By Cara Chancellor
New Canaan resident Laurel Jaffe’s travel history would make any conservationist envious. She has frolicked with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands, hiked through the steppes of Patagonia and sailed the Coral Sea. Did we mention she’s only 13?
Even after witnessing some of the planet’s most spectacular natural wonders, Laurel was unprepared for the kaleidoscope of colors and diversity of life she encountered when diving at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
A Living Masterpiece, Under Threat
“My parents had told me stories about how magnificent the reefs were,” she says. “It was beautiful.”
Laurel’s father, David—a trustee for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut—had visited the Great Barrier Reef almost twenty years prior with his wife, Helen. This time, Laurel’s parents could share only some of her excitement.
“It was still amazing, but they were disappointed at how much it had changed,” says Laurel. “They showed me how people had affected the reef: how corals are bleaching and dying because of pollution.”
Making an Impact
The Jaffes returned to Connecticut, but the Great Barrier Reef was never far from Laurel’s thoughts.
She began speaking with her father about a supporting a non-profit organization for her Bat Mitzvah, a Jewish celebration that Laurel describes as “becoming an adult, accepting responsibility and helping the world.” After much research, she settled on The Nature Conservancy’s Adopt a Coral Reef Program.
“It was my choice either to accept gifts or donate to charity for my Bat Mitzvah,” she explains. “I didn’t need a new iPod. I wanted to help a cause that was near to my heart.”
Between her guests’ gifts and her parents’ contribution, Laurel raised more than $30,000 to help preserve coral reefs.
Connecting the Pieces
While her family has not yet decided on their next adventure, for now Laurel is enjoying nature close to home. She hikes with her siblings at a local preserve every weekend and often visits the reservoir near their house.
“Even though we live in the country, there’s still pollution, and it still has an impact,” she says. “Seeing that the reefs were really changing and dying made me more aware of the impact everyone has on everything.”
“I definitely want to start doing local internships or join clubs or programs where I can help my community,” she adds. “Then maybe I’ll build on that to do more global projects.”
If Laurel’s enthusiasm is any indication, the outlook for coral reefs may just have gotten a little bit brighter.
Cara Chancellor writes about conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut.