Volunteer Spotlight - Joana Tavares
By Charles Falzon
The Amigos de Bolsa Chica first encountered Joana Tavares when she was hired to develop curriculum for what would eventually become our FLOW Program. The Amigos hired Joana partly because she is a marine scientist and a marine policy expert who was teaching oceanography at Fullerton College as well as hands-on science lessons in an after school program at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana. The other reason she got the job is her endless enthusiasm and energy. She convinces everyone that together we can save the world.
Who else could make phytoplankton so exciting? She taught quite a few Amigos and visiting students that phytoplankton are responsible for half of the photosynthesis on Earth, serve as the basis of virtually all marine food webs, and help regulate Earth’s climate by transporting carbon into the deep ocean and into marine sediments. In rare but dramatic cases, phytoplankton are also a part of harmful algal blooms that wreak havoc on marine birds, mammals and occasionally humans. These simple concepts revolutionized the ways the Amigos looked at our coastal ecosystem and gave us a much-needed ability to provide additional education programming beyond wetland tours only.
When Joana’s time as an employee ended, she did not abandon us. With Endless Eye Productions she co-produced our 40th anniversary documentary film, Saving the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. Shortly after that she was accepted into the PhD program at UCI’s Earth System Science Department/Mackey Lab. Her thesis is on the role that ships may be playing as a source of nutrients and/or toxins for phytoplankton in both coastal and open ocean areas. In 2019 she was selected as one of NASA’s Future Investigators In NASA Earth and Space Science Technology (FINESST) Program.
With her Master’s degree in Marine Science and Policy from the University of Delaware, she co-authored a paper with Prof. Raul Lejano (New York University) and Prof. Friket Berkes, (University of Manitoba), in which they addressed the communication of climate science and identified a number of things that could advance the conversation of climate change into our everyday narratives. About a year ago Joana presented a distillation of this paper, “The Science of Communicating Climate Science: Strategies I’ve Tried and New Approaches to Test,” to 30+ people at Bolsa Chica State Beach Visitor Center.
She co-organized the Climate Solutions Conference that was held on February 1, 2020, at Orange Coast College. This well-attended conference came into being to fulfill a need to empower more people with the tools that are needed to push the momentum for solutions and change forward.
In April of this year when all of us were first beginning to suffer from the sudden and dramatic weirdness in our lives from the stay-at-home orders and shutdowns, Joana came to the Amigos’ rescue and helped us plan a few activities that would sustain us in terms of both volunteer engagement as well as continue our mission. First came the webinars (see page 1), then the Summer Institute for Educators (see page 4). A busy spring became a busy summer. Joana is now back on board the research vessel working on studies for her thesis, but she is still finding time to help with grant writing to ensure that FLOW can continue.
From Joana: “I have worked with marine science and education for more than 20 years, and believe that most people sincerely care about the environment. Although often confused, overwhelmed, or discouraged in the face of current environmental problems and global climate change, most people want to do some something positive in order to reverse this global crisis. I see myself as a science translator, a community organizer and a facilitator, someone who helps people interpret scientific information to understand how they can make a difference. I am a strong believer in the power of informal education, environmental volunteering and citizen science and have witnessed how well-crafted efforts in these areas can democratize knowledge as a process, empower communities and serve as catalysts for change in both individual behavior and public policy.”