In the wake of Rachel Carson, a conservation icon

Bill Dennison ·
8 July 2014
Science Communication | 

Over the past several weeks, I encountered various tributes to Rachel Carson (1907-1964), the environmental champion and author. It began in Pittsburgh, PA near where Rachel was born in 1927 and where she attended what is now Chatham University. I attended the River Rally, where Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. spoke about how courageous Rachel was to draw attention to the dangers of DDT and the vicious attacks that she received as a result. I saw the Rachel Carson Bridge in downtown Pittsburgh, spanning the Allegheny River. After the River Rally, I visited former IAN Science Communicator Sara Powell and her husband Mike Finewood, a Geographer at Rachel's alma mater, Chatham University.

Sara Powell and Mike Finewood in Pittsburgh near Chatham University.

Next, I traveled to the National Conservation Training Center near Shepardstown, WV where they have preserved Rachel Carson's simple writing desk and manual typewriter that she used to write her iconic books and magazine articles. In addition, one of the residential buildings on the NCTC campus is named after Rachel Carson.

Rachel Carson’s desk and typewriter at the National Conservation Training Center.

Then I traveled to Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons, MD for a UMCES Board of Visitors meeting where our research vessel R/V Rachel Carson is berthed. The Carson was preparing for their research voyage to Cape Cod. Since this vessel is in essence the flagship of the State of Maryland, we thought it appropriate to name her Rachel Carson, since Rachel spent so much of her life in Maryland.

Aboard the R/V Rachel Carson on Chesapeake Bay.

Finally, I traveled to Woods Hole, MA for the annual Sea Education Association meeting of Trustees and Overseers and visited my PhD study site at the end of Water Street. A new statue of Rachel Carson has her gazing out over Great Harbor at the deep end of the seagrass meadow that I studied intensively from 1981-1984. I love that her likeness is oriented in this direction, as it was her book, The Sea Around Us, that initially inspired me growing up a thousand miles from the ocean. Rachel took a marine biology summer course at the Marine Biological Laboratory in 1929 after she graduated from Chatham University. This course inspired her to enroll in graduate school at Johns Hopkins University where she obtained her Masters degree.

Statue of Rachel Carson overlooking Great Harbor, Woods Hole.

These repeated encounters with Rachel Carson tributes serve as reminders of the importance of expressing environmental passion, and the importance of speaking 'truth to power', both of which she did so very well. I am glad that my travels reconnect me with this amazing woman.

About the author

Bill Dennison

Dr. Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Dr. Dennison’s primary mission within UMCES is to coordinate the Integration and Application Network.

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