© 2021 Tabitha Birdwell

Protecting our Oceans from Inland

For my summer fellowship, I am working with the Inland Ocean Coalition (IOC) to develop their Watershed Health Program. As an education and policy-focused advocacy platform, IOC works to build land-to-sea stewardship within inland communities across the nation, showing how they too have a voice in the health and protection of our oceans. The development of the Watershed Health Program will start with projects to create educational content for the public about the importance of watershed health and the implications of poorly protected water resources. The program will then show the public how they can protect their local and national watersheds by participating in creek cleanups and speaking with their representatives to ensure their watersheds’ interests are protected and represented.

The program will take those same approaches to public engagement and direct them towards farmers and ranchers in a sub-program called “Ocean-Friendly Farming” (OFF). OFF will educate landowners on and encourage their application of science-supported land practices that protect watersheds and oceans from the pollution and erosion consequences of traditional farming and ranching practices while increasing their profits. OFF will be more than an education platform; it will also be an inclusive and engaged community for landowners embracing ocean-friendly land practices (e.g., regenerative agriculture), an information center for the public about the agricultural impacts on our oceans’ health, and a policy ally for farmers dedicated to reforming the Farm Bill. 

Practicing what you Preach: Tabitha (far right) hosting an litter cleanup on Bayou Desiard, North Louisiana (2019)

The IOC is committed to creating this program because it sees how protecting our watersheds is one of the first steps to safeguarding our oceans from pollution and preventing the dead zones that have destroyed seafood harvests and coastal ecosystems. So, what I am doing to help develop this program? Everything I can! I have spent the past four weeks reading literature on the best agricultural land practices, interviewing regenerative agricultural farmers, building an educational e-learning course about watersheds for the public, fundraising for creek cleanups, and working with a committee of passionate individuals. IOC has fully embraced me as one of their own and has put much faith in me by allowing me to manage the Watershed Health Committee, lead the discussions and decisions for creating the platforms for the Watershed Health Program and the OFF Program, and by allowing me to take point on researching the 35+ science-based criteria we now have for defining an “Ocean-Friendly Farmer”. 

A long story summed up, my fellowship with IOC has started out great, and I am excited for the weeks ahead! Additionally, the program development, communication, and research skills I am developing will be invaluable to my career, and I am proud of the programs developing alongside them.

Sites DOT MIISThe Middlebury Institute site network.