Post by Victor Unnone (Colgate '23).
Being able to do fieldwork is something that I always look forward to, as I get to travel to new places, be outside constantly, and refine and expand my hands-on skills. Our fieldwork consisted of traveling to Cocodrie, Louisiana and Dauphin Island, Alabama in order to sample sediments offshore on research vessels. We spent multiple days on the R/V Acadiana and the R/V E.O Wilson collecting sediment, rinsing it through sieves, and sorting through the live and dead bivalves to eventually ship these back to the lab at Colgate. On our days off, we were able to explore the areas where we stayed. Although these coastal towns were only a few hours apart, there are stark differences between them.
When we arrived in Cocodrie, one of the first things I noticed was the abundance of damaged infrastructure. Roads, buildings, and residential homes were in various states of disrepair, which was mainly due to Hurricane Ida. Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana in late August of 2021; 150 mph winds buffeted the coastline, tearing the roofs off of houses while the ocean flooded much of the area. Nearly a year later, many areas were still being repaired. Additionally, sea level rise has created a consistent problem with inundated roads in certain areas; at LUMCON, the parking lots would be covered with inches of water when the tide came in.
The swampy marshes of Louisiana were left behind when we traveled to Dauphin Island, Alabama’s white-sanded beach town. The island is small enough that you can see the water from both ends at our house. It absolutely blew my expectations of an Alabama beach, and staying at a waterfront property allowed us to observe the wildlife that inhabited the area. One of the few similarities to Cocodrie were the beach houses on stilts to protect against hurricanes and flooding. There was almost no sign of destruction, and things seemed much more relaxed. And yet, Dauphin Island has not escaped unscathed. The island has been hit by over a dozen hurricanes and tropical storms in the last few decades. For example, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab had its roof torn off by Hurricane Sally in September of 2020. Insurance companies refuse to insure many of the beachfront homes, making property ownership a gamble. Comparing the two made me think about the vulnerability of many of these populations along the coast, and our group talked about Elizabeth Rush’s book Rising, which addresses many of the problems of sea level rise, including the personal experiences of those directly exposed to it.