What’s in a Title?
I’ve recently changed title, from “Program Officer for Marine Conservation” to “Program Officer for Ocean Resiliency.” Why? What’s in a title, anyway?
The short answer is, not too much. But enough, I think, to warrant some explanation. The change is an effort to broaden the conversation to be more inclusive around holistic efforts for our nearshore environment. It’s also a deeper dive into those who most value, use, and understand our ocean to make sure we are not only doing the right things, but doing them in the right ways, and for the right reasons.
A greater breadth…
Implicit in the title change is recognition of the interconnectedness of multiple ecosystems in such close proximity to each other in these islands, from the highest ridges, to the deepest parts of our ocean. The health of one of these systems is intertwined with the health of the others.
How we treat one system (for example, upper watershed native forests) will have impacts on the others (shoreline estuaries). This was the essence and elegance of the ahupua’a system of management.
And consistent with the Hawaiian worldview, this extends beyond our natural communities to our human ones. This title change is a pivot in our perspective that challenges us to engage with new, maybe unconventional partners to reach our goals. We have historically worked with grassroots communities, scientists, and government, and this won’t change. But there are also opportunities to engage with private businesses and other groups that are looking to improve our self-sufficiency and quality of life, even if they don’t primarily focus on our environment.
How we treat one portion of the community will impact other portions. This is the simple reality of sharing the most isolated island home on the planet.
… And a greater depth.
A long time ago, a friend (and fisher) challenged me with this: when you talk about conservation, who are you conserving for? Why are you conserving? You need to follow through on the thought. Fifteen years later, those words still ring in my mind.
This title change is, in part, an effort to follow through on the ideal of conservation as a means toward sustainability. It is a re-emphasis on why and for whom we’re trying to sustain our ocean resources. It is an attempt, at least with respect to our definition, to clarify some of the confusion around the term conservation. To some, conserving means a closing off to everyone for the sake of preservation. To others, it simply means protections toward sustainability for future generations to use. We are attempting to affirm our belief in the latter, while remaining open to all of the tools available to us to get there.
The ocean is important to all of us for all kinds of reasons. But ultimately, we all want the ocean to be alive and thrive. Only then can we continue to enjoy it the way our forefathers did, and ensure that future generations can enjoy it the same way. In order for our oceans to be more resilient, we need to understand the greater context within which our oceans exist. If we want to keep taking from the ocean, we need to be part of a broader community that is willing to give to it.
Practically, this broadening of scope will not likely change our environmental grant-making significantly, but I hope it does portend greater horizons for collaboration and partnership. It compels us to seek a broader perspective and be more inclusive in our work toward comprehensive solutions for Hawaii’s ocean resilience.