IAN participates in Coastal Resilience Meeting at University of Tabasco in Villahermosa, Mexico

Heath Kelsey ·
2 May 2016
Environmental Report Cards | Science Communication | Applying Science |     2 comments

After the first EcoHealth metrics workshop for the Texas Coast pilot project, Bill Dennison and I shared a shuttle to the airport with Porfirio Alvarez, from the University of Tabasco. We talked about the process of creating report cards and how excited we were to begin working in the Gulf of Mexico again after such a long time since we began the process in 2013. Porfirio agreed that the time was right and voiced optimism that we could jump start the process in the Mexico portion of the Gulf Coast. He mentioned that there was a meeting at the University of Tabasco and that maybe we should come to recruit support for a report card that would integrate what we were doing in Texas with what was necessary on the Mexico Gulf Coast.

Main Entrance at its Central Campus on University Avenue, Villahermosa
Main Entrance at its Central Campus on University Avenue, Villahermosa

Main Entrance at its Central Campus on University Avenue, Villahermosa. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I attended the meeting in Villahermosa on April 20-21, and introduced the concept of a report card for Mexico's Gulf Coast. The meeting and the people were fantastic. I was really impressed with the passion that everyone had for conserving, restoring and protecting coastal areas in the Mexican Gulf Coastal Zone. There were presentations about flooding and erosion, sea level rise and storms, remote sensing, fisheries, economies, and currents, as well as education, and community vulnerability and resilience. The area is fascinating, and is experiencing intense pressures from coastal development and habitat destruction, exacerbated by climate change impacts. There is a fantastic sense of collaboration among the researchers I met, from all kinds of institutions.

Workshop participants and organizers
Texas Coast pilot project workshop participants and organizers

A key purpose of the meeting was to link efforts in the US with similar things that were happening in Mexico. It was the first joint meeting of CIIMAR, the Gulf of Mexico University Research Collaborative, represented by Chris D'Elia, and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, represented by Laura Bowie.

I was bowled over by how wonderful the people were that I met. It is kind of like being welcomed into a family of friends who wanted nothing better than to show me around and educate me on all things Mexico, all things Tabasco, and all things Gulf of Mexico. I feel like I made some good friends and I already want to go back.

Participants at the meeting at Villahermosa
Participants at the meeting at Villahermosa

At the meeting, I was given ample time to make the case for a report card project. I introduced the 5-step report card process, and participated in a panel discussion about the idea. There were great questions, and, afterwards, encouraging expressions of support for a report card for the Gulf Coast of Mexico.

Participants detailing the locations of features and threats in the Gulf region
Participants detailing the locations of features and threats in the Gulf region

I also had a bit of time to demonstrate a bit of how the report card process works. On Day 1, we did a mapping exercise, where everyone illustrated where the most important economic, cultural, and natural areas were, the pressures that were being placed on those areas, and the key things that people needed to know about what was happening in the region. As always, this exercise generated a lot of discussion and really seemed to get people thinking. Six groups generated maps of these features and threats that we subsequently integrated into one map with the key items illustrated. We unveiled the sketch of the integrated map early on Day 2, and the polished version at the end of the day (to much applause). We acknowledged that the map was incomplete, as a product of the perspectives of the participants present and that more views were needed.

Preliminary map created from group sketches
Preliminary map created from group sketches

The IAN team once again came through in flying colors in support of this effort. On short notice in preparation for the meeting, Ben Wahle created a base map for participants to scribble on and Jane Hawkey worked under a tight timeline on Day 2 to create the integrated map. Jane Thomas and Caroline Donovan provided backup and support for Ben in creating the map.

Each day went very long, which normally is draining, but not with this group - everyone maintained interest until the bitter end. We ended after 6:00pm on Day 1, and 7:30pm on Day 2. That everyone stuck it out until the end is evidence of the passion everyone had for the discussion the sense of urgency in what we're trying to do, and the great sense of collaboration among all the institutions. Even though the days were long, I had just a little bit of time to get shown around. Villahermosa is a medium-sized city, with a population of about 650,000. The Spanish were in the area in the early 1500’s, but they found it to be hot, humid and full of mosquitos, and so they didn't settle there initially. The city was founded in 1564, by Diego de Quijada. Now it seems a bustling, vibrant city with a great arts culture.

Carlos Pellicer Cámara
Carlos Pellicer Cámara

On Wednesday, we had an excellent dinner at El Eden, which was excellent in atmosphere, service, and quality. The trip overall was a great experience. Ultimately, I feel that the meeting was a great success for CIIMAR, in that so many different perspectives of coastal resilience were shared in one venue. I also am very optimistic that the next big component of the Gulf of Mexico Report Card is underway. I'm ready to improve my Spanish, get going on the project, and visit Mexico again.

Cook at El Eden making tortillas
Cook at El Eden making tortillas

About the author

Heath Kelsey

Heath Kelsey has been with IAN since 2009, as a Science Integrator, Program Manager, and as Director since 2019. His work focuses on helping communities become more engaged in socio-environmental decision making. He has over 10-years of experience in stakeholder engagement, environmental and public health assessment, indicator development, and science communication. He has led numerous ecosystem health and socio-environmental health report card projects globally, in Australia, India, the South Pacific, Africa, and throughout the US. Dr. Kelsey received his MSPH (2000) and PhD (2006) from The University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health. He is a graduate of St Mary’s College of Maryland (1988). He was also a Peace Corps Volunteer in Papua New Guinea from 1995-1998.

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  • Heath Kelsey 7 years ago

    Thanks Porfirio. You have such a great group of people, and we are really looking forward to continuing to work with you on this again very soon! I'm very excited about this project.

  • Porfirio Alvarez 7 years ago

    Heath you did a great work with our CiiMAR Gulf of Mexico community of practice, we are eager to meet you and the IAN team again to continue the development of the Southern Gulf Report Card.

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