I spent my spring break making plans for summer that included travel, cultural immersion, and global experiences that would fuel my passions and remind me why I am a Global Studies major. At that time, I had no idea that a few days later UNC would prohibit us from returning to campus.The whole world was scrambling to reorient ourselves to new conditions and settle into quarantine. I took my classes on zoom, did my work online, baked sourdough, learned how to handstand and play ukulele and watercolor. Behind the scenes, I emailed about two hundred people.
As a Biology double major, I am passionate about marine wildlife and the environment. I am not entirely sure where my passions will lead me, but I know I want travel to be a large part of my career. So, I reached out to professionals on a whim, cold emailing a few frequent flyers. Because of quarantine, I knew they would be grounded for at least a short window, so I figured it was a good time to get in touch. I found a nonprofit called Saving Ocean Wildlife, who had, unbeknownst to me, just put their name into the world a few hours before I emailed them. I sent the organization my information and expressed my passions for marine conservation and sea turtle and marine mammal research. They responded the next day with all kinds of opportunities that were aligned with my skills and interests. They wanted me to translate their mission statement and website to Spanish, write for their blog and manage social media communications, interview top players in ocean conservation, research whale strikes and observations in the area, and even more. The Global Studies summer award allowed me to dedicate all the necessary time to this organization while still taking an online class and without having to find employment during the pandemic.
Saving Ocean Wildlife was started by two passionate adults – Laura Kasa and Dan Pingaro. The website still hasn’t launched, but we have made incredible progress with the mission, and the amount of transformation that has occurred since I joined the effort amazes me. I had the incredible opportunity to witness the construction of a nonprofit from the ground up, helping find sponsors, donors, and partners domestically and internationally. Dan and Laura and I all hopped on zoom a few times a week to discuss plans for SOW, and they changed by the day. Laura briefed me on all the communications strategies they were using as an organization, and Dan showed me how they obtained internet space and different online licenses. I worked with a few other volunteers to organize and design the website, something I previously had no experience with.
One of my favorite parts of this internship was interviewing Mark Pingaro, the director of the Ocean Foundation (TOF), which is the fiscal sponsor of Saving Ocean Wildlife (SOW) and dozens of other nonprofits around the world. It is a group of financially able individuals that donate to community led efforts to protect the world’s oceans, and Mark is in charge of overseeing these projects. I was able to call him and ask questions about not only his background and how he came to be where he is today, but also how organizations like TOF are able to ethically engage with organizations all around the world. He assured me that even during these trying times, nonprofit jobs are filled by the people running towards the emergencies, and that I too (and each of my readers) can be one of those people.
I have some previous blog writing experience, but Laura and Dan gave me the editorial freedom to write not only about my interviews, but also about breaking news such as a beluga whale from the Arctic spotting in the Channel Islands and baby Grey Whales washing up in LA and Orange County as part of an unusual mortality event. I was instructed to research and create articles that I felt would engage the local public and all over the world in order to reach the organization’s international partnerships. I gained a lot of experience writing, receiving feedback, and editing write ups in English and in Spanish. This semester, I am taking a creative nonfiction writing workshop at UNC to further develop these abilities.
While SOW is currently still gaining traction in L.A. and Orange County, the ocean conservation movement is global. TOF has added them to a network of place-based, community organized nonprofits all over the planet. In Mexico, an organization called La Tortuga Viva uses community partnerships to protect the local sea turtle population from poachers. In a radical reorientation of the community structure, the poachers themselves are actually employed as “park rangers” to patrol the beach and protect turtle nests. I was able to meet the founders of this organization and start a conversation about future opportunities to contribute to their research and live and work in Mexico. As I search for places to study abroad in my global studies area, Latin America, these new contacts would allow me to continue to work in the marine environment.
The effort to protect our world’s oceans is made up of hundreds of nonprofit organizations that all take different approaches in saving our shores. However, this creates a global patchwork of ocean warriors. I am so excited to have been able to complete an internship that wove me into that web of passion, science, and community born power. I gained skills I never anticipated, from web design, to Spanish translation, to interviewing and feature writing. With this experience, I hope to further expand the effort to protect our marine environments to communities around the world that have connections to their oceans and the power to protect them. I look forward to discovering what I have to offer to this community, but more importantly what I can learn from them.