March 7, 2004 – Leia LaPlace, a marine biology student at the University of the Virgin Islands, is one of two first-time recipients of the Governor Tause P.F. Sunia Coral Reef Conservation Summer Internship Award.
LaPlace and Aja Reyes of Guam were chosen based on their demonstrated interest in coral reef conservation in their home islands, exemplary academic achievements and related work experience, a release from Delegate Donna M. Christensen said.
The award is a three-month, expense-paid summer internship working on coral reef management initiatives with an agency member of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. At this time, LaPlace does not know where her target location is, but she knows the work will deal with management and policy issues related to coral reef conservation.
The most distant she has been from St. Thomas is Alaska – but that, she said, "was only for a week."
The daughter of Lucy and Lawrence LaPlace of St. Croix, Leia LaPlace is the eldest of five siblings. Her family, she said, is "very supportive" of whatever she has chosen to do. She graduated from St. Croix Educational Complex, and spent the first two years of her college studies on the St. Croix campus, entering under the early admissions program..
By high school, she said, she knew she wanted a work future related to nature and biology, and by 10th grade, she knew the ocean would be involved in some way in her career path. She does not plan graduate school, she said, and she's eager to get to work "helping out here in the Virgin Islands," perhaps with the National Park Service. Observing the oft-quoted exodus of young people from the islands, she said, pointedly, right here in the islands is where she wants to work.
LaPlace was singled out, Christensen said, for her '"commitment to actively share her marine science and conservation knowledge.' She has worked as a mentor, tour guide, teacher's assistant and maintenance worker on marine, science, and conservation issues in the Virgin Islands."
The award, a release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said, chose winners from among excellent students "from Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Hawaii, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands. Due to her course load, LaPlace was unable to travel to Washington, D.C., to receive the award on Feb. 25, but she said someone will come to St. Thomas soon for a presentation.
LaPlace said she was "shocked" to receive the award, as she had to rush her application. But she's obviously pleased with the opportunity.
The late Gov. Sunia is most remembered, the NOAA release said, for "being an eloquent and impassioned advocate for coral reef protection and management at the local level, not only in American Samoa, but throughout the U.S., making the late Governor a true world leader in coral reef protection."
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