Knauss fellow applies policy to protect marine sanctuaries

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Along California’s coast, two national marine sanctuaries are home to more than 500 types of fish.  They also support hundreds of other types of wildlife, from sea stars and kelp forests to whales and bottlenose dolphins.

Sophie Godfrey-McKee supported the Monterey Bay and Channel Island National Marine Sanctuaries during her 2019 Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship in NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. As part of the policy and planning division, Godfrey-McKee contributed to biological evaluations and consultation letters that outlined the environmental impacts of research and day-to-day management for the seafloor.

“Impact to habitat from use of RVs or scuba diving activities or anchoring, or deploying research equipment that might sit on the seafloor and passively monitor the acoustic environments—things like that,” Godfrey-McKee said.

A research vessel, for example, might temporarily cause some sea lions or fish to move away from the area. Identifying and minimizing human impacts to the area ensures compliance to with regulations like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of their actions.

“That one in particular was kind of my specialty before I came to Knauss,” Godfrey-McKee said. “I saw this fellowship as an experience to get more hands-on experience with how to actually implement that statute.”

Prior to her fellowship, Godfrey-McKee earned a master’s in public policy at the George Washington University, where she studied environmental policy, data analysis, and environmental economics. She also spent a year interning for the Council on Environmental Quality, where she worked on NEPA compliance across agencies. During the Knauss fellowship, she saw how NEPA played out for individual research cruises.

As a Knauss fellow, Godfrey-McKee assisted with the end phases of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s management plan review. These plans, majorly updated every 10 years, shape the vision and priorities for the next decade of the sanctuary’s operations. In addition to deep-sea exploration and research, these sanctuaries also provide exhibits and programs to the visitors who kayak and explore the tide pools along the sanctuary’s beaches.

In Monterey Bay, the management plan addresses climate change and coastal land use in the sanctuary, and identifies research frontiers that will allow for new discoveries. Management plans also protect the fish and mammals that depend on the sanctuary’s vast kelp forests and underwater canyons.

 
Godfrey-McKee contributed to biological evaluations and consultation letters that outlined the environmental impacts of research and day-to-day management for the seafloor.

“I saw this fellowship as an experience to get more hands-on experience with how to actually implement that statute.”

Toward the end of her fellowship, Godfrey-McKee visited Santa Barbara, California, during an advisory council meeting for the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary at the onset of its management plan review. During the meeting, she heard from sanctuary representatives who manage the waters around the islands, the National Park Service branch responsible for the islands themselves, and representatives from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management responsible for the non-operational oil rigs along the coast.

From her experience in the National Marine Sanctuaries Office, where Godfrey-McKee now continues working as a program analyst, she said she has a newfound appreciation for the science and exploration related to the environmental policies she specialized in.

“I am always amazed by all the science that's happening,” she said. “Working on consultation documents for impact to endangered species, I had to do a lot of research to actually, you know, collect articles and research findings to support those. That was a lot of science learning that I didn't really expect going into the fellowship.”

TAKEAWAYS

  • Sophie Godfrey-McKee worked as a 2019 Knauss Marine Policy Fellow in NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.
  • She learned about marine policy while preparing environmental impact documents for research and management activities in marine sanctuaries.
  • She gained a new appreciation for the policies she studied during her master’s degree at the George Washington University, and how overarching environmental regulations applied to ground-level research operations.

    Video by Aileen Devlin | Virginia Sea Grant

    Written by Madeleine Jepsen | Virginia Sea Grant

    Photos provided by Sophie Godfrey-McKee and NOAA

    Published May 15, 2020.
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    “Working on consultation documents for impact to endangered species, I had to do a lot of research to actually, you know, collect articles and research findings to support those. That was a lot of science learning that I didn't really expect going into the fellowship.”