Ashley Corbin’s Plan to Save the World’s Ecosystem
Written by April Valenza
Ashley Corbin graduated from the University of North Carolina Wilmington in May of 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology with a conservation tract. Having spent her summers in Ogunquit Maine, she grew up by the ocean and found a passion for it. In her middle school years, she discovered a documentary titled The Cove, which described the annual slaughter of dolphins in Japan. It was this documentary that sparked her drive to save the oceans. Dolphins are innocent, and they aren’t the only species being targeted. She realized that she wanted to advocate for creatures, and ecosystems, that couldn’t advocate for themselves. After all, most species on the planet live sustainably, all but one – humans. She chose UNCW for her undergraduate education because of the phenomenal marine biology program. Throughout her studies she learned a plethora of information about climate change, how it affected the oceans, and how humans have aided in advancing it. The path she ultimately wanted to follow with her degree changed. When she first entered UNCW she initially wanted to pursue a master’s degree, PhD, and go on to become a research professor.
One of her main beliefs is that no matter how much research scientists publish, it’s public backing and support that really initiates change. She came to feel that although lecturing the issues is important, it took her away from her main goal of advocating for all the ocean’s inhabitants.
After learning how intricate climate change truly was, and how much about humanity’s way of living needed to change, she became less hopeful. She then decided to pursue a pre-vet track in hopes of being able to directly aid the creatures who needed support. This was her track until she started her honors thesis and took ecology and conservation-based courses. She found herself falling back in love with research and education. In the summer of 2018, she traveled to Peru to intern at the non-profit Organization for Research and Conservation of Aquatic Animals (ORCA). She gained hands on field experience and saw first-hand how much climate change was affecting the marine ecosystem.
She did microscopic water quality analysis and noted how much microplastic was in the environment. Microplastic isn’t an issue that solely affects the environment it’s present in. As organisms in the food web consume organisms below them who have ingested the microplastic it bioaccumulates up the food chain. This can be deadly for higher trophic level organisms, and humans as well. She also saw a necropsy of a female Otaria byronia (South American Sea Lion) of only four years of age, where her lungs were riddled with cancer from toxins in the ocean. Her experience at ORCA is what made her realize that marine mammals, and research, are supposed to be used to enact policy change. She decided that the best way for her to make a noticeable change in the world was to pursue a career in environmental law. If she wanted to advocate for creatures who couldn’t advocate for themselves, she had to actually fight for them. She wants to be a part of a process that can ultimately enact policy to not only clean up the environment, but also shift ecosystems back to what they once were. Shifting baseline syndrome is how the state of an environment is measured based on past reference points. It can cause confusion as to how much damage an ecosystem has undergone. Ashley wants to fight to bring back an ecosystem quality that existed generations ago, both for the health of the planet and the creatures who rely on it. She will be applying to environmental law programs for next fall.