Sanya is the Florida of China. Don’t listen to the guidebooks – while some tour agencies would rather draw parallels to Hawa’ii, Sanya doesn’t feel like an island. It feels, rather, like Bangkok extended itself all the way down the Gulf of Thailand until it was truly tropical. Coconuts are deftly chopped open on street corners, hotel high-rises stretch for miles, and the dense low light you only get near the equator shuttles through the ponsianna trees and grated balconies. I could have never imagined this sort of China, nor that I was even headed to China over this 12 month jaunt. But I’m here for a month and a half, leaving beloved Japan behind, to assist The Nature Conservancy with the installation of their first coral nurseries in the Pacific and guiding the Global Board around the site during their visit. Here’s to embracing the unexpected.
The Nature Conservancy is one of the largest environmental NGOs on the planet, and has developed a particular style of engagement. Their branded management style is “Conservation by Design,” which seeks to “to reflect the interdependence of social and natural systems, and to support our vision of creating virtuous cycles between people and nature within those integrated systems.” This philosophy lends itself well to “sustainable yield” conservation models and, as such, work in “developing” countries – i.e. it’s more about modified use than cutting off human use altogether. TNC has no scruples about private enterprise, and began by purchasing large swaths of undeveloped land and converting them into preserves. Current TNC president Mark Tercek was a managing director at Goldman Sachs for over 20 years, and has imported of those values to TNC. TNC likes to form partners, not least because it enables them to slowly extract themselves from projects sites and move on to other ventures. TNC is ever expanding and finding new opportunities for collaboration, developing new sites and trying to stay on the cutting edge of conservation efforts. TNC never stops deploying and affirming its organizational power. This is part of how I ended up at China’s new marine branch, working on its first marine restoration project.
The Sanya Coral Nursery project comes in a long line of coral restoration projects installed by TNC, using similar restoration techniques as well as partnership structure to their work in the Caribbean. TNC favors coral nursery trees, suspended PVC pipe systems from which coral fragments dangle and grow before being outplanted back on the reef. They’re relatively cheap and space-efficient, though susceptible to storm damage and strong currents – both of which are present in this project site, Sunny Bay, in the winter. TNC is collaborating with Sunny Bay, a high-end hotel development, which has made a point of sponsoring the restoration efforts in the local bay. Much like some of TNC’s previous attempts in the Caribbean, the funds provided by the development enable the installation and maintenance of the nurseries in an area with a declining coral population. In the case of Sunny Bay, they are particularly plagued by Crown of Thorn sea stars and rogue fishing nets.
TNC China’s involvement in local restoration is a delicate affair. After the promises made at COP21, China has set aggressive goals to curb its emissions and alter its environmental management. The TNC China division is one of the fastest growing sectors of the TNC Global Program, where they’re addressing both regional eco-system resilience and carbon emission management. This is a sensitive politic as China’s government is highly skeptical of international involvement – even from NGOs – and working with/through local agencies and institutions is indeed the only way to get anything done through proper channels. This takes a lot of coordination, collaboration, and negotiation. Nothing new, but it is an entirely different matter to see the efforts of the local TNC China – Marine staff first hand. My being here is one of those utterly not-random random opportunities that emerges out of a Watson, and being in place.
On my first day of visiting Koh Tao, almost nine months ago, I met the lovely, hyper-competent Jun Cheung and she invited me to volunteer with her new employer, The Nature Conservancy. Jun had been an NHRCP volunteer briefly and stopped by to say hello, and I’d just arrived, and in the frantic morning shuffle at the dive shop we ended up sharing a table. Swapping stories, it came out that I’d briefly worked with The Nature Conservancy doing nursery installs the previous summer in the Caribbean, and she invited me to China for the spring. One of the many remarkable things about Jun is her capacity to involve people and keep them involved, and working with her now reinforces the value of communication and delegation. It also makes me think about working in the field as a project manager, and how hard and rewarding that could be.
While my sister reminds me that there is no fate, there is no karma, I still search for some larger reason than networking that got me to Sanya. I feel like I’m in the right place, and while I’ve got a lot of work on my plate (TNC volunteer work aside, manuscript edits and a quarterly report and applications abound) I feel well-equipped to get it done.
Keep you posted,
p.s. Check out the new Atlas page I built last week! Still a work in progress, but really fun.
p.p.s. Bonus feature: Here’s the local “stir-fried fruit”, essentially fro-yo. Fresh yogurt is poured onto a freezing metal tray and sauteed with fruit!