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Years in Fellowship Benefits Oceans Today

By Todd Capson, 2008-10 Executive Branch Fellow, Office of Marine Conservation (OMC) and Ocean and Polar Affairs, State Department

Policy areas and skills that I gained exposure to during my fellowship years continue to open doors for me today. As a fellow in the State Department, I worked on shark conservation and ocean acidification – an increase in the acidity of the ocean due to the absorption of increasing amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere – particularly as it impacts oyster hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest.

Capson's speaking on ocean acidification, May 16, 2014.

A major impediment to protecting sharks in Latin America is the inability to identify captured shark species. At the U.S. Embassy in Quito, I helped develop a field guide for shark identification and organize a workshop on the use of a low-cost DNA barcode technique that allows for species-specific identification of sharks. The same DNA-based technique was taught at a workshop organized by the Organization of American States to help implement new measures for the international trade of shark species now protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Today, I build partnerships between the seafood industry, academia, and governments to monitor ocean acidification. New Zealand has a burgeoning shellfish aquaculture business, which the government and industry are keen to protect. Realizing that they would benefit from hearing from the shellfish growers and scientists of the Pacific Northwest, I led efforts to organize a workshop that would allow New Zealand to benefit from the lessons-learned in the U.S. and strengthen U.S.- New Zealand bilateral cooperation to address ocean acidification.

The workshop, “Future proofing New Zealand’s shellfish aquaculture: Monitoring and adaptation to ocean acidification,” brought together more than 60 experts from the U.S. and New Zealand. U.S. participants explained how they have adapted to ocean acidification, including instrumentation they developed and the vital partnerships they formed between academia, government and industry. Read more in this blog by the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa and about the outcomes of the workshop.

Listen to Capson's comments on ocean acidification.

Later, I went back to New Zealand as a guest of the State Department to promote Secretary of State John Kerry’s Our Ocean Conference, engaging students, academics, local communities, and government and industry representatives on a range of issues related to ocean health. We are now exploring options to use New Zealand as a platform for capacity building for ocean acidification monitoring and adaptation in Pacific Island Countries. Learn more in this blog.

I am also working with Chilean scientists and the State Department to facilitate technology transfer to address ocean acidification in Chile, whose coast shares many oceanographic characteristics with those of the Pacific Northwest. This trans-Pacific initiative between New Zealand, the U.S., and Chile will generate data on coastal acidification, partnerships, and create training opportunities for young scientists. I will discuss these initiatives at an upcoming workshop on ocean acidification that will be part of the upcoming UN Conference on Small Island Developing States in Samoa.

The experience and contacts I acquired while working for the State Department in the U.S. and in embassies have been indispensable for my current work.

Fellows: Use the extraordinary tools at your disposal, think outside of the envelope, and when your gut tells you that you’re on to something good, take “no” as an opportunity to explore other options.