Most families bond over dinner. The Seeley clan has done it over a pristine and remote atoll in French Polynesia and their shared love for the University of Washington.
James and Marsha Seeley, parents of UW alumni Laine, ’85, David, ’86, and Elizabeth, ’90, and grandparents to a growing number of Huskies, have led their family in supporting UW marine research at a field station on Tetiaroa. There, scientists and students from the College of the Environment can study delicate, healthy marine ecosystems and develop an understanding of conservation’s future in the face of climate change.
Hollywood legend Marlon Brando once owned the isolated atoll and had plans to turn it into a marine preserve and eco-friendly resort. As Brando’s general counsel, David Seeley became invested in making the vision a reality, work that he continues on the executive board of the Tetiaroa Society, a nonprofit organization focused on preserving the nature and culture of island and coastal communities.
“I’m motivated to involve the UW because it’s a big part of our family and a leading institution in marine science,” says David Seeley.
The entire Seeley family became committed to fulfilling the dream and started in 2014 providing seed money for UW faculty and students to study ocean chemistry, biodiversity and ecology on Tetiaroa. Research now includes how corals will respond to more acidic waters, the biology of reef sharks and worms, and what measures might help fragile reefs survive. Over time, as the scientists obtain grant funding, the Seeleys will reinvest in additional projects.
“We wanted to inspire science and inspire people to build a legacy of programs over the long term,” says Jim Seeley. Marsha Seeley finishes the thought: “And the UW’s done that beyond our wildest expectations.”
UW researchers working on the atoll have encouraged the Seeleys to participate. The rapport has spurred younger family members to discover unexpected passions. Blake Kain, age 17, interned at Alex Gagnon’s biomineralization laboratory last summer and now intends to major in oceanography. David’s son, Matt, ’17, worked on the atoll with the shark researchers.
“I’m so proud to be a UW alum,” says Laine Seeley, David’s sister. “The best part is the connectivity that the UW creates: my siblings, our spouses, our children and lifelong friends all share this bond … To be able to create connectivity in return by bringing together Tetiaroa and UW science makes us feel so fortunate.”
“Supporting this work has been great for our family,” David says. “These days, it’s pretty easy to go your separate ways. Our family’s support of UW science on Tetiaroa has been a great way for all of us to stay connected over the things we care most about.”