services. It will also affect your vacationing. Travelers may no longer be able to build fires when they go camping because of the wildfire risk, and beach houses may be wiped out by a hurricanes. One thing is for sure: environmental problems are “like an umbrella for so many issues like national security (climate refugees, internal strife), economy, human health, social justice, and more.” Just because climate change doesn’t affect you directly, does not mean that it won’t affect you indirectly. 

On What is Next for Dewane

Even after visiting Antarctica and traveling all over the world, Dewane still has many more dreams. She has an extremely long bucket list and sometimes thinks that at the rate she is going, she will have to live a lifetime to accomplish them all.  “And if I don’t (accomplish all of her dreams), I will be easily satisfied with knowing that I have helped to protect our world.”

            Dewane might not be on Cedar Cliff’s Wall of Fame, but she is lighting up the world in her own way, and she should be an inspiration for all who have a big dream. Life is too short to spend time trapped in a daydream, but if you have a goal, then you should wholeheartedly pursue it.

 For more on Maggie Dewane’s journey in Antarctica and her other travels, plus more information about environmental issues, check out her website at  https://maggiedewane.com/about...

Header photo from public domain images

Thumb from Dewane's twitter image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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