A Look Back at the 2023 ResilienSEA Externship Experience

Guest post by Mugdha Chiplunkar

A slimy, colorful creature was placed into my palm by one of the researchers at the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Beige, orange, and yellow bands traced the shell covering its body, and water dripped from the six holes that lined the shell’s edge. It wriggled, exposing parts of its soft, pinkish brown underneath. It was a white abalone, a type of underwater snail once found in millions along the coast of California and the area the Science Center was located in, San Diego, but whose population had dwindled to endangerment since. That day, I found myself surrounded by these beautiful, albeit slithery, animals, in a lab that focused on their conservation and importance in the ocean and in communities that had relied on them for centuries.

Mugdha holds an abalone at the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center

My trip to San Diego with 18 other BIPOC youth hailing from all over North America was the culmination of a summer of learning and meeting new people as part of the ResilienSEA Externship hosted by EarthEcho International. The Externship focused on regenerative ocean aquaculture and entrepreneurship, something we had been learning about for two months from experts such as researchers, business owners, and community scientists. Our convention at the tail end of the program was held at walking distance from the ocean shore at UC San Diego, from where we toured the Port of San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and more. Putting our learning into action, we engaged in a Hackathon-like event the following day to create projects to implement in our own communities. Our innovative project ideas reflected the diversity of our group: from introducing kelp-based foods in college dining halls, to making interactive public art displays and writing children’s books to increase awareness about ocean farming and restoration, our projects spanned various communities and interests.

Mugdha and her fellow ResilienSEA externs present their project idea during our hackathon session.

Through our time in San Diego, we also united with EarthEcho’s Youth Leadership Council, exchanging ideas and lessons learned through our varied experiences advancing ocean-based climate solutions through both entrepreneurship and policy, and ultimately captured our joint perspectives on these topics to help shape the National Strategy for a Sustainable Ocean Economy.  

Our summer learning was coupled with new memories, friends, experiences, and of course, dozens of pictures of the beach and happy externs holding abalone. As our time in San Diego came to an end, we looked to the bright future that waited ahead of us – a reminder of our importance in the fight to save our shared home, the Earth.

Mugdha Chiplunkar is a student at the University of Washington and a participant in the 2023 EarthEcho ResilienSEA Externship program.

A special thanks to La Mer Blue Heart Oceans Fund and The Estée Lauder Companies Travel Retail division for their support of EarthEcho's youth leadership programs.

EarthEcho's 2023 ResilienSEA Externs at Scripps Institute of Oceanography seaweed lab during their time in San Diego, CA.