Nik: You got a taste for restoration there, but some of your studies took you to other places in the world, not just California and Michigan, right?
Bella: Well, my graduate work was supposed to be in Puerto Rico, but with the travel restrictions over the past year, it ended up being virtual. Luckily my graduate degree specialization was in geospatial data science; with remote sensing we can do a lot of things without having to go there. But let the record show I’m actively trying to find an excuse to go down and visit the NERR in Puerto Rico, though!
Nik: They’re very welcoming. Did you ever get to go to Ecuador, to look up family or do any research there?
Bella: My parents took me and my brother once when we were about 13. But as you might imagine, a lot of it was wasted on me as a thirteen-year-old. No one’s their best self when they’re thirteen.
Nik: So true. I happen to have a thirteen-year-old in the next room. [calls over shoulder] You’re not your best self!
Bella: I really wanted to go back and get more out of the experience, so I went during college as part of a study abroad program. We stayed in a lot of field houses, did little research projects, got to go to the Galapagos Islands. I can say that I definitely appreciated everything a lot more, considering I was paying for it this time!
Nik: You’ve gotten some great experiences, but you only just graduated! You’re at the very beginning of your career, and yet like any good Millennial, you’ve already blogged it all… How did you convince SF Bay NERR you were their next education coordinator?
Bella: They’ve told me now that what really stood out is how I express myself and my research background. I did a study in undergrad, interning with Stacy Philpot at the University of California Santa Cruz, and we published a paper together that came out in 2020. I also submitted my master’s thesis for publication in an open access journal. I think they liked that research background and my hands-on experience in a wetlands restoration project. They could also see that I have a genuine passion for the ecosystem and that this job really aligns with my professional and personal interests. I want to connect people to these beautiful places and the science that goes on here.
Nik: Is that going to be a particular focus of yours—translating the science that goes on at the NERR? Or translating the weird ramblings of Mike Vasey? Is it too soon to ask what you’re going to be working on?
Bella: In the Bay Area, there’s people from a lot of different cultural backgrounds, speaking different languages. I think the language of science is another language that’s learned. But science can be really scary for people who haven’t really interacted with it before. Everything’s so systematic and there’s a way of speaking that’s not really the way most people would communicate. In estuaries, a lot of people will be more inclined to care if the work that’s being done here and the threats and challenges that the estuary is facing are communicated to them in a way that they can understand, and in a way that’s not just “doom & gloom.”
Nik: Why is “doom & gloom” tried so often, and why doesn’t it work?
Bella: I think stage one of learning about environmental problems is: you hear something like ‘you should recycle.’ And you think, ok, yeah I can recycle. But then you start learning about all the systemic problems about how recycling isn’t actually the answer and it’s really easy to get discouraged.
Some of the classes I took were on climate psychology, which shows that all doom & gloom does is put people off the issue and activate cognitive mechanisms that make you want to dismiss the issue. Climate change is one of those problems that triggers every psychological inclination we have to just forget about it.
It’s difficult for people to understand it, see how they can help, and see how what they do makes a difference. But they don’t have to address climate change on a global scale in order to be impactful; you can create a really positive impact by focusing on a local ecosystem.
So connecting people to the work at the SFBNERR and how we can save the estuaries we have locally is a really great opportunity to get people to care more about climate change.