An SDG filled Summer

SDG–Sustainable Development Goals, were put forth by the United Nations (UN) in 2015 as part of a global development framework that interlinks environmental, social and economic wellbeing. 

Having learned more about the SDGs in Applied Conservation Science and Policy in the Spring 2023 term, it is exciting seeing them in action and how they are used to focus the work of the UN. 

Visually, reminders of the SDGs are everywhere–big blocks in the cafe, pencil holders, and coffee mugs serve as desk reminders of the SDGs. More than just visuals however, reports and presentations refer to what SDG they are supporting and which ones they are striving to include. 

The SDGs that I am working on primarily are SDG 13: Climate Action and 14: Life Underwater. In the first blog, I wrote briefly about the work I’m doing on NbS (Nature-based solutions 😉 ) in Kien Giang biosphere reserve, which is a part of the Mekong Delta. These NbS serve to conserve and preserve coastlines, increasing the biodiversity in and along the waters while improving the livelihood of the communities.    

While these are my primary focus, I have also been able to sit in, learn about JET. JET refers to the Just Energy Transition, making sure the shift to renewable energy includes socio-economic and equitable policy. I have also been tasked with incorporating NbS as part of the Climate-Health Nexus for Viet Nam which works on creating a resilient health system in Viet Nam while improving health outcomes, a critical project as Viet Nam is ranked one of the countries to be most affected by climate change.  

In the coming weeks my team will be doing a site visit, to better determine how NbS can be applied and the interests and needs of the community. I won’t be able to attend these site visits since I will be heading back to Monterey to start another semester at MIIS. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to work on NbS for coastal resilience in Viet Nam. I will continue to be in contact with my team at the UNDP and help them finalize the GEF8 proposal.

Supporting SDG 5 😉 as Viet Nam’s women’s team plays in the World Cup for the first time.

The SDG blocks set up for an IOM campaign on the day against human trafficking.

My Final Weeks with Sailors for the Sea

As my fellowship with CBE through SfS comes to an end, I’m feeling incredibly grateful for the opportunities that had been afforded to me throughout the summer. I feel like I did a lot of good work and got traction on some valuable and worthwhile projects.

Since my last blog post, I did another race focused on bettering the SfS sustainability best practices guidance we’ve been working on. I sailed to Canada. Specifically, I sailed from Marblehead, MA to Halifax, Canada in a race. This race was considered a “clean regatta” by Sailors for the Sea standards. During my time at both race villages in Marblehead and Halifax, I engaged with environmental representatives to see how the venues had practiced sustainability. It was interesting to see the ways race organizers and yacht clubs could institute clean practices, like a massive “water monster” to refill sailor’s water bottles, and ways in which they can still improve (example: using single use, albeit “compostable,” utensils.)

While it was interesting to engage on the shore side of sailor sustainability, I was primarily there to continue evaluating offshore sustainability best practices while underway. During my shifts while racing, I had many conversations with the crew about their struggles with sustainability while offshore. Many of them reported they had difficulty avoiding plastic or even minimizing their plastic use. Another concern was trying to learn sustainable ways to discard of gray water while underway. Another concern was disposal of trash aboard the ship. They didn’t want to throw anything overboard, but they were concerned over the trash build up on the boat and trying to find safe places to stow trash until they reached a shore facility. My role as an on-the-boat resource for the crew to have some guidance on best practices made the team at SfS consider the value and potential role of recommending teams designate “environmental stewards” on their crew who would be responsible for the sustainability side of the race.

The race from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia proved to be particularly magical because we sailed through a Northern Right Whale Critical Habitat. This raised interesting questions amongst the sailors about our boat speed. In the sailing instructions document produced by the race committee, they specified speed limits for the race boats in certain zones of high concern. Boats were not allowed to go faster than 11 knots in these zones. Although we were never at risk of going that fast because the wind was very light for this particular race, it was useful to see the guidance and regulations being produced by the race governing body.

