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Reflections from Capitol Hill Ocean’s Week 2024: Insights from a CRF™ Intern



I had the immense privilege of attending this year's Capitol Hill Ocean’s Week (CHOW), hosted by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, as a program intern for the Global Strategy Department at Coral Restoration Foundation™ (CRF™). CHOW united an assortment of individuals who all share a common passion for ocean conservation. Throughout the two-day conference, I attended panels featuring leading marine scientists, policy experts, investors, indigenous people, and youth activists.  


The first panel was the ConSERVE Leadership Roundtable, featuring leaders in ocean conservation. The diversity of voices set the tone for the rest of the conference, demonstrating how different perspectives united by a common passion can create engaging discussions.  


A key takeaway from this panel was how little we truly know about the ocean, which makes conservation efforts more challenging. As someone working in this field, it was surprising to hear experts talk about the limited knowledge we have about the ocean, which covers nearly 71% of our planet. Recreational diving, the source of much of our knowledge, only explores the top 100 feet of the ocean, and we have documented only 10-20% of marine species. The potential to discover what is still out there is mind-blowing, and I am excited to see how our understanding of ocean ecosystems deepens over time. 

 

 


Panel included leaders in ocean conservation like Danni Washington of Big Blue & You, Brian Davis, CEO of The Georgia Aquarium, Massachusetts State Senator Julian Cyr, Richard Pyle from the Center for the Exploration of Coral Reef Ecosystems (EXCORE), Joel Moffett of Native Americans in Philanthropy Tribal National Initiative, and Jennifer Littlejohn, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs 

I was particularly excited to attend The Leadership for Climate Action Panel, addressing one of the greatest threats facing our ocean. A recurring theme was the importance of transcending boundaries and going beyond traditional approaches to combat climate change. This idea resonated strongly throughout CHOW and was evidenced in many speakers’ presentations. There is a need for a wide variety of roles, perspectives, and efforts to conserve fragile ecosystems that requires both local and global solutions for the common good. It was particularly interesting to hear about the private sector's role in ocean conservation, as my experience has primarily been with non-profit or government efforts. All stakeholders must collaborate to make the most significant impact to preserve our marine environments. 

 


This panel included leaders like Ebony Martin, Executive Director of Greenpeace, Sarah Fangman, Superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, Justin Mundy, Managing Director of The Howden Group, and Kilaparti Ramakrishna, Ph.D., Director of Marine Policy Center at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. 


Another important lesson I learned from my experience at CHOW, is the importance of modeling our conservation efforts on nature, which balances order and chaos to achieve both stability and adaptability. This approach allows conservation strategies to be flexible and responsive to changing conditions. Protecting nature supports its inherent capacity for recovery, as seen in marine protected areas and habitat restoration efforts that help ecosystems heal and thrive. Additionally, community-driven efforts, particularly those led by indigenous groups, can significantly enhance the success of these conservation initiatives. 


Reflecting on my time at Coral Restoration Foundation™ (CRF™), I see many parallels between our mission and the challenges discussed at the ConSERVE Leadership Roundtable regarding ocean conservation. Their focus on the greatest threats facing the ocean—loss of biodiversity, lack of connection between people and ocean ecosystems, and the pressing challenge of time—resonates deeply with the work that we do.  


Biodiversity, particularly genetic diversity, is a pillar of our restoration work. We work across 20 varied species of branching and boulder coral to maintain what historically comprised Florida’s Coral Reefs. Among these species, we have 661 genotypes, safeguarding genetic diversity that is no longer found in the wild. This diversity plays a crucial role in ensuring long-term reef restoration. 


CRF™ Staff members working with a variety of coral specimens at Keys Marine Lab.

Connecting people to the ocean is a key aspect of our community engagement at CRF™. One of my favorite parts of being an intern with this organization is engaging with the Florida Keys community and seeing people connect with our initiatives. Through our Dive and Volunteer programs, individuals witness the tangible impact we make and experience endangered corals up close. The panelists highlighted the importance of such experiences in fostering care and concern for our underwater ecosystems.  


The discussion also underscored the ongoing challenge posed by time. While time itself is beyond our control, CRF™ distinguishes itself by confronting this challenge head-on through scalability. Since 2012, we have outplanted more than 220,000 corals out onto Florida's Coral Reef, restoring more than 34,000 square meters of habitat.  By working on such a large scale, we strive to counteract coral reef degradation effectively and sustainably. 


I am extremely grateful to have gotten the opportunity to attend Capitol Hill Ocean Week, where I gained extensive insight into the career field that I aspire to enter and hearing from so many leaders in the field was truly eye opening. It was incredibly inspiring to meet so many people from diverse backgrounds, all coming together for a common goal. 


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