Islander chosen for National Geographic adventure

Savanna Reid is one lucky 13-year-old. In two months, the Islander Middle School seventh-grader will be exploring the turquoise waters of the Great Barrier Reef, the prehistoric Daintree Rainforest and the exotic jungles of Tasmania. She will be accompanied by a group of National Geographic Society team members and more than 30 adventurous youth like herself. And she is still getting used to the idea.

“To tell you the truth, it’s really hard to believe. It’s really unreal to me,” Reid said.

It was only a month ago when the Islander received the surprising news: that she was one of 15 students across the country to win a place on the 2008 National Geographic Kids Expedition Team. The youth were selected based on the quality of an essay each submitted about his or her adventurous spirit.

The American students will join 23 fourth- and fifth-graders from Taroona Elementary school in Tasmania to help create a sustainable habitat for the Tasmanian devil. The effort is in celebration of the country’s Black and White Day, an annual Tasmanian devil awareness and fundraising initiative.

Together, the students will plant trees to create a safe enclosure for the Tasmanian devil, a carnivorous marsupial indigenous to Tasmania, in a national wildlife reserve. All of the trees will be purchased with money raised by the team. Reid has already begun fundraising efforts on Mercer Island and is much inspired by the cause.

“It’s cool because I’m learning a lot about the Tasmanian devil. Right now it’s endangered because of a cancerous disease that they’re getting. Sixty percent of the population has been wiped out from it,” Reid said, referring to the Devil Facial Tumor Disease, a transmittable parasitic cancer discovered in the species in 1995. The tumors grow in and around the Tasmanian devil’s mouth, interfering with feeding and eventually leading to death by starvation.

Although there is not much Reid and her peers can do about the cancer, they can oppose another force of extinction — deforestation.

“Logging is also killing out the Tasmanian devil,” the Islander said. “And that’s why we’re raising money; to replant trees and restore the devil’s habitat.”

In addition to this project, the “Hands-on Explorer” team will visit the Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef, where they will learn about conserving the vibrant ecosystems within. Reid is especially excited to expand her love of snorkeling from Lake Washington to the world’s largest coral reef system.

But as she has realized, it doesn’t take the exotic to inspire adventure. In fact, her winning essay focused on one of the Island’s most quiet and unassuming beaches -- Slater Park.

A small landing on the East Seattle neighborhood lakefront, Slater Park has been Reid’s “special spot” since she can remember. Just down the street from her house, the park has become a haven of discovery, adventure and self-reflection for Reid. She escapes to the beach each week -- rain or shine -- to swim and snorkel, play with her dogs or simply observe the changing flora around her.

“I like [Slater Park] because it seems so isolated, but you can also see the city. Only a few people go there so I feel like it’s my park. I can watch sunsets and do whatever I want. I don’t have to worry about anything there,” the Islander said.

One of her favorite things to do at Slater park is explore Lake Washington’s dark and murky waters. In fact, this is what she focused much of her winning narrative on.

“At the water park I witness breathtaking sunsets, observe humongous fungi, and in as early as April I enjoy snorkeling through the mysterious milfoil forests,” she writes in her essay. “Most people call me crazy for swimming in the freezing waters, but I have trouble waiting until summer to dive into my own world. When I’m exploring I’m so preoccupied with my discoveries, I hardly notice the cold. Under water, I have found a treasury of forgotten stuff, including a toilet, a fire extinguisher, and a 50-year-old Coke can.”

A longtime dream of Reid’s has been to become a professional writer. And now that her work has received national attention, the seventh-grader has been inspired to pursue this path more seriously.

“I want to write so that people are not isolated from the world and issues going on in other countries. Maybe I can help make a change and bring people together through my writing,” Reed said, adding that she hopes to pursue an internship with National Geographic after this summer’s adventure.

And her parents support this ambition wholeheartedly.

Kelly Reid, who will be accompanying her daughter on the National Geographic Explorer trip, hopes that Savanna will cultivate her talent for writing.

“I hope this experience encourages a lifelong love of exploring and writing,” she said. “I’m so glad that she went for it. She did this completely on her own.”

As for her winning creative essay, Savanna gives much of the credit to her teachers.

“I don’t think I’d have anything close to the writing skills I got if it weren’t for [West Mercer fourth grade teacher] Mrs. Stipes and [IMS sixth-grade teacher] Mrs. Naganowa,” she said. “They kind of inspired me to start writing. If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t be entering these contests.”

Nor would she be flying, all expenses paid, to one of the most exotic continents in the world.

“I was just thinking about when I was little how I’d play imagination games down at Slater park,” Reid reflected. “But I never imagined that I’d one day write an essay about the park. And that I’d win a competition for National Geographic to visit Australia.”

For those interested in contributing to Reid’s campaign to save the Tasmanian devil, please mail a $5 to $20 check, made out to “University of Tasmania Foundation - USA,” to: c/o REID, 2004 61st Ave. SE, Mercer Island, WA 98040.

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