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Three Western Australian Alcoa employees have been chosen to travel to China and Brazil to participate in critical ecological rainforest research projects.

The announcements were made during our Green Works volunteering initiative which encourages Alcoa employees to live “green” while volunteering for environmental preservation.

The expeditions are part of Alcoa Foundation's partnership with the Earthwatch Institute – just one of many global and local community programs we are involved with to address environmental sustainability.

Cornelia Major of Alcoa’s Booragoon office, Peter Machen from Wagerup Refinery, and Willowdale Mine’s Todd Bell are among just 25 Alcoans from around the world who will join research scientists to better understand how rainforests are responding to climate change. They will assist by collecting scientific data, as well as undertaking leaf counts, canopy surveys and forest transects.

Peter will travel to the Gutianshan National Nature Reserve in Zhejiang Province, China, while Cornelia and Todd will lend a hand at the Rio Cachoeira Natural Reserve in Paraná State, Brazil.

Cornelia said Earthwatch will be a change from her usual trips: “My kids are five and six and my recent holidays have all been child friendly, so going backpacking through a Latin American rainforest will be such an exhilarating experience.”

She said the expedition is an extension of how she likes to lead her life: “I'm passionate about helping the environment. As a family we're very conscious about leading a sustainable lifestyle. We're in the process of installing a solar system, we run one family car, my husband and I both cycle to work and we live in a solar passive designed home.”

Cornelia is a regular environmental volunteer and co-chairs a committee at Ardross Primary School, organising environmental events at the school.

“I hope I can come back and share the amazing experience with colleagues, friends and the groups that I volunteer with,” Cornelia said.

Peter was stunned to be chosen: “As a chemist I'm fortunate to be in a position that I have a pretty good understanding of the science and maths behind the analysis of climate change. I hope this opportunity will give me the chance to see how people in other parts of the world devote their time to care for the environment and promote sustainability.

“The ability to delay instant gratification is often said to be a sign of emotional and social maturity and I think 'sustainability' can be a bit like that – what needs to be forgone now in order that our resources endure for longer?”

While Peter believes the biggest challenge will be being fit enough to trek in jungle humidity, he's looking forward to what he'll be able to bring home.

“I think this experience will help me develop thought provoking discussion for the CSIRO Science in Schools program which I'm a part of in my spare time at Pinjarra High School and hopefully I'll gain some first hand information with an international grass-roots perspective for climate change and sustainability policy within Alcoa,” Peter said.

Several years ago Peter and his wife initiated a volunteer environmental research and monitoring project in the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park, which he said keeps them connected to the marine environment where they live and provides a way of giving back to nature on a regular basis.

“I couldn’t believe my luck when I got the news - to be selected out of 250 applicants is an amazing feeling,” Todd said.

“Since I can remember, it has been a dream of mine to explore Brazil and its forest and jungles. It contains a large amount of the world's biodiversity which is sadly being pushed to the brink of extinction due to human pressures for land. So it feels great to be able to live part of a dream while helping the environment.

“The thing I'm most looking forward to is working with different people from all over the world. It will be good to discuss how climate change is impacting them in their home countries - I will then be able to bring their stories home and spread them around the work place to help make people more environmentally aware.”

Alcoa of Australia Managing Director Alan Cransberg explained the importance of this program to Alcoa: “Besides the fact that this is critical research, we also want to give Alcoans the chance to learn more about the environment and hopefully even inspire them to become sustainability ambassadors, bringing about change at work, at home and in our communities.

“This is more than just a volunteering opportunity, it's really an extension of Alcoa's sustainability program,” he said.

2011 marks the ninth year Alcoa Foundation has partnered with the Earthwatch Institute to provide Alcoans with these opportunities and offer Earthwatch the value of Alcoa volunteers. This partnership has seen over 6,800 research hours donated by Alcoa employees since 2003.

Founded in 1971, Earthwatch’s mission is to engage people worldwide in scientific field research and to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment.

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Peter Machen

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Todd Bell

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Cornelia Major