Informed Creativity

As our world becomes more connected and interdependent, the demands on global resources (not the least of which is time) incur greater opportunity costs. Throughout history, societies have reached the tipping point between abundant survival and abject subsistence. It seems, at least to me, that we are facing another such tipping point. We can choose to approach our next steps in careless ways, destroying the precious resources that remain, or we can choose to employ greater amounts of creativity to liberate greater value from those resources.

History demonstrates that human creativity has repeatedly been the saving grace from collapse. As such, if we are serious about an increasing and sustainable standard of living, then informed creativity on a massive, distributed, and real-time scale is required. Everything from waste processing, energy production, and materials management to population issues, social interaction, and sustainable growth requires increasingly informed creativity and decision-making in order to create solutions. We live in a time where vast swaths of the population can readily access abundant amounts of accurate information. With a world full of people and machines for processing, it is an insult that we are still grappling with environmental degradation, mismanagement, and social woes. Such, however, is the nature of a work in progress. We all have the good fortune of being able to help shape the journey. Here are some links to help get the creative juices flowing. Enjoy:

Perspectives from the 2nd Annual Reef Resilience Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

I have just returned from an intense two-day conference about coral resilience that brought together a diverse set of scientists, students, reef users, NGO representatives, private businesses, and socioeconomic experts from around the world. The meeting was a follow-up to the first Reef Resilience Conference held in 2008. Being relatively new to the world of coral conservation and restoration, I found the conference extremely educational, an ideal opportunity to learn the most up-to-date scientific thinking about coral health and network and have in-depth conversations with key people who will be involved with my project over the next two years. As I have shared in past blogs, my project is exploring ways to create sustainable, long-term financing for coral reef conservation working with the Alex C. Walker Foundation, Georgia Aquarium, Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) and the Property & Environment Research Center.

“Resilience” describes coral colonies or populations that withstand disturbance without undergoing significant mortality and/or that recover quickly from a disturbance. In recent years, the idea has been advanced by scientists and NGOs. Globally, corals are in decline, but especially so in the Caribbean region where some species (e.g. elkhorn and staghorn) have declined by 80-90% since the 1980s. Unfortunately, based on empirical evidence shared by conference attendees, coral cover in the Caribbean region now only ranges from 5-20% (depending on the area). The massive decline is in response to anthropogenic and environmental disturbances. Some cities/counties in Florida still discharge sewage effluent out to sea, up to 300 million gallons/day. White pox disease, which affects elkhorn corals, has been proven to be a direct result of human sewage, but the pathogens that cause it can be mitigated through advanced wastewater treatment (e.g. tertiary level) before release (

Despite some scary projections shared at the conference (e.g. that ocean acidification could eventually cause coral reefs to dissolve if global CO2 levels are not reduced and local stressors are not decreased), I am incredibly energized to go out and do everything I can to save coral reefs. Every individual I spoke with and who presented has this incredible feeling of hope, even those who dove the Florida Keys and other areas before massive global coral die off. One comment from Billy Causey, the Southeast Regional Director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), really struck home for me. When asked about the changes to corals in the Florida Keys, Billy shared, “It breaks my heart when I dive on Looe Key; it affects me. Each dive I look for something that gives me hope for the future.” Billy’s uplifting statements really helped to shape the tone of the conference.

Several presenters shared some websites for further information. They are: (details about Florida’s Reef Resilience Program) (climate adaption knowledge exchange) (The Nature Conservancy’s Reef Resilience Program) and (CRF’s Coral Restoration and Adoptions Program)

Everyone I spoke with at the conference was incredibly enthusiastic about my idea of bringing non-traditional financing concepts to the marine environment and wished me the best of luck in the endeavor. Special thanks to the following people for taking time to talk with me about coral resilience and market-based potential solutions: Billy Causey (NOAA), Ken Nedimyer and Kevin Gaines (CRF), Kent Edwards (Florida Department of Environmental Protection), Chris Bergh, James Byrne, Meaghan Johnson (The Nature Conservancy), Dr. Peter Mumby (University of Queensland), Grace Johns (Hazen and Sawyer), Dr. David Wachenfeld (Great Barrier Marine Park Authority), Tom Twyford (West Palm Beach Fishing Club), Mike Beach (Captain R.J. Diving Ventures, Inc.), Ramon de Leon (Bonaire National Marine Park), Maria Estevanez, Andrew Baker, Flavia Tonioli and Tara Dolan (University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science – RSMAS), Rick MacPherson (Coral Reef Alliance), Nelso Sanchez (Unlimited Divers), Aric Bickel (I.M. Systems Group, Inc.), Nikole Ordway (Force-E), David Vaughn (Mote Marine Laboratory), Diana Aranda (National Park Service), Wendy Wood-Derrer and Amanda Costaregni (NOVA Southeastern University).

