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.
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.