Closing the gap between community development and environmental management

My summer in San Diego is in full swing! Both sides of my internship have fully picked up. I am splitting my time between Scripps’ Center for Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation (CCCIA) and the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve (TRNERR). I started my first two weeks at TRNERR, but then switched over two weeks full time at CCCIA, while my TRNERR boss prepares to defend her dissertation.

During my first few days at CCCIA I got to meet some of the coastal researchers, the graduate students who work in the labs, and some of the office staff working on governmental relations and project management. The research they are doing is fascinating. For example, one crew created an enclosed system that simulates a wave crashing on the shore; intended to collect data about sea spray and aerosols produced by ocean water. This groundbreaking research will tell us how ocean water interacts with the atmosphere, how it links to public health and air quality. As the lead scientist, Kim Prather, says, ‘When they close the beach for high bacteria, they tell you not to swim, but they don’t tell you not to breath’.

Wave simulation machine

I joined in on meetings with Ocean Acidification scientists, who are putting together a research summit in a few months. In preparation for their conference, they asked me to look into the statewide ocean acidification guidance and research priorities to ensure their efforts correctly align with funding opportunities. I also sat in on a briefing of all the research and scientific investigation occurring in and around the Tijuana River Estuary during a briefing for local elected officials. This was a unique opportunity to merge my two internship components: CCCIA conducting research in conjunction with TRNERR, as it is communicated to decision makers. This briefing was a slice of policy-making I had never experienced before and helped me understand the process for funding scientific research, filling knowledge gaps, and translating data into management decisions.

In addition to meeting the team and attending meetings and trainings, I also helped put together the CCCIA newsletter and reconstruct their webpage. These types of projects are crucial for science communications and project management. I now understand how integral sharing research findings is for good policy and management decisions!

I’ve also been able to get even more involved with all things Tijuana River. One of the biggest projects I participated in was a binational partnership between UCSD students and professors, TRNERR, and the local community is Los Laureles Canyon, Tijuana. The Binational Partnership Lab at UCSD hires about 10 interns every summer to carry out projects across the border in one of the most disadvantaged communities in Tijuana. This neighborhood, known as Los Laureles, is one of the highest sediment contributors to the Tijuana Estuary. This means that because the area is naturally erosive, sediment is carried by rainwater and urban run-off in excess. It flows directly across the border in the Tijuana Reserve, and out into the Pacific Ocean. This canyon is also booming with unregulated development, where roads are not paved or properly maintained, and basic plumbing and waste collection is lacking. These issues create not only an environmental issue for the US side of the watershed, but also a flooding hazard and dangerous living environment for the residents of the canyon. This truly embodies how social development and environmental protection are intertwined.

View from Los Laureles Canyon neighborhood in Tijuana

I was able to help the interns in their community activities and workshops in the local community center in Tijuana. Walking across the border and meeting residents in the Los Laureles Canyon allowed me to connect the social issues to environmental burdens downstream. I hope to continue enabling international communities to make more sustainable environmental decisions that will protect not only neighboring ecosystems, but also their local wellbeing and security.

I’ve been really enjoying spending time at the Tijuana River NERR, learning about the Coastal Training Program, binational issues, and all the research collaborations. Now that I have also onboarded with CCCIA, I am also excited to see what goes on at Scripps! Both places offer amazing networks and resources, and I look forward to how the summer culminates!

First week at TRNERR

My summer began with a sunrise visit of the Tijuana River Estuary at Border Field State Park. I met my new supervisors at 7AM for a special tour they were hosting for a team of journalists interested in the binational relations and environmental problems in the Tijuana River Valley. Following around a film crew and eavesdropping on interviews was not a conventional first day as an intern, but I was able to see the landscape we work to protect, as well as understand some of the most pressing environmental issues. As we explored the park, border patrol radios murmured over our shoulders and smoke rose from the hills of Tijuana, Mexico, just barely a stone’s throw away.

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Ella McDougall: Sea Level Rise Adaptation Strategies for Coastal Communities and Watersheds

Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve
Imperial Beach, CA
June 18-August 25, 2019

This summer, Ella will spend 66% of her time working with the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve developing sea level rise adaptation strategies for coastal watersheds. She will gain knowledge about watershed ecosystem-based management and green-to-gray approaches to adaptation. She will also offer support in hosting NOAA coastal adaptation and implementation trainings, create a marine debris training manual, and engage with Baja elected officials and counterparts.

Scripp’s Center for Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation (CCCIA)
La Jolla, CA
June 18-August 25, 2019

For a third of the summer, Ella will assist CCCIA with evaluation and development of feasibility for additional coastal community sites for Flood Risk – Sea Level Rise Pilots. She will also support the development of Climate Status Reports for various State Park coastal sites, and create a suite of tools/products for disseminating results and data to stakeholders.