Leader Spotlight: Scott Coffin

By Wilderness Adventures January 7, 2015

Wilderness Adventures leaders are inspirational role models for our students. They come from the best colleges and universities in the country, are passionate about working with kids, and are super fun to be around! Wilderness Adventures leaders do incredible things and have amazing stories to tell. Today, we caught up with Scott Coffin who has led for us in both Central and South America on a number of trips.

Wilderness Adventures: Scott, what have you been up to since summer 2014 ended?

Scott Coffin: Post-summer life has been truly a blast! I moved to southern California (and saw about 6 WV Cali staffers along the way!) and began my PhD at UC-Riverside. I’m studying the toxicological effects of the enormous amount of plastic  in the North Pacific Gyre. To be honest, if it wasn’t for my conservation experience with WV in Costa Rica in 2013, I likely wouldn’t have developed such a passion for the ocean, and would not have pursued a graduate degree in Aquatic Environmental Toxicology. So thanks for inspiring me WV!!

WA: Tell me more about your research!

SC: Synthetic plastic currently makes up 60-80% of all marine litter in the ocean, and has been growing exponentially in quantity since the 1960’s. These products’ resistance to biological degradation and aging causes them to be extremely persistent. This persistence results in accumulation in marine ecosystems and negative physical, biochemical and environmental effects on marine life. Currently, little data is available on the effects of these compounds on embryonic fish development (teratogenicity) as well as the non-embryonic heritable effects on DNA (epigenetic effects). Through the use of a model organism (Zebrafish) and collected plastic products, I hope to better understand the complex effects of plastic on the marine ecosystem.

WA: How did you decide on this subject and this degree?

SC: I studied chemistry in my undergraduate career and became fascinated with the complexity and incredible processes involved in biological systems through the biochemistry courses I took. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be involved in nature as much as possible, and this led me to a rewarding path of environmentalism in my adult life. During my 2013 summer with Wilderness Ventures in Costa Rica, I was able to act on this passion by volunteering with a turtle conservation camp in Tortugero. I saw first hand the effects that humans have on global ecosystem health through the pervasive poaching of the ocean’s caretakers- sea turtles. This revelation came at an extremely pivotal point in my life as I had just graduated college and was looking into further education. The decision to study Environmental Toxicology at the University of California, Riverside was an easy one, as it was driven by passion and dedication to make a difference in our world.

WA: What do you plan to do in the future?

SC: After completing my PhD (in approximately 3-4 years), I plan to continue working with marine ecosystems either with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or with a marine research institute. My love for the ocean, surfing and good, spicy food (in part inspired by my time spent abroad with WV) will likely keep me in California or a coastal town in Latin America.

WA: What trips have you lead?

SC: In 2013 I led the Costa Rica Service and Costa Rica Adventure trips. In 2014 I led two Belize trips and a Peru Service trip. All of them were absolutely incredible.

WA: How do you think Wilderness Adventures has shaped your life so far?

SC: WV has really influenced my life in many ways. The immense responsibility of leading a group of teenagers into a country that speaks a different language, has distinct customs, a totally different climate, and an entirely different way of life can be seriously daunting. Needless to say, keeping the group happy and safe on these trips requires a great deal of patience and emotional stability. As a recent college graduate, I was pretty self-involved, as pretty much everything in my life up to that point had been about my education. This was really the first time that I was focused entirely on someone else’s livelihood, and it was a big turning point in my nascent “adult” life. As a result, I feel a lot more aware of other people’s feelings and the effects that I can have on them.

WV’s sometimes utopian values have found a place deep in my heart. During staff training, I found myself happier and more connected with others than I had ever been- and these were people that I had only just met! Deep trust and community are really the ethos of WV- which gives the tools to its staff members and participants to facilitate these values in other spheres of their lives. I often reflect on the friendships I’ve made in the two summers I’ve spent with WV and am delighted when I can reconnect with these amazing people.

WA: What’s your number one best memory with Wilderness Adventures?

SC: I was on beach patrol at Tortugero in Costa Rica in 2013. We had been walking for awhile along the beach looking for nesting turtles when a thick thunderstorm approached the shore. This was the kind of quick, heavy Caribbean downpour that vibrates with crashing thunderclaps and lights up the beach with incredibly bright lighting. The storm was a little bit scary and our group was pretty tired. We were high-tailing it back to camp so we could rest for the night when we were waved down by a volunteer at the hatchery. A group of 43 leatherback turtles had just been born, and the volunteer needed help measuring their bodies with calipers before releasing them into the ocean. We were so delighted to see the newborn turtles and their emergence into the ocean that we completely forgot about any possible thoughts of physical discomfort and fear. Later at the camp, we were nothing but smiles and tea.