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.

A Trip to Costa Rica: Sloths, Sunshine, and Shipping

Three weeks ago, I arrived in San José, Costa Rica, with a backpack full of bug repellant, SPF 50 sunscreen, my SCUBA mask, and a feeling of excitement at the possibility of engaging in a professionally rewarding experience in a beautiful place. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I spent my time doing the background research necessary to travel solo down Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, stopping at coastal towns along the way. My google searches consisted of things like: What are the traffic laws in Costa Rica? How do I ask to fill my car with gas? and Where is the best place to see a sloth? Meanwhile, I was preparing to write a qualitative research paper on the involvement of the shipping sector in the designation of a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) in a biodiversity hotspot off the coast called the “Thermal Dome.” I conducted a literature review, wrote interview questions, and spent weeks thinking about my methodology and data analysis.

The first two weeks of my trip were spent traveling around and enjoying all of Costa Rica’s natural beauty. I stayed at eco-hostels, explored local national parks, met other travelers from around the world, and perfected my concise explanation of “what I was doing in Costa Rica.” Safe to say my reasoning for being there strayed from the average response of “I’m just here to surf” or “I’m just backpacking around Central and South America because…why not?” During those first weeks, I was tested in more ways than one. Driving solo in a foreign country proved intimidating at first, but I soon learned that stop signs are merely a suggestion (as are speed limits), four-wheel-drive is an absolute necessity, and if needed there is always someone willing to help point you in the right direction. My spanish-speaking abilities were tested as well, and I found myself extremely grateful for the months of spanish classes taken at Middlebury College and MIIS.

Dominical Beach

While I had visited Costa Rica in high school, I was still in complete awe of the biodiversity I experienced over those two weeks. I saw sloths (multiple!), monkeys, intimidatingly-large spiders, giant fluorescent butterflies, sea turtles, caimans, toucans, and scarlet macaws. I witnessed firsthand how conscious and appreciative Costa Ricans are toward their wildlife, and how it is considered the country’s greatest resource both for the tourism it generates and its inherent value. On a whale-watching tour, I spoke to the tour guide about the importance of cetaceans in the area and how he has dedicated his life to their protection. My last weekend before returning to San José, I joined a SCUBA trip to Caño Island and within 15 minutes spotted multiple species of tropical fish, an octopus, and several hawksbill turtles. The divemaster explained in detail how to dive without disturbing the wildlife, and once again I could sense why Costa Rica is a world leader in ecotourism and environmental protection.

A three-toed sloth having a snack

At the beginning of my third and final week, I returned to San José and started preparing for the main event of my trip, a conference hosted by MarViva, the organization I am working for. The goal of the conference was to invite stakeholders in the shipping sector from different countries in the region and involve them in the process of designating the Thermal Dome as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) under the jurisdiction of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Representatives from the ministries of transportation from Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Guatemala attended the conference to discuss the designation process, provide insight into the shipping sector in their respective country, and discuss the importance of prioritizing environmental protection for a biologically significant area such as the Thermal Dome. By the end of the day, each representative had committed to supporting the initiative of designating the Thermal Dome as a PSSA and spreading awareness of its importance within their countries. While the process could take years, it was clear that this was a necessary first step.

Now back in California, the work of combing through direct observations and transcripts from the conference, interviewing participants, and sending out questionnaires has begun. I will eventually be analyzing all of this data to assess the success of the conference when involving stakeholders in the designation of a PSSA in the Thermal Dome, and these insights will (hopefully) provide guidance for future PSSA designation. Feeling rejuvenated by the Costa Rican sunshine and only partly covered in mosquito bites, I am looking forward to continuing this project.