In October 1999, Earthwatch participant Leonie York travelled to Rapa Nui as part of the Earthwatch-Shell corporate fellowship program, encouraging employees to take part in environmental conservation. At Shell, Leonie was their Employee Relations Advisor at their Clyde Refinery. When the pilot program launched, Leonie made the easy decision to swap the office for island life and applied to take part in an archeological adventure on one of the most isolated islands on the planet - Rapa Nui.

Commonly referred to as Easter Island, the volcanic islet of Rapa Nui is 3,512 km from the nearest continent, making it one of the most remote places on Earth. Famously known for its resident Moai statues, Rapa Nui offers environmental enthusiasts everything they could want; with its crystal clear waters, star gazing skies, volcanic ranges and rocky shorelines. Therefore, when Leonie was accepted to hop across the South Pacific for this unique experience, she didn’t give it a second thought.

Leonie joined her fellow Earthwatchers - Laura Carr (UK), Julian Sproule (UK), Melanie and John Dutcher (US) - assisting local scientists with data collection, surveying and excavation; helping to identify early signs of agriculture under the keen eye of Earthwatch scientist Dr. Christopher Stevenson.

Their archeology expedition was underway as they focused their efforts on excavation, observation and reporting of data. Leonie said she learned “just how important a seemingly insignificant piece of material can be”; from the soil, rock types and volcanic glass, to carbon and other unusual formations.

The team managed to successfully gather data that was used to determine Rapa Nui’s cultural heritage; from what its agricultural focus was and how it developed, to its population growth and decline. They gained invaluable knowledge about archaeology, the environment and social impacts, arming them with an understanding of how to contribute to building a better world.

But it wasn’t just knowledge that they gained during their experience. Leonie and her team built relationships that would stand the test of time. After forming solid friendships on the island, Leonie, Laura, Julian, Melanie and John recently organised a reunion trip to the Orkney Islands, 20 years after the Rapa Nui experience. They wanted to celebrate the anniversary of “one of the best experiences of their lives” by making more amazing memories together.

Going through a transformational experience strengthens the bond with those who shared it with you; and even though each Earthwatcher spent their past 20 years differently they were always brought back together by their original Earthwatch adventure.

Stay tuned to our Stories to hear about their Orkney Islands reunion trip.

Every Earthwatch experience is designed to not only empower you to save the natural world, but to meet and connect with like-minded people from all walks of life, and forge unique bonds like no other. Experience an Earthwatch expedition today for your own life-changing adventure.

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