Even small actions make a big difference
by Peyton Keller
Every summer, Ashley Dittman and her family traveled from their home in Lafayette, Indiana, to Ponce Inlet, Florida. When she arrived, Dittman said she would always go straight to the beach. But she didn’t go to get a tan or build a sand castle.
“I always picked up trash on the beach, but my brothers were always the ones to notice the trash and would do nothing about it,” said Dittman, a junior natural resources and environmental science major.
Then, as now, Dittman encouraged her brothers and others to find ways to make a difference for the environment. She encourages people to avoid using plastic straws at restaurants, going meatless for a day, and bringing reusable bags to the store. These are all ways people can make a difference in the environment.
“Even the smallest of actions can make a big impact if everyone does it,” Dittman said.
Cleaning up the beach in Florida helped her channel her passion for the environment. While her brothers may not have wanted to do anything about pollution, Dittman planned a career around improving more than just beaches. She said she’s looking beyond the trash you can see and looking at the damage that is often hidden: ocean acidification. And she said she plans to do more than just find problems.
“My goal after college is to research ocean acidification and how it impacts the water and marine life. I want to be able to present my research to the public through outreach programs so I can help educate the public on how to take care of the environment,” Dittman said.
Such work will help Dittman bring together all her passions — research, public education, and ocean acidification — into one career goal. She said that she wants a big part of her career to include educating the public. But to teach, she needs to broaden her horizons. That means looking beyond her hometown and to the entire world. This led to her study in Sydney, Australia.
“I was able to witness the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef,” she said. “Seeing that just made me even more passionate about water quality and what I wanted to do with my life.”
Many factors influence coral bleaching, but water temperature is the most important. Dittman went snorkeling to see the reef, and that experience confirmed her choice to study water quality and speak for the marine life. She said she feels it is her responsibility to speak for marine life that human actions are affecting. To do this, she needs more experiences with all aquatic life.
“While in Australia, I was able to do a research project, which was my first time doing research, and that experience really strengthened my passion to research water quality,” she said.
Her Australian research focused on snail populations in a lake. This work, Dittman said, is just as important as ocean acidification and other marine issues. In addition to the work, Dittman said the experience helped her better understand what research would be like in her field. For Dittman, water is the thing that ties all of her interests together.
“I want to focus on water quality and how water is involved with different processes in the environment and how humans impact the processes,” she said.
That goal brought her back to Florida to work at a science center where she educates the public about the environment and how humans affect it.
“During the summer, I work as a touch pool guide at the Ponce Inlet Marine Science Center where they focus on turtle rehabilitation and public education,” she said.
As a touch-pool guide, Dittman teaches people about stingrays, hermit crabs, and sharks. She said she remains committed to leaving the world a better place.
“Taking a step back and looking at small daily habits to see what someone can change to positively impact the environment will create huge impacts,” she said.