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Maximizing the effectiveness of The Nature Conservancy’s conservation effort in the Caribbean

My experience working for the Caribbean chapter of The Nature Conservancy was a little unexpected and it was a ton of hard work, but it was one of the most rewarding two months I have ever had. The Caribbean chapter builds a strategic plan each fiscal year to plan where they will work in the future. This year, they were looking to create a new procedure to make sure TNC is having the greatest impact in the region. To do this, TNC hired a decision analysis consulting firm called SmartOrg that helps combine the data we have about a region and the uncertainty surrounding that information to help make more informed decisions in the future. I worked as the Strategic Planning intern; I worked closely with SmartOrg and the science team at TNC to help them make sure their conservation dollars are being spent in the most effective way possible.

The first stop in my travels was the US Virgin Islands, where I spent the first few days getting my scuba certification in order to explore and learn more about the coral restoration work TNC is doing in USVI. From there, I went to Miami to work in the central office of the Caribbean Region. The first half of my trip was spent working with the science team to gather spatial statistics about the region’s ecosystems, environments, threats, etc. This information is the basis for any planning decisions which are made. During my second week in Miami, all of the program directors from across the region, as well as the SmartOrg consultants came for a retreat to start this decision making process. One of the main goals of working with SmartOrg was to create living models which can be updated as the scientific data changes or as new insight is gained about a project. The retreat was a way for all of the program directors to build the foundations of models that would be the most representative of the projects they are currently working on as well as potential future new projects. Once I returned from Miami, I worked with SmartOrg in Menlo Park to help them finish building the models and managing data inputs. The whole experience was one I have a hard time describing in words. I learned so much more about the conservation community and what it takes to drive real action and have a meaningful impact. My bosses and coworkers were not only great scientists and managers, but great people as well, and it was all too easy to find inspiration from them for who I might want to be in the future.

Cori Grainger scuba dives in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. The Nature Conservancy has the largest staghorn coral nurseries in the region established here; the coral propagules grown in these nurseries are used for reef restoration throughout the US and British Virgin Islands.