While my team did not have a direct interaction with any northern right whales, we did hear a radio call made to the Canadian coast guard by a competitor a mile off our starboard quarter reporting five northern right whales traveling. It was incredible knowing I was so close to such a precious and endangered species. Yet, it was also valuable to see what role sailors could play in the monitoring of species. By reporting the sighting to the coast guard, that data got logged.

This is a big question that we have been working with at Sailors for the Sea. How can sailors report marine mammal sightings in a way that is 1. beneficial to the scientific community, and 2. not too difficult for sailors to do? Radio calls to coast guard for any species would be out of hand and not looked on kindly by the coast guard. However, it made sense for this boat to verbally report the northern right whales due to their critically endangered status.

During our race, we saw two fin whales and two humpbacks. Specifically, a humpback mom and calf. Part of my role on this race boat was to determine how we could get the relevant data of the sightings logged somewhere despite whatever circumstances the sailors are facing. For the first sighting, we were too far away from any cell reception to log the sighting on the specified app. So, instead, we took pictures of the whales and, since I was on the helm, I took a picture of the chart plotter which had our latitude and longitude, and I made a note in the notes app of my phone what we had seen for that picture. I then logged that data to the whale report app once I reached shore.

Chart plotter to detail location of the whale sighting.
The humpback whales. We wanted to get photos of the dorsals for the national ID network.

For our next sighting, the fin whales, we were close enough to Nova Scotia that we had cell service again. So, my teammate was able to run below deck, grab her phone, run up and report the sighting in real time.

Since the race, I have written “sustainability reports” for Sailors for the Sea reporting my on-the-water findings. We have been talking amongst the SfS team about the best way to distribute this information to sailors. We have concluded that an interactive website with baseline best practices that people can learn more about specifics through a drop-down menu would be the best way to give a lot of detailed information. I am working on sharing “what if” situations, in an FAQ format, based on the on-the-water scenarios I’ve faced this summer so sailors can see more about how sustainability practices can be applied in real time. We also concluded we should create a short, one- to two-page document that sailors can print and put in their boat binder that is a checklist for sustainability best practices.

The website and materials are en route to going live. I’m really excited to see the fruits of all my work this summer come to fruition, and to see the ripples it will have in the offshore sailing community!

Sunrise over Nova Scotia shores

Entrevistas, Perspectivas, y Reflexiones

In the past few weeks since returning from Costa Rica, I have spent my days collecting my thoughts on the conference, conducting interviews (entrevistas) in Spanish with participants, and starting to write a formal paper. Apart from the hassle of scheduling the interviews and finding times that work across the multiple Central American time zones, I have thoroughly enjoyed the process. I use the same general structure for each interview, with questions meant to inspire reflection on the process of designating the Costa Rican Thermal Dome as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) and spark honest conversation surrounding the involvement of maritime authorities in the conservation of this biodiversity hotspot.

After each interview, I feel a range of emotions. Triumph–for having just conducted an interview in a language I only started seriously studying a year ago; fear–that maybe I misheard a response or mispronounced a word and made a fool of myself; and hope–that the person I talked to seemed genuinely interested in engaging in the work of protecting the Thermal Dome and its valuable marine resources. I record each interview (with permission) so that I can go back and accurately transcribe and translate the responses afterward. To date, I have conducted about 10 of these interviews, all in Spanish, with a few more to go.

So far, I have been incredibly inspired by the level of engagement by the local maritime authorities from El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Each person I have talked to has ranked the protection of the Thermal Dome as a medium-high or high priority for their national government and expressed interest in contributing to the designation of the Dome as a PSSA in whatever way they can. While most have acknowledged that there may be political barriers and resistance from the fishing industry or international shipping companies, they still feel a sense of optimism and a determination to unite with other countries to support the cause.

A super clear, totally not blurry screenshot from one of my interviews

I have also begun the process of writing my final product, a paper in which I hope to describe the main takeaways of the conference, its effectiveness in informing and involving local Central American maritime authorities in the PSSA designation process, and recommendations for the stakeholder involvement process in future PSSA designations on the high seas. While I still have a fair amount of writing to do before the paper is anywhere close to finished, I feel inspired by what I have so far.

