1. What did you accomplish with your host organization? What was the impact of your work?
In the short term, I helped EDF choose the Philippines as the focus country of their seaweed aquaculture program. Myself and two other interns chose selection criteria to apply to candidate countries. Then were each assigned countries to research and had to report back on how they graded out according to our criteria. The criteria included biological factors, environmental justice factors, and real world restraints. The biological factors were mainly how well species of seaweed would grow in the coastal waters of certain countries. The environmental justice factors were more complex. The hope is that eventually countries can use seaweed as a verified carbon sink in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Countries with low historical and per capita GHG emissions were favored, to give them a way to continue to develop their economies while still meeting mitigation goals. In a sense, we were looking for countries with a high marginal mitigation cost, that could benefit greatly from using seaweed and other blue carbon ecosystems in their GHG inventories. Real world restraints consisted of factors such as EDF presence on-ground, history of partnership between EDF and the country, and a cultural history of seaweed consumption. The Philippines scored well according to our criteria because it already grows and harvests the 4th most seaweed globally (strong cultural ties to seaweed), has a long working relationship with EDF, and has very low per capita and historical GHG emissions. The Philippines want to continue to develop its economy and infrastructure but also wants to commit to climate mitigation goals. Hopefully seaweed can allow them to accomplish both, while also providing a climate resilient source of food and income to local residents.
My other project was geared more towards the longterm. EDF is interested in expanding their seaweed program if it proves successful in the Philippines, so they had me research how countries might be able to incorporate seaweed into their NDCs. EDF will be able to take this and further research and present it to countries, providing a clear roadmap on how to account for seaweed. My ‘seaweed-NDC roadmap’ described the overall process of creating NDCs, and highlighted certain areas where seaweed could be included. The main takeaway was that seaweed is not currently ready to be included in any robust mitigation commitments or national GHG inventories. The science behind seaweed’s carbon sequestration is still murky and developing, and it is difficult to produce any specific metrics in terms of CO2 or GHG stored in its biomass longterm. That does not mean that seaweeds should be entirely left out of NDCs, however. NDCs consist of both climate mitigation and adaptation commitments, and seaweeds could and should be included in countries’ adaptation components. Seaweed provides climate adaptation value as a climate resilient food source, climate resilient source of alternative livelihoods, biodiversity habitat, and possibly local ocean acidification and eutrophication mitigation (more research is needed to confirm those last two benefits).
2. Describe the benefits of this experience for you professionally and personally.
Professionally, this was a great way to get a sense of how large, environmental non-profits operate on a day-to-day basis. I was able to sit in on high level meetings and learn about the plethora of different projects that the Oceans team constantly has going on. It was also an opportunity to work on a team with other interns in a professional setting, which I believe improved my collaboration and interpersonal skills. Personally, I learned a great deal about seaweed. That may not sound like much, but it actually opened my eyes to a whole ocean topic that I never paid much attention to. I had no idea of the potential that seaweed offers as a natural climate solution, food source, job creator, and more. It really is an amazing organism. I am now interested in learning about other seaweed projects, both wild restoration and aquaculture, closer to home in California and along the west coast of the U.S.
3. Did your experience provide any unexpected discovery, self-reflection, or epiphany?
I wouldn’t quite call it an epiphany, but this experience helped me gain a better understanding of the pros and cons of working at a large NGO. My favorite part of EDF was how nearly everyone there is mission driven, and they truly want to make a positive difference in the world through their work. I am sure that many of them could take different jobs in the private sector and make more money, but they stay in the non-profit sector because they believe that is where they can make the biggest difference. However, the constant race to secure funding also stood out to me. Many meetings were spent discussing funding sources, grant opportunities, and the long application processes necessary to secure those funds. I am still trying to decide which route I want to take, and it would not surprise me if I work for both the public sector and non-profit at some point in my career, but this was a valuable experience that will help me decide when the time comes.