2022 RAE Summit – Reflections from Amado Castillo

I would not recommend going headfirst into an oyster shell recycling tour after an eight-hour red-eye flight, but I would highly recommend attending the next RAE summit. I had the privilege of attending Restore America’s Estuaries Coastal & Estuarine Summit earlier this month as a scholarship recipient for young professionals and students from traditionally underrepresented communities in the environmental field.

As a future environmental lawyer, I was excited by the opportunity of meeting other early-career professionals from across the country who share a mutual passion for combatting climate change and supporting resilient communities.

I began my New Orleans journey at the Margaret A. Davidson Coastal Career Development Workshop hosted by the Coastal Society at the Docville Farm. Though I had to dash to get there from the airport that morning, it was well worth my time. The workshop provided a lot of regional contexts that helped me better understand the type of environmental hazards coastal Louisiana faces and greatly enriched my summit experience. We were treated to a tour of the Docville greenhouse and the Coalition to Restore Central Louisiana’s oyster recycling headquarters while accompanied by a representative from the Nature Conservancy. It was fascinating to see CRCL’s operation and learn about its response to coastline loss. The Sunday evening session was delightful, as I got the chance to meet several other scholarship recipients and conference attendees who accompanied me to several of the sessions and social outings.

Monday brought the first sessions and the incredible welcome ceremony with Goldman Environmental Prize recipient Sharon Lavigne. Sharon Lavigne and RISE St. James’ successes against mass polluting industries in their community demonstrate the power of collective action and our ability to stand up against corporate greed for the good of the environment. I was grateful for the opportunity to learn about disciplines that I knew nearly nothing about during Monday’s afternoon sessions, especially the international case studies on Blue Carbon and coastal restoration projects in the Northeast. The nighttime networking socials were incredible; the poster sessions granted me the chance to learn about the research projects many of my fellow scholars had worked on and the Black in Marine Science networking social presented us all the opportunity to listen to genuine NOLA jazz in the form of the Grammy-award winning Hot 8 Brass Band.

Tuesday was similarly incredible, as I got to hear from environmental educators and community activists and learn about their strategies to engage students in citizen science projects. Their presentations were all very engaging and I am hoping to adopt some of their best practices in ideas I have for activities I suggest for my parents’ classrooms and the Aquarium of the Pacific for which I am a volunteer. I also challenged myself to attend as many DEIJA sessions as I could during the conference. I particularly enjoyed attending the session on Meaningful Partnerships with Indigenous Communities and hearing about their lived experience when it comes to climate disaster responses.

To my surprise, the conference’s best session was the last, as the panel of Tulane environmental law students was the highlight of my summit experience. I attended the summit largely due to the Policy and Advocacy sessions, but I resonated with the students’ research presentations to a level that I had not anticipated. The first two presentations introduced solutions to local and state policy issues, and as someone who typically prefers praxis-based research projects, it was quite inspiring that they could actively work towards their project goals. I was blown away by the final three presentations, as though they were largely based on theory, the impact their research pursuits could have on the larger U.S. is massive. The conversations we had in that session reminded me of why I wanted to attend law school and changed my perspective on what level of rights we should hold our government accountable for.

I returned from the Summit reinvigorated and inspired by those I met at the conference. The conference granted me the space to learn about fields of marine biology and ecological restoration that I had never heard of and connected me with folks doing critical climate work in their corners of the country.

The RAE Summit also reminded me of the impact that pipeline programs, such as the Hispanic Access Foundation and professional organizations like Black in Marine Science, can have on the career trajectories of young professionals. Every equity-minded environmental institution and organization should partner with or implement similar programs to ensure that the teams working to solve the climate crisis are as diverse as our communities most affected. Additionally, I would like to thank Samaya, Nicole, and all the RAE staff for hosting such a transformative summit and selecting me as a scholarship recipient.