I learned so much this summer. From how to properly utilize four-wheel drive to navigate dirt roads in Costa Rica, to how to engage in meaningful conversations in a language that is still new to me, I can honestly say that the skills I gained are ones I hope to use for the rest of my life, both professional and personal.

The Fellowship of the Sea

The Fellowship of the Ring is the start of an epic saga where a young hobbit finds himself on an adventure. This is a case of the beginning of “The Hero’s Journey,” a classic trope in which the protagonist sets off, sometimes reluctantly, on a quest where she faces challenges before returning back home. It is a cyclical journey, a journey of gaining knowledge – enlightenment, perhaps – and then ending back where it all started. Much like a young Frodo Baggins, I found myself at the beginning of the summer faced with an incredible opportunity to broaden my knowledge of the world. I took hold of it, and saying yes to the fellowship opportunity on the high seas, I had no idea of the experiences and learning in store for me. All I knew was, I was going on an adventure.

And an adventure it was. Beginning with hopping on a plane to Switzerland, to Zooming with a Great Barrier Reef director in Australia, to SCUBA diving the north shore of Oahu, the fellowship took me to places I didn’t know I would visit, literally or virtually. Throughout the summer, I pursued my fellowship by conducting research through key-informant interviews with experts of large-scale marine protected areas (MPAs). My research inquires into the lessons learned from large-scale MPAs to help inform the future establishment of MPAs in the high seas. To narrow down this monumental undertaking, I chose three case studies to focus on: Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (PMNM) in Hawaii, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) in Australia, and the Ross Sea MPA (RSMPA) off Antarctica.

As I quickly learned, people are very busy, especially in the summer, but people are also very kind and willing to talk (even if it’s a month later than planned). In an effort to wrangle in some interviews, I decided to take myself to the interviewees by traveling to Oahu. There, I met with two fascinating women who previously worked as superintendent and director of the PMNM. It was also such a personal delight that I got to SCUBA dive through the lava tunnels off Shark’s Cove and meet up with a fellow OCRM student, Garrett Hambaro, to snorkel with sea turtles near Makaha Beach.

A double rainbow graced the skies over Shark’s Cove before I headed out for my first dive.
Diving through the lava tubes on the north shore was spectacular, and I got to see my favorite underwater creature – a pufferfish!
A magnificent sea turtle coming up to check us out.
The infamous Garrett showing me his new backyard on the west side of Oahu.

Back in Monterey, I set out to writing more emails, conducting more interviews, and transcribing my notes. I got to talk with the wonderful Jon Day, who played a quintessential role in the GBRMP’s zoning plan, and with Lauren Wenzel, who has a wealth of knowledge as the director for NOAA’s MPA Center, among others. The most emphatically expressed lesson-learned so far has been the importance of developing relationships among the co-managers and stakeholders of a MPA. At this point in my research, I am continuing to conduct my remaining interviews and have outlined my report. Along with this report, I will also be producing a one-pager as a condensed version of my findings to communicate easily to policymakers and others. My goal is to have both final products completed by early spring 2024.

What my non-traveling summer work looked like.

What is one of the most useful skills I acquired during this fellowship? The ability to manage time zones. CEST, UTC, PST, HST, GMT+10, you name it. This came especially in handy for co-managing the IUCN WCPA High Seas Specialist Group (HSSG). I found myself in a position, out of chance, circumstance, and that special Hero’s Journey vigor, to grow the HSSG alongside three other experts. What started as an introductory call turned into a full-blown collaboration to redefine and grow the specialist group. At the start, I felt a bit out of my depth, but with each meeting I learned exponentially and acquired the role of Coordinator for the HSSG, gathering people to the table and growing our membership so experts in the field can collaborate on pressing matters of the high seas.

