Training Future Resource Stewards – The National Coral Reef Management Fellowship

EarthzineCoral Reefs 2017, Themed Articles

The National Coral Reef Management Fellowship provides professional experience and training opportunities in coral reef resource management.

The National Coral Reef Management Fellowship is a unique opportunity for recent graduates with an interest in coral reef resource management. The fellowship program is a partnership between U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (NOAA CRCP), the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs, Nova Southeastern University’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography, and the U.S. Coral Reef All Islands Committee that provides funding for the two-year positions. The vision for the program is a thriving collaborative fellowship that builds excellent next generation leaders and capacity for effective local coral reef ecosystem management.

The fellowship program was established to respond to the need for additional coral reef management capacity in the United States’ seven coral reef states and territories (referred to as jurisdictions). This competitive program places highly qualified candidates in state and territorial coral reef management agencies in Florida, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. Fellows’ education and work experience are matched to meet each jurisdiction’s specific management needs, while providing individual fellows with professional experience and training opportunities in coral reef resource management.

Fellows spend two years working on specific projects proposed and selected by each jurisdiction’s coral reef management agencies and the NOAA CRCP. They work on a diverse set of topics including: education and outreach, watershed protection, and marine protected area management. They develop and implement management plans, evaluate the effectiveness of coral reef conservation efforts, create new partnerships, and work with stakeholders to conserve coral reef ecosystems.

National Coral Reef Management fellows 2016-2018, at fellowship training in Kona, Hawaii. From left: Kelly Montenero (Florida), Malcolm Johnson (CNMI), Whitney Hoot (Guam), Hilary Lohmann (USVI), Mariana Leon Perez (Puerto Rico), and Sabrina Woofter (American Samoa). Image Credit: Kevin Doyle

The 2016-2018 National Coral Reef Management fellows are leading projects in storm runoff management, community-based reserve designations, coral reef citizen science, evaluation of coral reef monitoring data, climate change outreach, and development of a reef resilience strategy. The fellowship program has been instrumental in building coral reef management capacity at the local level and providing professional development, mentoring, and training for fellows since 2003.

A fellow is placed in each U.S. coral reef jurisdiction. The fellows bring with them an assortment of skills and knowledge tailored to the jurisdiction’s need. Jurisdictional hosts for the 2016-2018 fellows include:

National Coral Management fellows at an onsite training with The Nature Conservancy near Kona, Hawaii, in 2017. Image Credit: John Tomzcuk

  • American Samoa Department of Commerce – Sabrina Woofter is building capacity to reduce land based sources of pollution. She is the lead for teaching local communities on rain garden purpose and design and has guided the development and installation of several rain gardens. She has presented this training to many groups including the National Park Service, NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary, and the Rotary Club offices in American Samoa. Woofter also is working on outreach and education materials and assisting with the creation of a Climate Change Dictionary in the Samoan language.
  • Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Coral Reef Conservation Program, and Nova Southeastern University – Kelly Montenero coordinates a citizen science program called the Southeast Florida Action Network (SEAFAN). SEAFAN is a network of observations of marine incidents that pose a threat to the health of the Florida Reef Tract. These observations provide local resource managers with information on current reef condition. She also coordinated logistics for an ongoing water quality monitoring program along the Florida Reef Tract and is working on community outreach and engagement activities.
  • Guam Bureau of Statistics and Planning – Whitney Hoot’s primary responsibilities are to develop the reef resilience strategy for Guam’s coral reefs using stakeholder surveys and feedback and to coordinate Guam’s coral reef response team consisting of local and federal agencies as well as the University of Guam. She also conducts public outreach through the Eyes of the Reef Marianas program, which encourages ocean users to report reef impacts to inform local scientists and managers, and conducts nearshore monitoring to build standard operating procedures to address impacts for coral disease and bleaching events.
  • Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources – Ka’ilikea Shayler supported community-based management and development of community-based subsistence fishing areas (CBSFA) post-designation monitoring procedures. The CBSFA is set up to carry out fishery management strategies for the purpose of reaffirming and protecting fishing practices customarily and traditionally exercised for purposes of native Hawaiian subsistence, culture and religion. He also worked to promote positive coral reef management-related behavior change through social and community engagement, and participated in Hawaii’s Coral Reef Working Group.
  • The Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality – Malcolm Johnson resides on the island of Rota, and he is leading revegetation efforts in an important coral watershed to reduce erosion, assisting in water quality monitoring efforts from streams to coral reefs, and mapping these projects using Geographic Information System (GIS) software. More recently, he has initiated a native tree species study to compare resilience of indigenous tree species to natural stressors, and is providing outreach for a “No Burning” campaign with the goal of stopping the intentional setting of fires in Rota’s watersheds.
  • Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, Puerto Rico Coral Reef Conservation and Management Progra – Mariana Leon Perez is writing an assessment of Puerto Rico’s Coral Reef Monitoring Program to provide recommendations and determine current and future management needs. To complete this task, she is interviewing key stakeholders to understand suitable methodologies, structure, methods, and collaborations. She also is working to develop a GIS database of Puerto Rico’s coral reef monitoring data.
  • U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Department of Parks and Natural Resources – Hilary Lohmann coordinates the Community Friends group, a local association that supports the East End Marine Park in St. Croix. With this group, she conducts sea turtle patrols, derelict vessel surveys, and beach profiling surveys in the park. She also designs and installs interpretive and regulatory signs along park access points that provide information about responsible recreational activities allowed in the park.

National Coral Reef Management fellows, fellowship coordinators, and guest speakers during a site excursion in Hawaii in 2017. From left: Julia Rose, Mariana Leon Perez, Kelly Montenero, Whitney Hoot, Sabrina Woofter, Malcolm Johnson, Wendy Wood-Derrer, Paulo Maurin, and Hilary Lohmann. Image Credit: John Tomzcuk

During the fellowship, an orientation training is held, where fellows and supervisors come together to learn about the program and partners, receive work training, and begin developing two-year work plans. Midway through the fellowship, fellows come together again to evaluate their first year of work by sharing their experiences and taking part in professional development trainings to improve their knowledge, skills, and effectiveness on site. Additionally throughout the two years, the fellowship fosters communication through discussions between fellows and support staff, and facilitates the sharing of best management practices via webinars, quarterly all-fellow conference calls, and newsletters. Funding also is provided to support yearly professional development relevant to each fellowship position where fellows attend conferences, workshops, or classes to increase their skill sets and develop their networks and partnerships.

Requirements for the positions vary by state and territory. Applicants typically have a master’s degree with two years of experience or a bachelor’s degree with four years of experience in marine resource management. Jurisdictions may require additional or alternate skills, such as knowledge of GIS, ecotourism development, social marketing, or environmental planning. Previous experience in participating jurisdictions is desired but not required, and applicants must be U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents.

The program provides capacity that encompasses coordination, strategic planning, and technical assistance at the jurisdictional level while providing fellows with experience and expertise in coral reef ecosystem management. Fellows often go on to work in state and jurisdictional resource management agencies, U.S. federal agencies, academia, or non-governmental organizations.

Kelly Montenero is a National Coral Reef Management fellow in Dania Beach, Florida.

John Tomczuk is the senior Coral Reef Conservation Program specialist and Fellowship Program coordinator at NOAA in Silver Spring, Maryland.