Highlights from my National Marine Sanctuary Tour

People connect with national marine sanctuaries in many different ways. For example, a surfer may view a sanctuary as a recreational escape; a fisherman, their livelihood; a vacationing family, part of a tradition; a local, a place for relaxation. To explore this idea further, I set out to hear from those who engage with national marine sanctuaries. My internship with NOAA specifically took me to the five national marine sanctuaries along the West Coast in Washington and California.

At each sanctuary I spoke with fishermen, sanctuary staff, visitors, indigenous people, sanctuary volunteers, and locals to better understand how they feel and identify with the place. Afterwards, I produced an acrylic painting for each sanctuary to summarize and celebrate the species, activities, and emotions mentioned during the conversations. I decided to paint my findings, because art can showcase the ocean’s beauty, as well as capture complex stories, relationships and emotions that are otherwise difficult to express. Here are some overviews of the five sanctuaries I visited. I am still completing some of the paintings.  Continue reading

Designing Scalable Programs – Lessons for Non-Profits

Being resource constrained is the reality for nearly all organizations, regardless of industry, mission, or size. Non-profit organizations, however, face the additional challenges of being mission-driven, not cash-flow generating with big plans and small budgets. In working with a small, San Francisco-based non-profit this summer designing a strategy to scale their organization’s reach on a global scale, I learned a lot about the questions to ask and had the following thoughts:

  • Define success early, figure out how to measure progress towards it 6-ways from Sunday, and design flexible-enough programs that can be adjusted as the understanding of success changes.
  • Design IT infrastructure and technology ecosystems that will allow you to capture the information needed to measure success across geographies, manage/facilitate your communication with relevant stakeholders, and provide data to support your flexible management approaches.
  • Understand your organization’s internal strengths and weaknesses and staff accordingly. When scaling internationally, ask yourself if your organization geographic, cultural, technical prowess to be successful – and identify and (aggressively) screen local partners that will play to your weaknesses.
  • Make a timeline! Don’t worry about sticking to it – but use it as a roadmap to keep your organization on track.

Key Takeaways from a Summer Facilitating Greener Marine Transportation

Photo by Fahrul Azmi

Over the past few months, I have had an opportunity to work on projects mostly focused around enabling businesses to be more sustainable in their marine cargo supply chains. While this work was extremely interesting, the overwhelming majority of it had more to do with learning the languages of supply chain procurement, business logistics, and collaborations. Here is a brief summary of what I have learned:

  • Everybody reports up, s**t  always rolls downhill, and there are always going to be more people involved in a decision that you originally anticipated. The take away here is that it is always important to ensure that you understand the objectives of a business as well as your clients before you make a recommendation. So always start by asking questions, taking notes, and encouraging the company to bring all relevant decision-makers to the table early so that you can get the background and make the right recommendations that will resonate.
  • Businesses want to do the right thing – the right thing for their bottom line, their shareholders, their customers, their social license to operate, and the environment. In a world where there is so much chaos and opportunity for improvement, it is important to find the lowest hanging fruit first. Identifying opportunities for business to do the “right thing” that will also positively impact another one of their Key Success Factors (KSFs) and working your way up the tree by building trust and a good working relationship is the key to bringing about more meaningful change in the private sector without having to resort to policy.
  • There are two types of organizations: Organizations that want to be ahead of policy, and organizations that are compliance driven. While it is important to keep in contact with both types of organizations, it is even more important to understand that behavior change is a long and arduous process, and your time might be better served working with the cutting edge to then inform sound policy and bring the laggards along that way.
  • Understanding inter-company dynamics within a value-chain or business ecosystem is important for the purposes of coalition building. Without profound vertical and horizontal collaboration, progress in the area of efficiency gains and sustainability is virtually impossible.

Photo by Josh Spires

Driving for Sustainability in Maritime Cargo

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Everyone who has spent time in or around a port city has seen one: a massive container ship, loaded high with containers bound for various markets near and far. Despite their visibility in port areas, most consumers (and regulators and environmentalists) demonstrate a lack of understanding of just how vital this industry is to our economy, environment, and goals to build a more just and sustainable world for all.

