Category Archives: Center for the Blue Economy Fellows

Shark Fins

I blogged earlier in the summer about California’s shark fin ban. Here are a few photos to illustrate: juvenile sharks, finless and a couple of really small fins to be dried and sold for soup…

I know these aren’t pretty pictures, but I think they’re important to share with the world.
A quick update on the bill: the bill is still in the Senate Appropriations committee, awaiting approval so it can move forward. Write to your state senators!

Sustainable Fishing


This is the second in a series of three blog posts about a two-week field experience I had in Baja California, Mexico this summer. 

I sometimes struggle to define the work that interests me. I know what it is, but I have to spin it differently depending on my audience:

“Conserve marine ecosystems and habitat.”

“Assist local artisanal fishermen in maintaining their livelihood.”

“Help communities secure exclusive rights to specific marine resources.”

“Find ways to incentivize fishermen to protect the coast and ocean.”

“Live in interesting coastal communities in developing countries.”

I’m learning though, that quite simply, I want to promote sustainable fishing. The phrase “sustainable fishing” involves that loaded and sometimes misused word, “sustainable”. My favorite definitions of sustainability specify the importance of a triple bottom line: people, profit and planet or a focus of the social, economic and environmental outcomes. I recently learned that the two Spanish words for sustainability—“sustentable” and “sostenible” initially had different definitions. One pointed towards the gentle use of a resource with an understanding that the resource would be used up. The other meant finding ways for people to thrive while utilizing their natural resources, but ensuring that the resource would be available for future generations. I prefer the second definition. I think our grandchildren should be able to know pristine coastal areas, healthy fish and thriving coral reefs.

Basically, my work is about finding ways to promote the social, economic and environmental well being of fishing communities.

Grupo Tortuguero has a project in Lopez Mateos that does just that. It was a treat to tag along with their team over almost two weeks to experience their work and offer some recommendations. The project, “PROMAR: Productos Marinos Sustentables SPR de RL” is a partnership between Grupo Tortuguero, the fishermen of five local fishing cooperatives and their wives. PROMAR is developing a program that promotes changes that should benefit the environment, the local economy and the community. The environment benefits because the fishermen will transfer their gear from gill nets to hook and line. This change will essentially eliminate bycatch and should increase the quality of the catch because only certain species will be targeted. The local economy profits because fishermen will immediately place their catch into coolers of ice (currently, catch sits on the boat, sometimes going bad due to the hot sun), then bring the catch to a collectively-owned air conditioned and sanitized processing center to be cleaned (currently, fish are cleaned on the beach). The sustainably caught, responsibly processed fish will be sold to gourmet seafood buyers in Cabo san Lucas via a coordinated transportation system that guarantees that the fish stays on ice the entire time. These buyers offer a much higher price that what is currently paid to fishermen for the fish caught my gill nets and cleaned on the beach. Finally, the community benefits because it involves women in the production. The fishermen’s wives are currently taking computer classes to learn basic skills on Microsoft Word and Excel. They are the managing partners of the program and also responsible for the processing of the fish. This partnership is unique and one of few in the world that so equally involves and benefits women in a traditionally male dominated sector. The distilled and lovely end goal of the PROMAR project is empowered families, protected ecosystems, conserved turtles, financial security.

PROMAR, as expected, is in the process of defining itself. I hosted a small workshop on building a successful cooperative. During the workshop, I described a cooperative organization as a living organism. Although a coop is comprised of individual members, it has its own identity and its own way of being in the world. I encouraged PROMAR’s members to consider their organization as a baby. A baby needs quality food, attention and care to grow to be a successful adult. As a child, it needs monitoring and guidance. My message to PROMAR was that as members, they are the parents of this baby. If they invest the proper time, energy and effort into organizing themselves well now, their “baby” will grow to be a very successful adult.

I am so excited to see how PROMAR grows!

Turtle Rodeo

This is the third in a series of three blog posts about a two-week field experience I had in Baja California, Mexico this summer

When Grupo Tortuguero’s director invited me to spend a couple of weeks in their field station, he mentioned that it would be a good time to come because they would be doing turtle rodeos and I could ride along. Sure, I’m always up for an adventure and I love being on the water. I packed a few Dramamine and some extra sunscreen, unsure of what to expect. A turtle rodeo involves exactly that—rodeoing turtles. Two boats scan the water in search of sea turtles that have come to hang out on the surface. Once a turtle is spotted, the boat carefully approaches from behind while the um, turtle cowboy, prepares himself. As soon as we were close to a turtle, the “cowboy” (frequently Grupo Tortuguero’s Science and Fisheries Director, Hoyt Peckham) leaps into the water, grabs hold of the turtle’s shell and wrangles it to the boat. A few people help lift it onto the boat for measurements and assessment. The wrangling part is the most exciting, but what comes next is most important.

