Jessica Reilly will be sailing around Latin America over the next two years.
Jessica Reilly will be sailing around Latin America over the next two years.

Energy and Resources Group (ERG) Ph.D. candidate Jessica Reilly has made it her mission to share the stories of people affected by climate change. As a recipient of the Institute of Current World Affairs Fellowship, Reilly will sail her 39-foot sailboat from the Pacific coast of Mexico to the Caribbean over the next two years. On her journey, she will pass through the coast of Central America and the Panama Canal to collect personal anecdotes from coastal people as well as data on rising sea levels.

“Stories can fill in the gaps, ground the data, and illuminate the differences between why one community changes with the tides and another washes away,” Reilly says.

The fellowship allows her to explore her interests of “people and places on the edges” by delving into coastal life in Latin America. As a fellow, she will write a monthly newsletter about the personal stories and scientific information that she gathers. But Reilly stresses that her main priority “is to listen to people on the coasts.”

Reilly hopes that her interviews will provide a human perspective and adaptation solutions to scientists studying climate change. She plans on using her research to create a “vulnerability map” that illustrates areas heavily impacted by rising sea levels. “Both data and stories together give us a better picture of how to adapt, how to influence policymakers, and where and how these solutions could be transferable,” she adds.

The project also draws upon her background as an adventure guide and biologist. Prior to enrolling at UC Berkeley, Reilly graduated from Brown University with a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Afterwards, she worked as a backcountry mountain biking guide and as a field biologist throughout the U.S. West. Her varied interests led her to international adventures such as helping to develop the largest thermal solar project in the world.

Along with the Institute of Current World Affairs Fellowship, Reilly is also a recent recipient of the Fulbright, which has allowed her to spend the past few months in La Paz, Mexico, where she is also studying the impacts of rising sea levels.

Reilly credits Berkeley for allowing her to study disparate conditions in both the deserts and the coasts. “At ERG, I explore how people can survive and thrive in these environments and make choices that both enhance their lives and their natural environment.” During her trip she also plans to publish her stories beyond scientific journals, so that she can educate the world about the impact of climate change.

For more information and to apply to the Institute of Current World Affairs 2015-2016 Fellowship visit the ICWA website. The deadline is September 1, 2015.