For more perspectives and quotes from the conference, checkout my Twitter feed @BrettWHowell and that of Rick MacPherson, Program Director for Coral Reef Alliance (@rmacpherson). We both did a lot of live tweeting that helps to capture the flow and discussion of the conference.

A journal of my first two weeks at Georgia Aquarium


Thanks to all of our followers who continue to read our Gaia Endeavors posts! Co-founders Arya Mazdyasni and I are working on a more consistent posting schedule now that I’m living my dream job and able to concentrate on writing at reasonable hours of the day. I have tried to sit down several times over the past two weeks to document my early experiences at Georgia Aquarium, but there are so many amazing opportunities on a daily basis that it has taken me until now to finally provide an update. Here are some of the highlights of my first two weeks as the Walker Conservation Fellow at Georgia Aquarium:

Day 1 & 2

o Orientation, behind-the-scenes tour, viewing of Deepo’s Undersea 3D Wondershow
(which has a great message about avoiding pollution of the marine environment) and
taking in the fact that I am mere steps from the world’s single largest exhibit, Ocean
Voyager, with four whale sharks and 6.3 million gallons of water!

Day 3

o Meeting with Public Relations and Social Media to discuss coordinating efforts to
communicate information about coral conservation efforts. Great conversation with
Georgia Aquarium’s Dive Safety Officer about the necessary steps to be able to SCUBA
dive for my project.

Day 4

o I started my morning watching a preview of Ocean Mysteries: “Reef Madness” about
Coral Restoration Foundation’s (CRF) work to preserve coral reefs in the Upper Florida
Keys! Had a great “getting to know you” session with Senior Scientist Dr. Al Dove.

Day 5

o I caught up on three months of articles shared with me by fellow Property & Environment Research Center (PERC) Enviropreneur Fellows and began helping PERC plan a reef restoration workshop to take place with key stakeholders in the Florida Keys in 2012.

Day 6

o I learned all about the Aquarium’s history and gained additional knowledge about behind-the-scenes aspects through additional orientation. Planned critical meetings for the rest of the week.

Day 7

o My first day of really diving into the project! I started the morning meeting with Dr. Dove, held a kick-off conference call between Georgia Aquarium and CRF, had an hour long conversation with PERC about conference planning, and enjoyed a two plus hour long dinner with the Alex C. Walker Foundation.

Day 8

o I spent the day meeting with Kurt Schnier of Georgia State University and PERC to
discuss approaches to economic modeling for my project. I learned a lot about the
operations of the Aquarium’s main coral exhibit in Tropical Diver thanks to Kimberly Hall, Associate Curator Fish & Inverts, who helped develop it, literally from the ground up. Setup a busy schedule to get authorized to SCUBA dive with the Aquarium! I met Jeff
Corwin, host of Ocean Mysteries, and talked briefly about coral conservation!

Day 9

o A great day of catching up on critical to do items – worked on the project budget,
planned attendance for the 2nd Reef Resilience Conference taking place in Fort
Lauderdale October 18-19, wrote a draft article about the project goals and attended the
Aquarium’s “Aqua Vino” fundraiser event! It was a fun evening of great food/drinks and

Day 10

o The end of an amazing first two weeks at the Aquarium! Getting everything set for
a busy next week. I’m traveling to Fort Lauderdale for three days and then in scuba
training for the rest of the week!

I’m planning to do some live tweeting from Fort Lauderdale while attending the 2nd Reef Resilience Conference. Check it out on Twitter @BrettWHowell and join Gaia Endeavor’s mailing list by clicking on the navigation bar above!

Dream “living”

Today I started as the Walker Conservation Fellow with Georgia Aquarium. As Bobby McCormick of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) said to me recently, it isn’t a job if you love what you do, that’s living. So I guess today I finished my last “job,” and I started “living.”

Growing up in coastal San Diego, I have been fascinated with the marine environment since my earliest days. While I have pursued that passion through education and SCUBA diving, it took until today before I connected my passion with my work. With financial support from the Alex C. Walker Foundation and Georgia Aquarium and concept development and training assistance from PERC, I am going to apply Ecological Economics and Marine Payments for Ecosystem Services (MPES) concepts to reef restoration efforts in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary with the goal of creating a network of actively managed restored reefs whose operations are financially self-sustaining. I will explore feasibility, demonstrate proof of concept to stakeholders, and begin the process of implementing an MPES scheme at a model reef in Florida. My goal is to create a replicable model that, after successful implementation at the initial MPES site, could be used to implement MPES schemes worldwide, restoring reefs to their former conditions and maintaining them as havens of biodiversity.

I’ll be sharing my adventures, trials, and tribulations through this blog, via Twitter @BrettWHowell and LinkedIn (Brett Howell) and Facebook (Brett Howell). If you would like to share the adventure with me, look me up on one of the social media platforms or sign up for new blog posting notifications using the “Join the Mailing List” tab on