A small damp rag is placed over the turtle’s face to help keep it calm. Hoyt and his team measure, weigh and tag the turtle. Then they remove barnacles from the turtle’s shell that, although natural, can harm the turtle by changing its hydrodynamics and causing harm to the shell. A small sample of skin and shell is taken so that the scientists can analyze isotopes to better understand the turtle’s diet. The turtle is then gently released and continues its day unharmed. The actual “rodeoing” part is quite challenging because the turtle is strong and frequently dives under the water. For that reason, my chance to “rodeo” came during the release of a turtle. I jumped into the water so that Hoyt and his team could pass me the turtle. I held onto it for a moment, then gently released it so that it could glide under the water. Yes, it was as fun and magical as you’d imagine.

Data from the turtle rodeos are used to help us better understand the turtle’s habitat needs and informs conservation efforts. A big thank you to Grupo Tortuguero for letting me come along on the rodeo!


Bycatch: The Real Deal

This is the first in a series of three blog posts about a two-week field experience I had with a local NGO, Grupo Tortuguero, in Baja California, Mexico this summer.


It stinks in the field station this morning. I stepped outside onto the street and it smells like dead fish out there too. Someone explained that the smell is from the tuna cannery down the street. Some days, too many fish are brought to the cannery than they can process. The solution: burn them down into fishmeal, which can be sold as an organic fertilizer.

A definition of bycatch: the unintentional catch of living organisms by fishing gear.

The work I do frequently includes considerations to deal with bycatch. I’ve read a lot of reports and seen numerous upsetting pictures of fish, birds and turtles entangled in nets. I brainstorm ways to assign fishing rights that encourage responsible fishing and methods to utilize fishermen as monitors of their own actions.

I care about these animals and the ecosystems they inhabit, but a caring based on something unseen is different than the care we have for something seen and experienced ourselves. No picture, video or report prepared me to experience instances of bycatch with my own eyes. My field experience in Baja California Sur was not designed to showcase instances of bycatch, however it did just that. The idea was for me learn about Grupo Tortuguero’s work in the community of Lopez Mateos (more on that later).

Sure, I already knew that:

 Worldwide, experts believe that fisheries bycatch is in the range of 27,000,000 metric tons.

24,000,0000 to 45,000,000 red snapper are caught as bycatch in Gulf of Mexico shrimp fisheries each year.

Researchers believe that between 1990 and 2008, 2.8 million sea turtles were trapped in nets as bycatch. (Six out of the seven species of sea turtles worldwide listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.)

It’s a shame to smell wasted tuna from the cannery. Another bycatch experience happened a few days ago. We were out on a turtle rodeo (definitely more on that later!) when we came across a ghost net. Ghost nets are simply lost or deserted nets that continue to capture and kill marine species. Our boat was tasked with pulling the net out of the ocean. Yards and yards of abandoned net were pulled out of the water with dozens of fish in various stages of decomposition caught in it. Large tuna, barracuda and snapper were pulled out of the net and tossed overboard along with lots of small fish and crabs I could not identify. The smell of the decomposing fish made even our experienced fisherman captain ill. A net left alone in the ocean always runs the risk of becoming untied from an anchor and being lost to unnecessarily capture marine animals.

Nets don’t have to be lost to cause harm. Yesterday I went out with a couple of fishermen to bring in three nets they’d left overnight. On the way out of the harbor I inquired about the type of fish we planned to fish. Flounder, they told me. Thirty minutes into constantly pulling a net into the boat, we encountered our first flounder. Until that point, they had been yanking dead rays, juvenile tuna, crabs and other fish out of the net. Over four hours with just three huge nets, I would guess that 80% of the animals were thrown to the very well-fed group of pelicans that hung out by our boat. 80% bycatch! Other fish were kept on board for consumption by the fishermen or to sell for a price much less than they get for flounder

While the fishermen were approaching the end of the second net I heard one of them say, “there’s something big here… what is it?” Then I saw “it” emerge out of the water: a juvenile green turtle—deeply tangled in the deadly net. Its eyes were closed, neck limp. It had died. In the net. That they left out last night. Nothing could have prepared me for that moment. I choked back a couple of tears, closed my eyes and looked away from the turtle for a while. Then I snapped a picture because to do the work that I do, I don’t ever want to forget that moment. Later that day I recounted the story and my emotional response to Juan, one of Grupo Tortuguero’s biologists. Juan replied kindly and simply: “that’s why I do what I do.” Me too, Juan.

