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.

The High Seas of Switzerland

IUCN WCPA High Seas Specialist Group Research Fellow

This summer I am working with the future implementation of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the high seas. So ~ naturally ~ I found myself up in the Swiss Alps.

I was asked to attend a workshop on the high seas at the IUCN Headquarters in Switzerland and jumped at the opportunity. After a cancelled flight and a bout of jet lag, I rode the SBB train from Nyon to Gland and found myself in a room amongst an international group of high seas experts and specialists. The workshop was centered on area-based management tools in areas beyond national jurisdiction (or ABMT in ABNJ). For two days, we discussed the joint proposal process for future ABMTs, how to ensure the engagement of all stakeholders in these proposals, and the eventual implementation of ABMTs in ABNJ. I quickly picked up the jargon, such as IFBs standing for “institutions, frameworks, and bodies,” and pretty soon I was speaking a vegetable soup of acronyms with the rest of the attendees.

Our workshop took place at the Holcim Think Tank on the top floor of IUCN HQ.
The conference room had beautiful views of the French Alps beyond Lake Geneva and a constant supply of coffee to keep everyone awake amidst the jet lag.

I was able to contribute to the workshop by working with the IUCN team as a notetaker for the workshop report they will be publishing. After engaging with presentations in the main room, we would break out into two different discussion groups to put our heads together answering key questions. For example, we debated on how the High Seas (BBNJ) Treaty should interact with other IFBs and if it should use its own language for ABMTs or adopt the language of other frameworks. After our discussions, I quickly condensed the notes and got the chance to present them to the larger group. Not only did I learn an exponential amount on the future landscape of the high seas when it comes to protected areas, but I was able to meet incredible people who I hope to work alongside in the future.

I presented alongside my colleague, Guillermo, in the High Seas Specialist Group.
We had our final dinner on the IUCN patio – Here I am with Aurelie and Clemente who work with the IUCN.

After the workshop ended, I got to travel around Switzerland for a bit of hiking and spent the night in different mountain huts (see below for some very Swiss photos). Since coming back, I have started interviewing managers of large-scale MPAs for my report and am headed to Oahu soon to meet some of these experts in person. I am incredibly grateful to have had this experience at IUCN in Switzerland and am looking forward to this next phase of interviews!

The first mountain hut I stayed in, nestled under a glacier outside of Grindelwald.
The quintessential Swiss photo featuring a cow with a swinging bell, little yellow flowers, and incredibly stunning views.
The second mountain hut I spent the night at, all the way at the top of Alpstein in the Appenzell Alps.