Meet our new Caribbean Training Coordinator
Photos by Victor Ozuna and Matthew-James Bennett
Tania, what's your background, and what motivated you to get involved in coral reef restoration at SECORE?
I was born and raised in the Mexican Caribbean, where I developed my deep connection with the ocean but also awareness about its threats. From a young age, I knew I wanted to contribute to the sustainable development of society and the conservation of nature. I pursued a BA in Environmental Studies, an interdisciplinary degree that combines humanities and science. During my time at university, I participated in field geology courses, which I thoroughly enjoyed. However, after attending a field marine ecology course close to my hometown, my path shifted towards marine and coastal ecosystem conservation. After graduating, I started volunteering with SECORE's partners, Coralium Lab in Mexico, where I participated in an advanced larval propagation training program. At Coralium, the multidisciplinary collaborations to restore coral reefs in the Caribbean really inspired me, and I knew I wanted to be part of that effort. I became a coral enthusiast and volunteered at a marine conservation program in Mexico, learning to identify coral species to monitor the benthos.
The following year, after working as an independent consultant for a marine and coastal conservation non-profit organization, I rejoined SECORE as a research intern in Curaçao. I stayed on the island for the 2019 coral spawning season, and this experience was absolutely enriching as I had the chance to work with driven, inspiring, and smart peers. The opportunity to collaborate with SECORE reassured my passion for coral reef restoration, and I am so excited to continue contributing and working in this field.
Tania working in the lab (1,3) and preparing for a dive (2)
Now, you are our Caribbean Training Coordinator. What are your main tasks at SECORE, and what has been the most challenging so far?
Through my role as the Caribbean Training Coordinator, I work to advance the implementation program, coordinate training events, and build partnerships to further increase the impact of SECORE's capacity-building program. Additionally, I assist in active coral reef restoration research and fieldwork in Mexico.
One of the most challenging but exciting aspects of my work has been implementing digital learning tools to SECORE's larval propagation training programs in collaboration with Aric Bickel, our Director of Technology and Implementation. Due to the current pandemic, SECORE's in-person training had to be postponed, and we have been working on innovative virtual tools to continue our outreach and training programs.
... and did you already have a chance to test these new virtual tools?
Yes, we did! Earlier this year, we successfully developed and held the first virtual training for potential implementation partners in collaboration with Coralium Lab. The virtual course went overall very well, the participating groups were highly engaged, and we received positive feedback. We have also identified specific areas for improvement and will continue optimizing our program. Complementing in-person courses with virtual sessions has great potential to enhance the outreach and development of our training programs.
Group screenshot of the first virtual training (Tania top left the second)
What makes training an essential pillar of SECORE's work?
Training courses and implementation programs are an effective way of sharing the knowledge and methodologies to successfully apply larval propagation techniques for coral reef restoration efforts. They are also a major medium to deliver SECORE's mission, "Creating and sharing the tools and technologies to sustainably restore coral reefs worldwide."
Let's talk about the state of coral reefs in the Caribbean. Why do they need our help?
Coral reefs in the Caribbean and around the world have declined drastically within the last few years. Global warming, ocean acidification, and coastal development are some factors driving coral reef degradation. Due to the rapid loss of coral coverage, the sexual reproduction of corals is believed to be less effective. By facilitating their reproduction through larval propagation, we can maintain the genetic diversity of coral species, hopefully ensuring their adaptability to the changing environments of the future.
The rapid loss of coral cover is undoubtedly alarming, but is there anything that gives you hope?
Absolutely! I find hope in the growing community of coral restoration practitioners and the innovative collaborations between different sectors and disciplines, creating sustainable solutions to restore and protect coral reefs worldwide. Coral restoration practitioners play a significant role in spreading awareness and changing habits within their local communities. Multisectoral collaborations are also necessary to create thoughtful strategies that seek coral reef resilience and incentivize sustainable coastal development. I believe these two factors can contribute to changing the future narrative of coral reefs.
I would like to encourage anyone reading this interview to learn about coral reefs, become aware of the connection we all have with the ocean, and support or get involved with a local nature conservation organization. We can all make a difference and change the world that lies ahead of us if we become knowledgeable and take action!
Tania, thank you so much for this valuable insight — We are delighted to have you on our team!
Photo by Megan M. Ramírez