Today, the international shipping industry is responsible for the transport of around 90% of world trade, about 2.5% of global GHG emissions, and is the underpinning of our globalized economy. As companies companies continue to globalize and goods continue to need to be moved between various production centers and consumers, the growth of the container shipping industry is only expected to keep pace. Studies suggest that depending on future economic and energy developments, shipping emissions are set to increase between 50% and 250% by 2050. (EU Commission)

Photo by Freddie Collins on Unsplash

These findings have been determined by regulators and shippers (those who own the cargo) to be incompatible with both their public and private-sector commitments during COP21 in Paris in 2015, and thus the spotlight has been shown squarely on this previously out-of-sight, out-of-mind industry to make sure to clean up their act. In 2015, the EU Commission and Parliament implemented their Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification program (EU MRV), requiring ship owners and operators to annually monitor, report and verify CO2 emissions for vessels larger than 5,000 gross tonnage (GT) calling at any EU and EFTA (Norway and Iceland) port beginning on January 1, 2018. Similarly, the IMO announced in 2018 that they would also be requiring the reporting of fuel consumption data for any vessels over 5,000 GT making international voyages beginning on January 1, 2019.

There are two pieces of good news here:

Photo by Mikkel Jonck Schmidt on Unsplash

First, it must be said that although regulation has been slow to catch-up to mandate a change in industry behavior, there is already a massive push for sustainability that is coming from within the marine cargo value-chain itself. Shippers – those companies like Nike, H&M, Ikea, Walmart, etc. who own the cargo and contract with carriers like Maersk, CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, etc. who own the vessels – have become increasingly sophisticated when it comes to understanding their emissions from operations as a result of both public and shareholder pressures. Further, these companies are now finding themselves in need of better understanding their emissions from transportation in order to continue to build a more complete picture of their GHG footprint and many are now even integrating sustainability metrics as key decision factors in procurement decisions. These business leaders engage with each other through the Clean Cargo Working Group, a collaborative initiative supported by BSR that was the first ever body to develop a standardized reporting framework from marine cargo shipping built around enabling sustainability-focused business decision.

Second, advances in both energy and network technologies have opened the door for massive efficiency gains, poised to revolutionize the landscape of container shipping before 2050. Alternative fuels such as HVO, LNG, Hydrogen, and yes – even electrification – are already popping up in the fleet composition of global carriers. Further, IoT-sensor-based monitoring, block-chain-enabled port management, and AI-assisted vessel operation and terminal logistics projects are already operational in Hamburg, Los Angeles, Rotterdam and the new IBM-Maersk joint venture TradeLens. According to the IMO, these existing operational and technological advances have the ability to reduce sector emissions by over 75% if fully implemented, and are a crucial step towards ensuring the long-term sustainability of this industry.

A City by the Sea: Gaillimh

Welcome back to my second installment of our CBE Fellows blog report. Reporting live: From Galway (Gaillimh) Ireland !

I left you last time with the first stages of our project — valuing sea-floor resources, and it has come a long way. My colleagues at the SEMRU unit have been instrumental in helping me get up to speed and teaching me some tricks on GIS. At the end, we will be getting a report written to show what ecosystem services that these sea-floor habitats have in the study areas of the

EU-ATLAS Project. It’s been going very well, and this will be a great groundwork for further projects — This experience has been very academic, unlike some of my colleagues diving on reefs and working with Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Continue reading

Community-based Natural Resource Management, Sustainable Development, Human Rights, and Food Security


I consider my summer a success. My project’s initial focus on food security led to some roadblocks, making me expand food security to a broader conception that includes social and economic food aspects (part of the FAO’s definition).  In doing so, I began to see many parallels among the Sustainable Development Goals and Human Rights as well, which transformed my work into a process of showing synergies across the conservation and development spheres. The most difficult aspect of all of this remains explaining social food security. Particularly for those living in the United States and other developed countries, this sounds odd. How can food security be social? Isn’t food just a trip away to the supermarket? Well, yes, but it was not always this way. Not even 150 years ago we often had to work together in communities to harvest crops, often rotating from one farmer’s fields to another. We also had to agree on rules, enforced by local institutions, to manage natural resources, or, in other words, determine access to, say, a pasture, avoiding overexploitation and conflict with our neighbors. Now, these arrangements, institutions, and relations have been transformed and, to a large extent, outsourced to corporations and government agencies. In the developing world, however, this tends to not be the case: Communities must still agree on, implement, and enforce resource-use rules, which requires social capital, trust, and cohesion, in addition to required technical and physical capacity. In fact, when communities cannot agree on such rules (management) due to internal strife, or exclusion by outside entities such as NGOs or governments, natural resource degradation, increasing conflict, and impoverishment usually result. In simple terms, social food security represents a safety net weaved together by the relations among community members, the institutions they have established and control, and partners. If the net is damaged, cascading effects will result in the areas of physical and economic food security as trust disintegrates and a community engages in a race to the bottom.

