Jeremy Bell’s glasses reflect green, blue and shades of brown light as he intently studies an online map. As The Nature Conservancy in Maine’s climate adaptation program director, Bell has used plenty of maps and mapping tools to help him and his colleagues and partners understand past, current and, in some cases, future conditions on the ground in Maine and the surrounding region. But this map shows a place nowhere near Maine. In fact, it’s on the other side of the world—Hong Kong.
“Many people are unaware that Hong Kong, though one of the most densely populated places in the world, is 40% protected conservation land,” says Bell. “There’s lots of potential for conservation there.”
So, what does a program director in Maine have to do with TNC projects thousands of miles away? Bell is taking part in TNC’s Coda Fellowship program. Mike Coda was a beloved TNC leader for many years and an early and strong supporter of short-term assignments that provide opportunities for staff to learn and gain leadership skills and professional experience while contributing locally and globally to TNC’s work. He sponsored the first program that deployed staff to spend time working in new geographies, disciplines and projects on short-term assignments.
After his passing, the program was named after him and ever since has provided flexible staffing capacity and expertise to meet TNC’s global needs through temporary assignments that also provide staff with professional development opportunities and the chance to contribute and learn beyond their program borders.
On a nine-month assignment, Bell is helping establish a climate change program and to develop a pilot mangrove restoration project that may provide a nature-based solution to some of the effects brought on by the climate crisis. Nature-based solutions can be defined as the sustainable management and use of nature for tackling challenges such as climate change, water and food security, biodiversity protection, human health and disaster risk management. In this case, carbon storage and lessening the impacts of sea-level rise are the goals.
“Mangroves store up to four to five times more carbon per acre than upland trees,” notes Bell, “and can blunt the force of coastal storms and prevent erosion as well as provide excellent fish and wildlife habitat.”
Bell views the program and this project as an opportunity to use his experience to add capacity and expertise on a global scale.
“Jeremy’s Coda fellowship with our Hong Kong conservation program is a true example of TNC’s collaboration across geographies and cultures,” says Lulu Zhou, director strategic partnership, Asia Pacific. “He has brought knowledge and experience in wetland conservation as well as stakeholder outreach, which is particularly valuable when we are bringing new staff on board and developing nature-based solutions in Hong Kong."
“One reason I wanted to work at TNC was to be able to contribute globally,” says Bell, adding, “I was doing nature-based solutions before anyone called them nature-based solutions. This is a perfect fit!”
Opportunities to Learn
Shelley Raymond is another Coda fellow working from Maine. Her role as the chapter’s finance manager is augmented through the fall with facilitation and project management work for TNC’s Global Water Security and Corporate Engagement teams. TNC has a long history working with a variety of partners, including those in the private sector, to achieve its conservation goals. This work will allow TNC to achieve its goals of engaging corporations to minimize impacts on nature where they operate and incorporate nature-based solutions into their operational, value chain and agricultural water management and sustainability practices and investments.
That’s why TNC is a member of the Science Based Targets Network, a coalition working to address how businesses and cities impact and depend on water and to help them specify how to create sustainable water systems. As the network says, “Incorporating water into their science-based targets for nature will enable them to future-proof growth without depleting or polluting water resources and help drive the transition to a water-secure world.”
During her fellowship, Raymond is assisting in documenting the Science Based Targets Network’s methodology, supporting research to identify resources for water-quality-benefit accounting methods and managing the development of watershed stewardship plans while helping our corporate partners achieve their water security goals.
Raymond really appreciates learning new skills and meeting people she never engages with in her finance role. Twenty-five percent of her time is devoted to the Coda fellowship, a role in which Raymond works with partners from many different countries.
“While it is often a challenge to drive important discussions across different organizations and time zones, it really appeals to me to experience the space where non-profit and for-profit meet to increase sustainability,” reflects Raymond. “And, I have the opportunity to use my skills in a different way.”
Giving and Receiving
Mark Berry, TNC’s forest program director, is motivated by the opportunity to both impart insights formed by his experience and gain new knowledge from colleagues and Indigenous partners half a world away. Berry recently worked on an important land-back project with the Passamaquoddy Tribe in the unceded territory we now call Maine and found a Coda fellowship opportunity to further Indigenous partnerships in Aotearoa, the Māori name for part of New Zealand which is now used to represent the whole country.
Māori people live under an intricate cultural system founded on the belief that all people are guardians of nature, not mere consumers of its bounty. Based on this philosophy and acknowledging that conservation can happen faster alone but further and more sustainably together, 15 partners came together to form the Kotahitanga mō te Taiao Alliance, meaning “Collective Action for Our Nature.” The alliance aims to get the best possible conservation outcomes for people and nature on New Zealand’s South Island.
As this effort ramps up, Berry is working with another fellow, Colette DeGarady, the TNC longleaf pine whole systems director, based in South Carolina, to compile examples of projects that exemplify nature-based solutions.
“We acknowledge we don’t have local, on-the-ground knowledge of the social and ecological context in Aotearoa,” recognizes Berry, “so, we’re not offering recommendations but, instead, a set of examples from our experiences that might inspire new local ideas.”
Asked what he’s learned, Berry is quick to answer.
“In many ways, Aotearoa—New Zealand—has a broader and deeper understanding of the importance of collaboration with Indigenous Peoples than we see in Maine yet,” he says. “I hope to continue learning how we can be better partners with Wabanaki communities.”
As each of these examples shows, the Coda Fellowship program allows a remarkable opportunity for TNC Maine staff to learn and grow, and the resulting expertise and skillful resources we bring to bear in Maine have an impact around the world.