This community, along with thousands of others in the world depends on fishing for their livelihood. The fishermen are good people that are doing a job they’ve done for decades. It’s time to help them do it better. An 80% fish bycatch plus dead turtles for a few pounds of flounder is not acceptable. We need to help fishermen find better ways to fish. In the meantime, we can support sustainably caught fish and organizations like Grupo Tortuguero and EDF that work on small-scale fisheries. 

Finishing up at IUCN

My internship has come to an end, sadly, and I feel like i left DC all too soon, just when I was just starting to get into the groove of things.  I have been working on contributing to a report for IUCN analyzing how mangroves could fit into REDD+ policy in the UNFCCC, and the process has been a huge learning experience, not just for what I’ve learned about climate change policy, but also the process of working collaboratively.  This piece probably won’t be finished until mid November and will need input from scientists, but I hope to continue working on it in some capacity throughout the fall semester.  So while I had originally expected to have a finished project as the outcome of my summer, I’m hoping there will be benefits to staying involved in this project a little longer.

During my last week, I had the opportunity to go to a ‘speed mentoring’ event run by the Women’s Aquatic Network in DC.  This was basically the same idea as speed dating, except with senior marine professionals as the mentors, and men-tees like me seeking career advice.  We had 5 minutes with each of the 20 or so mentors. I was intimidated by the idea at first, but it turned out to be a lot of fun!  I also got a lot of practice giving my elevator pitch, and I learned I still need a lot of improvement!

Before I left I had lunch with my boss, and got some great feedback on my work.  Overall, it’s been a very satisfying experience, and could only be better if I had planned in advance to stay a few weeks longer.  D.C. is truly the best place to be get into an international policy profession, and while the D.C. lifestyle isn’t something I’d want for the long run, I wouldn’t hesitate to come back here for a year or two if there was an opportunity.

Sightseeing in Washington D.C.

Although I was only in D.C. for a couple days, I did get a little time to do some sightseeing on the second day of the conference before heading home.

The last time I was in D.C. was 12 years ago, so it was interesting to see the places I remembered, like the White House.

I spent a long time at Lincoln Memorial. The view from the steps is amazing and the statue is so impressive. Lots of people stood around taking pictures, while others lounged on the shady steps overlooking the Washington monument.

I also really liked seeing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I especially liked seeing people getting tracings of the names.

That night I got to have dinner with a fellow MIISer who is working in D.C. for the summer. We had an amazing meal and I definitely wished I could have had a little more time to explore the city!

Mission Blue Oceanic MPA Workshop

This past week, I was sent to Washington D.C. to attend the Mission Blue Oceanic MPA Workshop. Mission Blue is a concept spearheaded by Sylvia Earle and the National Geographic Society (NGS) that seeks to preserve as much of the ocean as possible– and more specifically, at least 20%.

WildAid’s particular interest in this workshop was their emphasis on managing high seas MPAs and figuring out the best ways to establish compliance and enforce their no take status. Personally, I sought to make some good contacts that could potentially contribute to my publication with WildAid on marine enforcement, since the guests included various MPA managers, donors, and some government officials.

I took a red-eye flight from SFO to BWI on Monday night and arrived early Tuesday morning.

I took a cab straight to the conference, since I was definitely cutting it close and enjoyed the sights along the way. The ride took a little over an hour with traffic, but we finally made it.

After some coffee and a quick breakfast, the group of about 30-40 people sat down to listen to a few speakers.

Elliott Norse– the president of the Marine Conservation Institute and someone I met at MIIS through Dr. Charlie Wahle– was one of the speakers and he gave us some really great background information on oceanic MPAs.

After a short break, we gathered into action teams where we were trying to figure out specific action items to progress the mission. My team was focused on enforcement and consisted of a few MPA managers, some Coast Guard representatives, and a few nonprofits.

We ended up with some great ideas and initiatives, as well as specific action items that individuals would take.

The next day, we continued working on our initiatives and then we all made individual promises to continue with the mission, with specific action items we would take.

The conference was a lot of fun, and I think we made excellent progress. I also managed to meet some very interesting people and acquire the contacts I needed for my publication, and potential guests for our conference.

