Delaney Demaret, '24, stands by a

Delaney Demaret, '24

August 31, 2023

The car bumped along the remote mountain road, revealing, as it rounded hairpin turns, spectacular vistas of grazing llamas and alpacas set against a backdrop of the snow-covered Andes Mountains. When the car finally stopped some 16,000 feet above sea level, Delaney Demaret, ’24, and her fellow researchers disembarked. They had made the arduous six-hour drive from Cusco, Peru, to study the “bofedales,” the Spanish word for wetlands created by melting glaciers in the high Andes.

“These wetlands feed into Peru’s major river systems,” said the senior from Little Silver, New Jersey. “We study the health of these glaciers, looking at their biodiversity, carbon storage, and eventual contribution to the water cycle. The Amazon watershed is one of the world’s largest carbon-absorbing regions, so the health of this ecosystem is important to the whole world.”

The Jepson School of Leadership Studies awarded Demaret a Burrus Fellowship to support her summer Jepson internship in Peru with Conservación Amazónica (ACCA), a nonprofit conservation organization working at the confluence of the Andes and the Amazon.

While there, she learned to fly a drone that took photos of the bofedales every three seconds. Back in ACCA’s Cusco office, she used software to convert multiple images of the bofedales into singular high-definition images that could be used in geographic information system (GIS) maps. She also created GIS maps to trace the increase in roads and the corresponding increase in extracting industries these roads bring to the Amazon.

“Over 90 percent of the deforestation in the Amazon happens within 10 kilometers of roads and rivers,” Demaret said. “Using GIS mapping, I tracked the relationship of gas, electric, hydrocarbon, and lumber industries to climate emergencies and poverty in Peru.

“I also created GIS maps that looked at how land titled by Indigenous communities is being cultivated. Many Indigenous communities rely on the health of the landscape to sustain their fishing and agriculture. ACCA will use some of these maps to propose the creation of new conservation areas.”

Demaret learned GIS mapping as a first-year student working in University of Richmond’s Spatial Analysis Lab after joining the Amazon Borderlands Spatial Analysis Team (ABSAT), headed by geography and environment professors David Salisbury and Stephanie Spera. She said her mapping knowledge and majors in leadership studies and global studies proved beneficial during her ACCA internship, which Dr. Salisbury connected her to.

“Leadership studies developed my critical thinking, making me open and excited to learn new things, such as the software programs I used this summer,” she said. “The Jepson School’s collaborative, interdisciplinary learning environment mirrored my ACCA internship experience.

“Global studies got me thinking about the intersection of people and the environment — something that has been really cool to see up close during my internship. And a study-abroad semester at a university in Barcelona increased my Spanish language fluency.”

Reflecting on her internship, Demaret recalled meeting an older Indigenous man while conducting field research high in the Andes: “He pointed to some mountains that had snowcaps when he was young but were now bare.

“As we look at what is causing ecosystem degradation, we can start to identify the building blocks for restoring the environment. By determining what went wrong, we can prevent it from happening again.”