Now just like Frodo, the fellowship has to end. I am right back where I started, school is starting up again soon and I will be in Monterey for the next few months just as I was before. But I have more experience and knowledge now. I have a project to continue pursuing and a final report to compile. Just as the Hero’s Journey cycles back around, I am about to start another journey, and I’m excited to see where this new adventure will take me.

An Ocean of Reflection

I started my CBE Fellowship at the Ocean Risks and Resilience Action Alliance (ORRAA) by the end of May, and not with an online onboarding meeting. It was a trip to the UK! They invited me to their all-staff meeting and I was super excited to participate. This organization was founded in 2019 to build a bridge between two worlds. The world of real projects on the ground – or “on the ocean” projects I must say -, led by local governments, non-profits, and communities; and the world of finance, which to me feels like the “deep sea”. Beautiful, scary and intriguing, but that I definetely want to learn more about.

Read more: An Ocean of Reflection

ORRAA is registered in Washington DC, but with a global scope of action, and a strong team based in Europe. Lucky me that I started my CBE Fellowship just when the whole team was going to meet for the first time after the pandemic. I didn’t have summer expectations of the English beaches, but there I was, happily surprised by the sunny and warm beginning of the summer in Poole, on the southern coast of England. I was eager to learn as much as I could about the work of the organization and I was ready to embrace an ocean of new acronyms!

I often think about myself as an introvert, but my next reflections will be more intimate. I’ve experienced so many things during the last 2 months that I cannot decouple my academic and professional life from my personal life.

On my second morning in Poole, I received a call from Nico, my younger brother from Chile. He told me “el papá tiene cancer y está muy avanzado” (“Dad has cancer and it’s very advanced”). I got paralyzed, to be honest. “What am I doing so far away when my dad needs the most powerful hug I could ever give?”, I thought. 

Running by the ocean has always brought me peace and helped me to organize my thoughts and explore my feelings. Before starting the activities of that day, I went for a run to the beach, and it did bring me the clarity I needed. I decided that after the trip to England, I would go back to California, organize my personal life and work, and then would fly to Chile to support my dad in all that I could. I had a conversation with my supervisor at ORRAA, Ariane, and I proposed to work remotely from Chile. She fully supported it. Given that ORRAA is a 100% remote organization, I felt so lucky that I could do my work from wherever in the world and with the flexibility that I would need. 

This was the intense beginning of my summer. Full of reflection but also enthusiasm, sad and happy at the same time. I am currently in Chile, multitasking with my dad’s cancer treatment, my personal life, and the work I’m doing for ORRAA. It has been a good time to reconnect with my country and go out to the nature that inspires me to work in this field. Nature that also heals. Thanks to the support that I’ve received from my partner, friends, the MIIS community, Fulbright Chile, and ORRAA, it was never an option to quit my fellowship.

I am intellectually curious to learn and contribute to what ORRAA does. It is a unique NGO because is the only member-based organization that focuses on the interface of ocean and coastal resilience, and blue finance.  NGOs, philanthropic organizations, corporations, financial institutions, and prominent governments share a formal and voluntary platform to advance investments that support our oceans and coasts. I’m contributing to the following workstreams (and here I go with the acronyms!): the HQBCP&G, the TNFD framework, and the External Affairs ongoing functions.

The High-Quality Blue Carbon Principles and Guidelines (HQBCP&G) are a joint effort to create standards for blue carbon projects that are appropriate for the climate, biodiversity, and communities. I am supporting a consulting team in Australia to advance the adoption of these principles. 

The Task Force on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) is a still-in-development framework anchored in Target 15 a) of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, that will allow the private sector to assess its nature-related dependencies, risks, and opportunities. I am working to guide ORRAA members to engage with this framework and strengthen it from the perspective of the ocean.

Within the External Affairs team, I am supporting the engagement of new members of the alliance (including Chile), consolidating a library of resources for the Sea Change Impact Finance Facility (SCIFF), and supporting the development of position briefs regarding critical issues such as seabed mining or ocean-related priorities for COP 28.

After these 2 months, I can only say that I feel extremely lucky despite what I’m going through, and I’m mobilized to continue learning and working hard.