Waimanalo teacher Blade Shepherd-Jones has returned from his expedition to the Arctic, with plenty of stories to share with his students.
Shepherd-Jones, a sixth-and-eighth-grade science teacher at Waimanalo Elementary and Intermediate School, was one of 45 educators from North America chosen as this year’s Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellows.
He returned last week, and today was honored by the Honolulu City Council with a certificate as an outstanding educator and NatGeo fellow.
The 10-day expedition to Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago roughly midway between Norway and the North Pole, was amazing and unforgettable, according to Shepherd-Jones, who experienced snow for the first time, and saw plenty of Arctic wildlife.
He saw a mother polar bear and two cubs, caribou, walruses, seabirds and five species of whales, including the rare Bowhead whale, which is seldom sighted by humans. He took a polar plunge into freezing waters, and worked alongside Lindblad-National Geographic experts studying and documenting Arctic wildlife and geology.
Despite being a “remote, pristine place,” Shepherd-Jones found that the Arctic, too, gets its share of marine debris from the ocean.
Hawaii and Svalbard, despite their geographical distance, share a lot in common, he said.
“They’re both islands in the middle of the ocean,” he said. “They both have a very fragile ecosystem, tourism plays a huge role for their economy, and they have a lot of unique wildlife only found in that part of the world.”
A lesson he expects to share with his students is how everything is interconnected.
In a past hands-on project, his students explored the impacts of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch on marine animals and their own beachfront communities. Students organized beach cleanups, and created animal sculptures out of the debris collected.
“We’re still one ocean,” he said. “Whatever we do in Hawaii affects the world, and vice verse.”
The Kalaheo High School and Hawaii Pacific University graduate became a teacher to share his passion for science with kids.
“There’s so much amazing phenomena in the world,” he said. “I hope kids see it and appreciate it but also understand it, and they understand why things work the way they work.”