Expedition with National Geographic inspires Sister Anne Kelley

Sister Anne Kelley took an eco expedition onboard the National Geographic Explorer while on sabbatical this fall. The Explorer is one of the ships of the Lindblad/National Geographic fleet that sail to the world’s most biologically diverse places. Sr. Anne traveled through the Panama Canal and on into remote places in South America. She took along with her a copy of Laudato Si, the environmental encyclical that Pope Francis wrote earlier this year. Here is the story of her eco expedition, in Sr. Anne’s own words:

A scientist on the expedition discussed marine mammal skulls.

In September/October, as part of my sabbatical, I had the incredibly unique privilege of joining my brother Jim on an expedition aboard the National Geographic ship Explorer.

Each National Geographic ship has veteran expedition teams to provide insightful commentary on what guests see. Every evening there is a recap of the day and a discussion of the next day’s activities, which may include snorkeling, kayaking, birding, hiking or visiting historical sites or indigenous peoples. There were also engaging scientific presentations each evening that wove the expedition into a cohesive narrative for the 110 guests aboard.

These expeditions are designed for people who have an interest in the wonders of nature and our responsibility to care for the earth and seas. The guests were from a fascinating array of backgrounds and were enthusiastically engaged in every activity. Many have been on multiple expeditions.

My brother Jim was the chief scientist on this expedition. He is a geologist and oceanographer and has been doing expeditions for more than 30 years.

My brother was the chief scientist on this expedition. He is a geologist and oceanographer and has been doing expeditions for more than 30 years. He has been all over the world. For years, after hearing his stories, I had always wanted to go on one of the National Geographic expeditions to have an up close and personal experience of “our common home” and see for myself the remote wonders of God’s creation.

As Jim’s sister, I was able to go on expedition for a mere fraction of the cost of the other guests. Jim took his son Jason on an expedition 20 years ago, and it so impressed him that Jason too became an oceanographer and is doing expeditions in mostly Antarctica, Africa and Alaska.

Jason’s wife Lisa was also a guest on an expedition ship and afterwards asked if there was a job onboard.  At the time, only the gift shop had an opening. She has now been doing expeditions for 15 years and has gone from gift shop clerk to expedition leader. Today Lisa is the  only female certified scuba diver in Antarctica. So, I now have THREE family members working on these expeditions!

You can watch Lisa in action on YouTube as she encounters a female Leopard Seal in Antarctica. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXTkOs-wg2E

A child smiles shyly for the camera in the Embera Indian village in Panama.
We visited an indigenous Embera Indian village deep in the rainforest of Panama
We visited an indigenous Embera Indian village deep in the rainforest of Panama.

In addition to the scientists and photographers on my expedition, we also had experts at each location who boarded the ship to give presentations or musical  performances. Most notable was Cesar Gaviria, the former president of Colombia from 1990-1994. After he left office, he was elected Secretary General of the Organization of American Sates, a 35 nation organization which fostered profound changes in combatting terrorism, drugs and corruption. Gaviria is also on the Board of Oceana, the global organization that creates policy to reduce pollution and promote healthy fish populations, marine mammals and other sea life.

Colombia’s rich biodiversity

Gaviria gave two presentations: one on the economic and political climate of Latin America and the second on his efforts to protect the world’s oceans and the ecosystems in Colombia, even in the midst of a 20 year civil war.

The blue-footed booby is found in the tropical and subtropical islands of the Pacific Ocean.

We were amazed to learn, and experience, why Colombia is listed as one of the world’s “megadiverse” countries, hosting close to 10% of the planet’s biodiversity. Worldwide, it ranks first in bird and orchid species diversity and second in plants, butterflies, freshwater fishes and amphibians.

With 314 types of ecosystems, Colombia possesses a rich complexity of ecological, climatic, biological and ecosystem components. Colombia was ranked as one of the world’s richest countries in aquatic resources, which is explained in part by the fact that the country’s large watersheds feed into the four massive sub-continental basins of the Amazon, Orinoco, Caribbean, Magdalena-Cauca and the Pacific.

We watched a humpback whale come to the ocean’s surface and then submerge beneath the sea.

The country has several areas of high biological diversity in the Andean ecosystems, characterized by a significant variety of endemic species, followed by the Amazon rainforests and the humid ecosystems in the Chocó biogeographical area.

Laudato Si onboard the expedition

Throughout the trip, I had Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si next to my bed. His words were coming to life in what I was seeing and learning every day in Colombia and the other countries we visited and heard about.

In my imagination, I could just see Pope Francis and the Lindblad-National Geographic arm in arm, praising God’s creation and calling us all to do our part in caring for this precious gift.

Throughout the trip, I had Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si next to my bed.

I am so grateful to have had this experience of a lifetime. It has opened my eyes and heart to all that is being done — as Pope Francis is asking — and how important every effort is. I give my thanks to our province and congregation directives which recognize this as part of our mission. We CAN make a difference and now is the time!

Anne Kelley, RGS

About Lindblad Expeditions

One of the major governing principles of Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic is to support projects at the global, regional and local level. They aim to protect the last wild places in the ocean, support innovative local projects, and facilitate conservation, research, education and community development projects in the places they explore. Each expedition ship even has a store onboard where guests can buy Fair Trade products from the areas they have visited.

Native Peruvians welcomed us as we stepped onshore from the ship.

Together, with their guests, the Lindblad Expeditions have given more than $11.3 million to projects in the remote regions they visit. 100% of guest contributions go directly to on-the-ground projects, as Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic covers the fleet’s operating costs.

You can learn more about Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic – at www.expeditions.com. Here you will see some of their key initiatives as well as learn more about my expedition and so many others.

Pelicans frame the National Geographic Explorer.

You can download a copy of the December issue of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America newsletter Items of Interest for a printable version of Sr. Anne’s story.

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette is the Communications Coordinator for Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America. She is a career photojournalist who has served in various capacities of print, broadcast, and corporate communications. Jeanette is devoted to creation and is particularly focused on saving pollinators and other wildlife species and their habitat. She is an ethical vegan and created the website veganstoryteller.com