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How I Sea: Jenna Valente

Source: The TerraMar Project - October 23, 2017 in Featured, TMP

How I Sea: Jenna Valente
Photo: Jenna Valente

Meet Jenna Valente, the coordinator at Healthy Oceans Coalition: a network of ocean users, conservationists, and concerned citizens supporting full implementation of the United States National Ocean Policy.

Tell us a bit of your background, and what connects you to the ocean.

My roots spread far and wide, from Hawaii to Washington State, Maryland, Virginia, and Massachusetts, but they are the deepest in Maine. I grew up in a military family, which led to a travel-filled childhood. It was an experience that took me to some of the most beautiful places in world – most of them coastal.

I earned my undergraduate degree in Communication from the University of Maine with a concentration in Sociology and my Master of Natural Resources degree from Virginia Tech.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been captivated by the social sciences and understanding human behavior.

I believe that taking the time to know your audience and communicating in a clear, concise way are among the most powerful tools  effecting change.

My connection to the ocean stems from a few places.

First, its beauty is awe-inspiring.

Second, the ocean is largely unexplored. It’s the world’s largest classroom and it excites me to think about potential discoveries and advances in science that could result from prioritizing ocean exploration. It’s mind-boggling to think that we know more about the universe than we do our own ocean. I don’t mean to detract from space exploration because it’s also important, but we’re talking about a fundamental lack of understanding of our own home planet.

Third, the ocean sustains life as we know it.

It covers the majority of Earth, feeds billions of people, and produces more than half the oxygen we breath; yet many of us continue to mistreat it as if our irresponsible actions are not bound to come back and harm us one day – think about carcinogenic microplastics climbing their way up the food chain and the devastating floods that caused widespread damage during hurricane season.

Everything is connected and we must take care of the planet in order for it to take care of us.  

How I Sea

Photo: Jenna Valente

What motivated you to pursue work in the field of marine policy? And what are some of your goals for the near future with HOC?

If you told me five years ago that I would be deeply immersed in the marine policy world, I’m not sure I would have believed you.

I got my foot in the conservation door through fieldwork-intensive positions at Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge and working on an eco-friendly farm during summers in college.

My primary responsibility at the farm was to connect the community to the land by interpreting the value of locally sourcing produce. At the refuge, I monitored and protected breeding populations of endangered and threatened shorebirds like the piping plover and American oystercatcher and ran educational programs for visitors. 

It wasn’t until I accepted a position with the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Communications Office that I had my first taste of the policy world.

Our team was tasked with weaving a narrative thread through the Bay Program’s restoration, conservation, and policy initiatives. We did this by highlighting programs, people, wildlife, and habitats around the watershed. This effectively put faces and stories behind policies that, at times, can seem dry, complex, and dense.

Through feature stories, blogs, social media campaigns, and videos we were able to show how everything happening in the policy world affects the community.

It was through this role that I developed a passion for marine policy, specifically serving as a conduit between the policy world and those that the policies impact. 

My position with the American Littoral Society as the Healthy Oceans Coalition Coordinator allows me to do just that. The Healthy Oceans Coalition is a national network of ocean users, conservationists, and concerned citizens that are committed to supporting ocean and coastal policies that protect and conserve our nation’s ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes.

Our immediate goals revolve around safeguarding and defending our coasts and waters and supporting conservation by advocating for smart, sustainable federal policies and speaking out against ones that will cause harm.

How have you seen the marine environment that you study change in your lifetime? Both in general and in the context of your work? 

In general, I’ve noticed nuisance flooding becoming much more prevalent. As sea levels rise and the climate changes, we’re seeing more frequent road closures, damaged homes and businesses, overwhelmed stormwater systems, and compromised infrastructure. Although nuisance flooding tends to be a general annoyance in communities that experience it, those floods serve as a clear indicator of areas that are vulnerable to significant damage during major storms.

