A group of students from Whitman College, U.S. Naval and U.S. Coast Guard academies and University of Hawaii recently completed a summer internship in the Marshall Islands on the Ebeye Atoll as part of the Pacific ALLIES Program, according to a report from Defense Visual Information Distribution Service.
Pacific ALLIES brings together students from the United States and host nation sponsors from the Government of Kwajalein, in the Marshall Islands — where the Ebeye Atoll is located.
Often described as a “living sustainability laboratory” by U.S. researchers and Marshallese leadership, that part of the Marshall Islands is a unique place where organizations and nation states can test ideas and study environmental problems, like sea-level rise mitigation and food and water security techniques, according to the release by Petty Officer 1st Class Robin Peak.
While on Ebeye Atoll, the cohort assisted with Streetview Coastal Research and Demographic Survey, a geolocation and census effort supported by the Office of Naval Research, Code 34 Warfighter Performance Department, Human and Bioengineered Systems Division.
The geolocation and census effort is the first time these types of initiatives have been undertaken on the atoll and will aid in improving situational awareness for disaster awareness and health emergencies, according to the release..
“We were able to reach about 200 homes,” said Whitman College alumna and head intern on Ebeye Skye Goedert. “We asked simple questions such as, how many people live here, how many are under 18 years of age, and do you have food or fresh water. This setup is a basic structure of the survey so the local people can do this in the future by themselves.”
They used a phone application that allows high school students to go around the community and record what their basic needs are and assign people to addresses, which is a system that has not existed there, Skye said.
“If a disaster were to ever hit, knowing how many people are on the island would be extremely important,” Skye said. “Knowing who has electricity, food and who needs provisions and where to go to give them the help will be easier in the future.”
Skye graduated in May from Whitman with a degree in environmental studies and sociology and has studied environmental justice in Bangladesh, Japan, twice in the Marshall Islands in the U.S.
“The whole internship was very eye-opening,” said U.S. Coast Guard Cadet Ani Phelps, a marine science major. On day one, students in their truck sang and played their ukuleles. “Ever since that first moment, the songs continued the whole time — along with the stories and laughter. I feel this internship has allowed us to have so many connections with the Marshallese.”
Ani wants to do research in areas such as Oceania in the future. Living in Ebeye and experiencing the culture was helpful in her understanding of the area and allowed her and the others to develop ideas for future projects.
“We are thinking of making marine science a larger part of this internship,” she said. “Next year there may be more coral reef research and work with the students.”
Ebeye has an especially vulnerable population with a higher density than Manhattan, and sixty percent of people living on the atoll are under 18 years of age, with little opportunity beyond working on U.S. Army Garrison, Kwajalein Atoll.
The geolocation effort has the added benefit of allowing people thousands of miles away, the ability to see what Ebeye looks like, said U.S. Coast Guard Cadet Elaine Weaver. This gives the people of Ebeye a sense they are part of a global community.
The students’ research and host-nation engagement focus on addressing core vulnerabilities to real-world security and stability issues, namely through youth education and capacity building.
Projects to date include coastal surveys, robotics instruction, scientific methods for reef health, and STEM assistance for Ebeye Middle School summer camp.
After the internship, the cohort traveled to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command headquarters where they briefed Maj. Gen. Suzanne P. Vares-Lum, mobilization assistant to USINDOPACOM commander on the program.
“This program is helping to equip our next-generation military leaders to face complex nontraditional security challenges through civilian and military collaboration,” Suzanne said.
“The fantastic work these cadets and midshipmen did this summer is going to greatly help the Government of Kwajalein as well as reinforce USINDOPACOM’s commitment to maintain relationships with our allies and partners in the Oceania region.”