WILMINGTON – Anna Brodmerkel likes wetlands. She appreciates their beauty and recognizes the threats to them. Because of that, she’ll have an extra $1,000 to take with her this fall to Chapel Hill
A senior at Heide Trask High School in Rocky Point, Brodmerkel won a statewide high-school essay contest that was sponsored by Cape Fear River Watch and the Stop Titan Action Network, or STAN. Her essay was chosen from 51 entries for top prize of a $1,000 scholarship. Brodmerkel plans to attend the University of North Carolina in the fall.
Launched in October, the contest sought to “promote interest in environmental conservation, with particular regard to heavy industry and related subjects,” according to the contest guidelines.
“The idea,” said Kay Lynn Plummer-Hernandez, an education specialist with Cape Fear River Watch, “was to bring the message statewide. We’ve been getting the message out locally, and we (wanted) to make it more of a statewide outreach program.”
Though River Watch took the lead, the contest was co-sponsored by the six other organizations in STAN — The N.C. Coastal Federation, PenderWatch & Conservancy, Citizens Against Titan, The N.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Duke University’s Environmental Law and Policy Clinic.
The students were asked to address, in essays limited to 1,500 words, one of three topics involving the proposed Titan America cement plant near Wilmington. Most of the students, Plummer-Hernandez said, chose to write about the importance of wetlands and how the Titan project could affect them. Other contestants chose to explain the importance of environmental regulations and to examine the effects of Titan’s emission on the region’s air and water. A few even tackled the third topic, watershed monitoring, and how the local watershed might be affected by Titan Cement’s proposal.
“We didn’t write the questions in a way that gave an opinion,” said Sarah Gilliam, the STAN coordinator. “We did it in a way that let the students form their own.”
She explained that the entries were read by a subcommittee, which whittled the field down to five. Those were forwarded to the five judges — Tom Babel, an attorney and board chair of the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce Foundation; Diana Ashe, associate professor and coordinator of professional writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington; Christopher Finelli, chairman of UNCW’s Biology and Marine Biology Department; Jonathan Barfield Jr., a New Hanover County commissioner; and Mary McLean Asbill, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. The essays were judged on research accuracy, writing ability, originality, creativity and overall excellence.
“The two most important considerations were research accuracy and creativity,” Gilliam explained. “We were looking for (a student) who did not just report what they found, but related that information in a meaningful way.”
The five finalists were Brodmerkel and Alexis Buie, both from Heide Trask High School, and Nicholas Pugh, Emily Abshear and Nathan Wall, all from Croatan High School in Carteret County.
“Too often, we humans take nature’s phenomenon, the wetland, for granted,” Brodmerkel wrote. “Humans forget wetlands are a defining characteristic of regions, abuse them and are ignorant of their importance to the surrounding environment. Wetlands provide southeast North Carolina with a plethora of benefits unique to each region. The impending destruction of wetlands would be a travesty not only for humans, but the organisms whose lives depend upon the irreplaceable habitat as well.
“Critical to the environment and economy, wetlands must be protected at all costs from dangers such as Titan Cement,” she concluded, “Community members have the power to fight against environmental injustice and are working to protect one of nature’s disappearing wonders.”
Brodmerkel is an active member of her school’s National Honor Society, Key Club, Bridge Club, Science Club, Science Olympiad team, pep and marching bands and student government. She will be a Global Gap Year Fellow at UNC, where she plans to study anthropology.
“In the future,” she wrote in a short biography, “I hope to become successful in a career conserving the earth’s resources for future generations.”
Wall won second place for his essay on environmental regulations. He received a student membership to North Carolina’s chapter of the Sierra Club.
The contest will be repeated next year, Plummer-Hernandez said. “I learned that students are very passionate about the environment,” she said. “More passionate than I expected.”