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Spotlight: Connection to place

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Josheena Naggea

André Hoffmann Ocean Innovation Fellow at the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions and World Economic Forum

Published May 7, 2024

Every time I go home, it's a powerful, grounding experience to visit Blue Bay.

I grew up in Mauritius, a small island nation 500 miles east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. My family lives a 15-minute car ride from the closest beach encircling Blue Bay Marine Park. Blue Bay is the place that centers me because it brings together my personal and professional lives. This is where I've had the happiest moments with my family and friends and worked locally in marine conservation, an experience that significantly shaped my career. 

This is also the area where an oil spill happened in 2020. The community was able to recover, thanks to local heroes like Sandy Monrose. Sandy lives close to Blue Bay, in a village surrounded by mangrove ecosystems, which were heavily impacted by the oil spill. She worked with local NGOs to deliver food packs to community members who lost their livelihoods after the spill and was involved in several recovery efforts to support women along the affected coastline.

At the time of the spill, I was a PhD student at Stanford in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (E-IPER). My dissertation focused on ocean governance in Mauritius, particularly the management of marine protected areas like Blue Bay Marine Park. After the oil spill, I incorporated a disaster lens into my work, looking at impacts on coastal communities.

I had a keen interest in learning more about marine policy and how to connect my local experiences and scholarship to actors with more global influence. That opportunity presented itself mostly through Center for Ocean Solutions courses like the Oceans by Design class and the Outlaw Ocean class, where we worked directly with representatives from the private sector, government, and NGOs.

In my current role as an André Hoffmann Ocean Innovation Fellow, I focus on innovations in small-scale fishing communities. I recently supported students in the latest Center for Ocean Solutions course, the Blue Food Policy Lab, through the research and engagement process. I thought to myself, “This has come full circle, I’ve been on all sides of this process.” I mentor students who may or may not have connections to the ocean world but are interested in bringing their expertise to address ocean issues. I find it really rewarding. 

The Hoffmann Fellowship has given me unique, impact-oriented opportunities as a postdoc. I have the flexibility to craft the experience with support from my mentors at the Center for Ocean Solutions and the World Economic Forum who have given me wings to explore new topic areas of interest. My path would have been impossible without the right people supporting my journey. That’s why I care so much about mentorship and engaging with organizations and students in my home country as well.

The most rewarding and surprising part of my fellowship has been participating in the UN Climate Conference, known as COP, two years in a row. When I reflect on my engagement in such global fora, I think of my core identity as an islander and the consequences of inaction for my home country, especially for coastal communities. 

I used to think that after every COP there's this doom and gloom narrative because we are not moving fast enough, but there's a lot of strength in having a range of cross-sector actors in one place. I’ve also seen bilateral and multilateral meetings at COP result in collaborations and more funding for local and regional initiatives to support community-based work. That’s why it’s important to make sure there’s a range of diverse and empowered voices that can influence the discourse and decisions being made at these conferences. 

Whenever I work on a new project or think about ocean conservation, Blue Bay is always at the back of my mind. I’m often driven by the question, "How would this initiative support the local heroes?" 

I’m thinking about Sandy back home, about all the divers and marine eco-guides who provided support in installing oil booms or supported monitoring programs after the oil spill happened. Everyone who came together to ask, how do we protect the mangroves and reefs — these resources that are our shared responsibility? I saw people act so selflessly during that time and move forward despite so much adversity. It gave me hope but it also reminded me of the need to keep amplifying solutions grounded in place.

Sometimes we overlook how much connection to a place centers us. No matter what I pursue next, I will always want my job to keep me connected to Blue Bay.