By Roger Payne, Sea Shepherd Advisory Board Member
It is with the deepest sadness and sense of loss that I announce the death of our colleague Rebecca Clark, one of the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami. She was on a two-month leave from Ocean Alliance searching out sea turtle nests on Golden Budda Beach, a few miles north of Phuket, Thailand.
One of the men on the team Rebecca (Reb) was leading said that they saw the sea level fall, realized it was a tsunami, and raced for higher ground. He barely made it, and as he turned around saw that she and another young woman had vanished. She was found five days later.
I first met Reb in October of 1999 when she came to work for Ocean Alliance. Our research vessel Odyssey had just pulled into a Mexican port when a quiet, clearly competent person stepped on board. I liked her at once and a short time later, while packing my stuff and preparing to leave myself, I remember thinking that in Reb we had a winner - someone who could do anything well. As the years went by, I saw that first impression was right.
She was on board Odyssey, for much of the next four years, starting as Science Coordinator and soon becoming Science Manager. It fell to Reb to run the onboard science programs and supervise all collection, archiving, and transportation of field data. She was aboard Odyssey through April 2002.
Her ability as a field worker was outstanding, and it was clear to me that she had a bright future as a researcher. I felt it would be all too easy for us to keep on taking advantage of the care and attention to detail with which Rebecca collected and curated the data from the voyage, but that a full five years of that would stall her career and she wouldn't be in a good position to go to the next level. I thought it important for her to come back and spend some time analyzing data and writing papers to increase her visibility in the world of marine science. So from May 2002 to Jan 2003 she returned to Massachusetts to work with Dr. Celine Godard while stationed at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (where she also had an appointment as Guest Scientist). She did toxicological analyses of samples that she and others had collected while aboard Odyssey, and did excellent work. But her heart was in field work, so from Jan '03 to March '04 she was back aboard Odyssey, and then returned in April to Ocean Alliance headquarters in Lincoln, Massachusetts where she continued with data analysis and the writing of papers concerned with the voyage.
The one thing in my long career of which I am unqualifiedly proud (some would say insufferably proud) is that I have always worked with outstanding young scientists. In spite of having dealt with such a distinguished stable of thoroughbreds, I have only known two other people who were as careful and dedicated as Reb in the demanding work of curating the data we get.
My image of Reb is of her staying up far into the night in the main lounge, with data logs spread out before her, working to make sure that every piece of meta-data was included and recorded properly, that all films, tapes, and samples had been properly labeled and coordinated, and that any possible confusions had been resolved. And what is that kind of persistent and unflagging energy worth to an enterprise such as ours? In a word: everything. It is a rare and priceless thing.
Even if you live as long as I have, and experience hundreds of students and colleagues, you will still find it rare indeed to find anyone who sticks to a job through such thick thicks and thin thins as did Reb.
Last September Reb called me to say that she wanted to take a couple of months off - that she had wanted to apply for a job monitoring turtle-nesting beaches for an organization working in Thailand. I went on line and looked up the place and thought - Wow! It looks like a great opportunity. But in my letter in support of her application I said that whereas I thought they should avail themselves of her help I certainly hope you don't steal her away from us as I am hoping she will return to work again at Ocean Alliance at the completion of her work with you.
I don't know how to express my feelings for the fact that that is not going to happen now.
I haven't gotten to join the Voyage of the Odyssey as often as I might have wished, but whenever I did, one of the things I looked forward to was Reb, reliable Reb, competent Reb. She would appear in the open door of my cabin carrying two cups of tea (she never spilled a drop, though the boat was reeling around) and we'd spend the next half hour chatting about this and that - discussing the things I had missed, and whatever was coming up next.
In the hurly burly of an ocean voyage, one welcomes peace in any form. These quiet, civilized teatimes with Reb gave me a chance to reconnect and make a smoother transition into the pace of the Voyage once again.
All of us here at Ocean Alliance are shattered by her loss and extend to her mother, Sarah, and her sister, Alia, as well as the rest of her family and friends, our deepest condolences.
Here is one of Reb's favorite quotations. It comes from Jack London's Tales of Adventure. I have asked my wife, Lisa Harrow, to read it.
I would rather be ashes than dust,
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it
Should be stifled by dry rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow,
Than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.
With the permission of her family we have established the Rebecca Clark Memorial Fund. Donations may be made to this restricted fund that establishes an internship for young women from developing nations who are interested in science and who also wish to follow their own star. More information can be found at oceanalliance.org
This is Roger Payne hoping for better times.
The Ocean Alliance welcomes comments, pictures, and stories about Rebecca Clark. We will be compiling them on our website. Any submissions please email Iain Kerr at [email protected]
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