This summer, I had the opportunity to work for the Environmental Defense Fund’s Ocean’s Division. This group is working on some of the most progressive issues in the ocean realm including catch shares, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), sustainable seafood, and biodiversity conservation. I was a long way from home and not close to any oceans, but the energy and passion this department has for protecting our oceans are second to none. All of the EDF staff welcomed me with open arms and showed the true meaning of “Southern hospitality.”
Under the guidance of Pam Baker, the Director of Strategic Conservation Initiatives within the Gulf of Mexico and the Southeastern United States, I had the opportunity to work on a unique project that is incorporating partnerships with Mexico and Cuba to promote shark conservation in the Gulf of Mexico. This tri-national agreement is a direct response to the increasing depletion of the Gulf’s pelagic shark species over the past decades. The agreement encourages strategic involvement and transparency between the countries to promote healthy shark management practices.
My work focused on understanding where and why the shark populations are disappearing in the Gulf. I developed a regional fact sheet on the pelagic longline fleets of all three countries, and researched the different characteristics of the fleets, including their annual catch and discard rates. This research will help the lead scientists (such as Dr. Baker) to better understand the severity of the problem, and in turn create the management practices that will help these shark species recover. This information proved vital as we uncovered and pieced together missing data that shed light on the main drivers of the shark population declines.
Having previously worked with sharks in the field as a natural scientist, this fellowship provided me with the opportunity to experience the policy side of conservation. I could not have asked for a better department or boss, and I am sure this experience will always stand out as one of the most influential for the duration of my professional career.