October 28, 2015

Story: Graduate Students Dive into Ocean Policy

By Kristen Weiss

The ocean policy course students explore the kelp beds of Monterey. Photo credit: Kristen Weiss
Breaching humpback whales, thriving kelp forests and coastal sand dunes provided the inspiring backdrop for this year’s Ocean Policy Course, hosted for the third time by the Center’s MARINE program
Held over two weeks at the picturesque Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey, the course introduced graduate students to ocean policy and governance, and how science influences public policy decisions at the international, national and state levels (see video). Students learned about pressing challenges to ocean health, and together with leaders in ocean science and policy, examined how scientists (e.g., social, economic, natural) and researchers can and do work within the policy-making process to address these challenges. 
In total, twenty-three students took part in the course, representing four of the seven campuses of the MARINE network, as well as ten other institutions from around the country. The students comprised a group of graduate students and post-docs with backgrounds ranging from natural and social sciences to law, policy and science communication. 
“The course was such a wonderful opportunity to get to learn from not just the instructors, but all of the other students,” said Vermont Law student Ali Van Baars, echoing a statement reiterated by a number of her colleagues. “I really like how we came from diverse backgrounds and regions.” 
Now in its third inception, the biennial Ocean Policy course provides students with a foundational understanding of key Federal legislation such as the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act, as well as state and regional level management strategies. Students also learn about the process of ocean policy—e.g., how laws are enacted and how policies are implemented—and participate in hands-on activities to reinforce these concepts.  
“We use an active learning approach,” explained Laura Good, COS Education Manager and coordinator of the Ocean Policy course. “Rather than relying on lecture-style teaching, we engage the students every day through discussions, role playing scenarios, field trips and other group exercises. We also use a number of current real-world case studies so that students gain a better understanding of the complexity of ocean policy in a number of different contexts.” 
Case studies presented during the course included abalone harvest management in British Columbia, recreational fisheries management in southern Florida and challenges in developing Arctic coastal and marine policy. For the Arctic study, students spent several hours engaged in a role-playing scenario in which they were tasked with negotiating a plan for balancing development and sustainability in the Beaufort Sea, based on the principles of marine spatial planning.  
Beautiful Monterey Bay served as the backdrop for this years Ocean Policy Course students, who spent two weeks training at Hopkins Marine Station.
“I think the Center for Ocean Solutions does a good job of letting you feel empowered when you leave, and like we can actually apply all this knowledge we’ve gained to do work in our own communities,” said Eileen Nalley, a graduate student from the University of Hawai’i. 
Students met and interacted with over a forty experts in ocean science and policy, including Beth Kerttula of the National Ocean Council and Steve Roady from Earthjustice as well as a variety of local experts from our collaborating and partner institutions. While some guest speakers led lectures and round-table discussions in the classroom, others joined a COS-hosted career panel in week one, and a sustainable seafood dinner at local restaurant Passionfish in week two. These activities provided ample opportunity for course participants to meet individually with the speakers, ask questions, and get to know them on a more informal level. 
“I’m very impressed by the next generation of ocean leaders,” said Kerttula. “They are working so hard to be able to deal with issues like ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms, and illegal fishing. I love getting to watch these young people as they come up with the solutions to these issues.” 
By the end of the course, students had not only learned about a number of current ocean policy topics and case studies, but had practiced negotiation and conflict resolution skills, stakeholder engagement, concept mapping and human design concepts. The final group project asked students to write a public comment letter on an ocean policy or management plan currently listed on the Federal Register. 
“It’s always exciting to me that I get to work with such amazing people, knowing . . . we are all going forward to actually affect real-world change,” said Becca Martone, Assistant Director for Science and Research at COS. 
“I think we all came away more hopeful about the future and our ability to tackle these tough problems,” added Sarah Wheeler, a recent graduate from San Diego State University and UC Davis. ”I feel really energized to start working on them tomorrow!” 
Watch the video about the 2015 Ocean Policy course.
Check out photos from this year’s course.
Read a student’s perspective on the course on the MARINE blog.