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Over the past two weeks, I and my peers in the Duke Engage Chile program worked towards putting the final touches on creating digital identification tags for photos captured by trap cameras for the Huilo Huilo Foundation, and collecting information on major biosphere reserves in North America and Europe. Eventually, the digitally tagged photos will be used to create informative maps to better understand the habitats of the many diverse species within the reserve. This is crucial information for the Huilo Huilo Foundation, as several critically endangered species reside within the reserve, and more detailed habitat mapping can help improve conservation efforts made within the reserve. The same can be said for our work researching comparative biospheres throughout North America, as studying the projects and practices of similar operations can help the Huilo Huilo Foundation improve the adoption of better, more efficient practices here.

On a personal level, I enjoy being able to engage with the Huilo Huilo Foundation both through the work mentioned above and weekly meetings with Foundation leaders and Catholic University students engaging in on-site projects. In some ways, my level of engagement almost comes as a surprise given the nature of online work that is exacerbated by a several-thousand mile divide. Although I’m certain that being able to travel to Chile to work with the reserve and Chilean communities as typical Duke Engage programs do would afford a much greater level of engagement, I am pleasantly surprised by my ability to engage and participate from my home in North Carolina.

A huge piece of my ability to engage effectively with our Chilean partners is the role technology can play in environmentalism. Programs like QGIS, digiKam, and tools like trap cameras have revolutionized observation and documenting of animal species. In Chile, the probability of observing many of these endangered species in the field would likely be extremely low. Trap cameras allow for unprecedented observation, and the accompanying programs create opportunities for extremely useful data analysis.

For the field of environmental science, I think that this prospect is extremely inspiring. For those still affected by the pandemic, a meaningful way to engage with the environment and conservation very clearly still exists. And even beyond the pandemic, meaningful opportunities exist for people like myself who may be hesitant to plunge headfirst into immersive fieldwork in another country. Ultimately, engaging with the Huilo Huilo Foundation has given me a new perspective on the potential for remote environmentalism in an impactful way.