As a teen volunteer for Healing Meals, an NGO that prepares and delivers organic meals for individuals and families dealing with health crises, Noah Cinel ’24 understands the importance of service. As a student and champion of environmental issues, Noah was eager to put his understanding of service to work in a new arena, and on a broader scale.
“I knew that I wanted to do something involving ocean restoration and so when I found the Rustic Pathways program I was immediately sold,” says Noah.
With support from Taft’s Robert Keyes Poole ’50 Fellowship program, Noah spent 16 days working to protect the coastlines of the Dominican Republic with Rustic Pathways last summer.
Founded as a fishing village in 1874, Bayahíbe is a small town on the Caribbean coast of the Dominican Republic known for its sandy beaches, dive sites, and coral reefs. In the 1980s, the collective toll of white band disease, hurricanes, storms, the action of corallivores, thermal stress, and the increase in the level sea environment and pollution led to a 97% reduction in several coral species. FUNDEMAR, the Dominican Foundation for Marine Studies, has been working to restore the reefs with the creation of nurseries for tissue growth and transplant. There are now more than 3,000 meters of coral growing in eight coral gardens. FUNDEMAR also tracks marine mammal data in the area, and conducts ongoing monitoring of overall reef health and viability.
“Every day we would head out to sea in a tiny boat with scientists, educators, and other volunteers from FUNDEMAR to clear the ocean of trash, collect data on marine mammal sightings, and work on coral reef preservation” Noah explains. “It felt like we were really making a difference, which was very rewarding.”
To more effectively support the conservation of marine ecosystems, Noah and his peers learned about threats to local marine and terrestrial life, scientific conservation methods, and the construction of reef restoration structures. They spent time monitoring coral growth in a wet lab, and learned about rehabilitating mangroves.
“I’ve always had an interest in environmental science and so one goal of mine was to gain a better understanding of how that field works. The broad scope of the program provided that.”
Perhaps the most rewarding moment of Noah’s travels came on Isla Saona, a small remote island off the south-east coast in Dominican Republic's La Altagracia province. It is a government-protected nature reserve, and a home to sea turtles.
“Our group woke up at 3 am to hike along the beach, searching for turtle eggs and nests that might be in dangerous locations. We found a couple and brought them back to camp where they could hatch safely before being released back to the island,” Noah recalls. “For me, that was a special moment that had a real impact.”
Established in memory of Robert Keyes Poole '50, Taft teacher from 1956 to 1962, Poole Fellowships are awarded each year to enable Taft students to engage in travel or in projects consistent with Mr. Poole's lifetime interest in wildlife and the environment.