Blue Carbon Policy Workshop

Last week the big event that I’ve been helping my boss prepare for finally  arrived: the first workshop of the Blue Carbon Policy Working Group.  Leading up to this workshop, I had been busy preparing some background documents on the current state of international climate change negotiations with respect to blue carbon, compiling the participant bios, and other odd jobs.

Blue carbon policy is an emerging field that stems from the idea that effective management of coastal ‘blue carbon’ systems such as mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass,  requires development and implementation of strategic policy and financing mechanisms that create  incentives  for coastal conservation and restoration activities and disincentives to drain or damage these systems.  The Blue Carbon Policy Working Group was formed to support development and implementation of blue carbon policy in the international arena.   This group, along with the Blue Carbon Science Working Group, are part of the Blue Carbon Initiative, a consortium led by IUCN, Conservation International, and the International Oceanic Commission-UNESCO, working with partners from national governments, research institutions, NGOs, coastal communities, intergovernmental and international bodies and other relevant stakeholders.

This 3-day workshop, held at the CI headquarters, involved top wetland and mangrove scientists, directors of marine and climate change programs at a variety of multilateral
institutions and NGOs, and experts in wetland carbon accounting who work closely with the IPCC and UNFCCC.  I had the rare opportunity to observe this group as they worked to form a strategy to include blue carbon in international climate change policy, and outlined an agenda of activities to work on in the next six months, including involvement in the upcoming COP 17 in Durban.  This was an amazing networking opportunity as well, as I had the chance to talk with many of the participants in between sessions and over dinner.

Center for Biological Diversity International Treaty Forum

Last Friday the IUCN invited me to attend a day of regional meetings for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which was comprised mostly of government officials from ministries of environment and finance. The purpose of the meetings, that had been going on all week, was to report on progress and collaborate on new ideas as to how to complete their commitments to the 2020 targets that the treaty has set. The meetings took place in a beautiful state department building. In the morning the topic was communication and Ana Puyol of TRAFFIC gave a great presentation on how to effectively relay the message of biodiversity loss to the public. She showed a little video called “Love not Loss,” which I recommend. It is short and motivational. She spoke about creating networks of communication and the importance of being strategical in conveying messages.

In South America, often it is communicating with the right people to make big changes that really counts, such as incentivizing government officials to bring their families to parks and enjoy the surroundings so they feel more inclined to protect important areas. Economic arguments are huge and there is a pretty big push to better incorporate ecosystem valuation into decisions, yet it remains exteremly controversial for certain countries. After the presentation, we were given group work and I was able to participate with a Bolivian indigenous woman, representing the indigenous communities of her country and and official from Ecuador’s Ministery of the Environment. Everyone had extremely interesing  comments on how they feel communication could be improved. For me it was valuable input that I will give me a broad and insightful view on the direction that efforts to  stem biodiversity loss should be heading.

Later, the topic changed to Finances and Chile’s representatives gave a presentation on how their government has been financing its efforts to fulfill their commitments to the CBD. Once again, we were assigned group work and told to brainstorm ideas on how to diversify and increase the amount of funding that the initiatives layed out in their National Strategy Plans receive.  Each country has created a Plan for their CBD commitments. I went into discussion with the representaives from Suriname and Guyana and we came up with some interesting ideas.  For many countires, a huge factor will be techinical assistance and international finance mechanisms. Brazil, for example, has a satellite that they use to monitor their rainforests and to attempt to identify illegal logging. This satellite is ready to expire and the finances may not be there to replace it. Countries such as USA could offer assistance with ther satellites, for instance. One resource that was cited often during the finance talks that I want to share in case anyone is interested was called “The Little Biodiversity Finance Books.”  It includes some interesting research and statistics.

I was pretty stoked that throughout the day, I only had to use to translation headphones one time. That was for the Chilean presentors seeing as they do not pronounce the end of any word and the letter “s” is essentially non existant. There was really good energy in the room and these people are really motivated to make some changes. I left feeling motivated that things were heading in the right direction and hopefully for the next Conference of the Parties, more progress will be reported.

Just another day at the office

WildAid was pretty empty this week because several people are out on vacation or traveling for work, so we took the opportunity to inflate one of our sharks to inspect it for any holes and clean it up a bit before shipping to a zoo that wants to display it.

Here’s Nicolette cleaning up the shark.

However, some of us couldn’t resist taking a couple pictures with the shark. Isn’t he great?