How I Sea

Photo: NC Department of Transportation-Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Because much of our infrastructure was built when sea levels were much lower, a great deal of it now needs to be updated on pace with the rising seas or else flood damage will become commonplace in an increasing number of communities. 

In the context of my work, we have seen a drastic shift in the political environment that we operate in.

The Trump Administration has made its priorities clear and, unfortunately, those priorities include placing climate skeptics and deniers at the helm of federal agencies that the American people’s tax dollars pay for to monitor the effects of, prepare for, and protect us from the impacts of climate change.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though.

In the face of adversity at the federal level, we are seeing people, communities, states, and regions becoming more engaged in local efforts.

To date, more than 1,400 cities, states, and businesses have vowed to pursue policies that will uphold the U.S.’s commitments to the Paris Agreement; the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic developed the first-ever ocean plans outlining how each region will sustainably manage their increasingly busy ocean space – a collaborative approach to ocean management that the West CoastCaribbean, and Pacific Islands are also engaged in and; more than 150 cities have pledged their support for a community-wide transitions to renewable energy.

In regard to timescale, I think there is a palpable sense of urgency to act on climate issues within my generation. I also think that many millennials feel a sizable weight on our shoulders to “fix” or “solve” some of the more complex challenges that we face and, as easy as finger-pointing is, it’s important to remember that we are all in this together.

Widespread collaboration – across sectors, generations, countries, belief systems, etc. – will be necessary for us to reduce the impacts of climate change.

What do you think is the biggest threat to the marine environment? And why?

This is a tough question because, at the risk of sounding macabre, I think we are facing a death by a thousand cuts situation.

From microplastics to widespread coral bleaching, sea level rise, ocean acidification, warming waters, species migration, seismic testing, offshore oil and gas exploration, and attempts to shrink, sell off, and exploit protected waters and lands – are major threats that are crucial to address.

They are what keep me up at night. 

How does HOC work towards solutions to these issues?

HOC management and our members care deeply about our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes and work tirelessly ensure their protection.

We connect grassroots advocates to the federal policy landscape to help make sure policies are truly reflective of those that they affect. 

Our hope is to spread the message that a healthy ocean equals a healthy planet and that the collaborative and important work of our members reach local, regional, and national decision-makers.

To our knowledge, no other group exists to provide regional and local ocean and coastal conservation organizations with the tools they need to connect to the implementation of federal ocean and coastal policies and coastal and marine spatial planning efforts.

How I Sea

Photo: Jenna Valente

Our coalition serves as an amplifier on issues that our membership cares about. We have members in every corner of the country: both coasts, inland states, Alaska, and the Pacific Islands.

So if we need eyes on a specific issue or voices to speak up for policies coming under attack, we are able to make sure messaging reaches the right audience(s).

We host advocacy trainings where our members can learn about relevant policies, how those policies might affect their work, and practice techniques to effectively communicate their message(s) to decision-makers.

And we provide a space for our community to share information, make connections, and collaborate through regular meetings, phone calls, fly-ins, and more. We are a connector helping the community make progress toward a healthy, sustainably managed ocean. 

What’s one everyday thing that you think people could do better to conserve the marine environment?

Every one of us can be more mindful of our consumption of single-use plastics.

Buying a reusable water bottle, saying no to straws (here are a few alternatives), and bringing your own bags to the grocery store are simple steps that anyone can take to reduce their impact on the ocean.

If you would like to be more engaged, attending a beach cleanup is a great way to spruce up your community and spend a day outside.

Joining the Healthy Oceans Coalition is also an option! If you would like to learn more our efforts and engage in federal, state, and local ocean policy initiatives, please visit our website or contact me at [email protected].

How I Sea is a new effort by The TerraMar Project to dive into the minds of our global ocean community. We highlight opinions on conservation issues such as: marine pollution, overfishing, drilling, climate change, marine protected areas, scientific discoveries, and much more. Stay tuned for more.

Sign up today to become a citizen of our global ocean community and sign up for your very own passport to the world’s ocean by visiting us at: www.theterramarproject.org 

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