It turns out that Community-based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM), as my semi-literature review indicated, succeeds with (1) those social elements and institutions already in place, or strengthened by CBNRM projects, (2) equal partnership among communities, NGOs, and governments, (3) integration of local knowledge and inclusion, including women and marginalized groups, and (4) capacity building, among other project design features. Those design features tend to lead to overall community empowerment.

This happens to mirror the 2015 framework for “SDG Localization,” or making the lofty and often impalpable Sustainable Development Goals into something tangible at the local level, the community level:

Subnational governments are policy makers, catalysts of change and the level of government best placed to link the global goals with local communities. Localizing development is then a process to empower all local stakeholders, aimed at making sustainable development more responsive, and therefore, relevant to local needs and aspirations. Development goals can be reached only if local actors fully participate, not only in the implementation, but also in the agenda-setting and monitoring.

Participation requires that public policies are not imposed from the top, but that the whole policy chain is shared. All relevant actors must be involved in the decision-making process, through consultative and participative mechanisms, at the local and national levels.

With that, the overlap between CBNRM and the SDGs appeared remarkably clear. I then looked at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and found that the same overlap extends across virtually every one of its articles, covering economic well-being, food security, the right to organize, to own property, to work in cooperation with national and international entities for the fulfillment of the human rights, institutions for justice and protection of basic rights, and so on.  That is why the FAO is already addressing small-scale fisheries with a “human rights-based approach,” which emphasizes that corresponding management requires not only resource rights but also the fulfillment of the basic rights from above, among others.

Of course, at this point, the commonalities across these areas seemed to be simply a question of differing jargon favored by the development and conservation spheres to discuss the same topics. Is there evidence for CBNRM actually contributing to the SDGs and Human Rights, especially food security, an objective of all three areas?


Major evidence mapping, systematic reviews, and many other publications demonstrate this, repeatedly referring to partnerships stretching from local to international actors, strong institutions, community empowerment, and social cohesion’s contribution to successful CBNRM projects, or emergence as a result of those projects’ design feature. These social components establish the conditions for ecological recovery through cooperation and trust for management and compliance. That ecological recovery, after a time, leads to improved ecosystem provisioning, or physical food security (the supply of harvestable resources), and economic food security through the sale of those resources for other food needs. This progression was reinforced by the collection and coding of over 100 sample CBNRM projects according to the the three types of food security and ecological recovery.

In summary, the evidence I have collected points to synergies in terms of the goals and needs of, and thus major potential for cooperation across, development and conservation initiatives. Both fields must (1) cooperate on establishing a common language, (2) design projects together, (3) monitor them with indicators from that common language to draw lessons in order to (4) enable large-scale and rapid expansion of CBNRM to achieve the SDGs, fulfill human rights, and ensure food security for the world’s 800 million to 2 billion food insecure living in extreme poverty.



Sci Dive and Enforcement Hope

I am going to apologize ahead of time for how long this post will be but a lot has happened since my last post and I will put in a lot of pictures. I do leave Pohnpei tomorrow, heading back through Guam and Hawaii (which is scheduled to have a hurricane hit right about the time my flight is supposed to leave) and finally back to SFO. While I’ll be happy to go home (especially since my stomach has not agreed with the food here and I’ve had mild stomach problems pretty much the past two months) I will also be sad to leave Pohnpei and the friends I have made here. Shortly after my last post I spent a week with the Conservation Society of Pohnpei’s dive team and Master’s students from the University of Guam conducting fish and coral studies on multiple sites throughout the island of Pohnpei, I made a training class for the Community Conservation Officers of Pohnpei as well as municipal police and Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) officers which I presented last Thursday, and I met with the new Chief of the DFW to hear about the issues they have and what he is doing to overcome them. Continue reading