||2018 COHORT
2018 COHORT 2020-04-23T12:45:13-07:00


UC Santa Cruz welcomed its first cohort for the brand new graduate program in Coastal Science and Policy in Fall 2018. This interdisciplinary master’s degree program prepares 10 exceptional students in each cohort to design and implement solutions to the complex social, ecological, and technological problems facing the world’s coastal ecosystems and communities. Meet the members of the first cohort below:

Shakera Arnold

Belize City, Belize

Shakera has worked as an adjunct lecturer at the University of Belize teaching Environmental Conservation and Development, and as an Assistant Coral Watch Coordinator at Ecomar Belize for the Coral Watch Project. Shakera is currently a Marine Reserve Manager in the ecosystem-based management unit under the Belize Fisheries Department. Her passion for conservation compels her to protect and conserve her country’s natural resources, as well as educating others about the importance of sustainable development and conservation. With a degree in CS&P, her goals are to implement effective policies and practices for conservation and sustainable development, to help diverse audiences understand and appreciate the value of conservation, and to ensure that our rich biodiversity is protected for future generations to enjoy.

Read about Shakera's Year 2 Capstone

With a background in ecosystems-based fisheries management in Belize, Shakera is committed to strengthening the sustainability of the Belizean conch fishery by enhancing the fisheries management system and integration of successful management strategies. For her capstone, she aims to develop a national standardized sampling program and protocol that will provide managers with accurate and timely conch data. Armed with accurate data, managers can make informed fisheries management decisions that ensure the sustainability of the conch fishery. Shakera is working with the Environmental Defense Fund and the Belizean government to facilitate the update of a proposed Adaptive Management Framework (AMF) program for conch in Belize that emulates FISHE (Framework for Integrated Stock and Habitat Evaluation). FISHE is a management approach developed for data-poor fisheries. Shakera will be assisting EDF and the Belizean government in modifying the FISHE sampling design and protocols for the conch fishery. She will draw from FISHE and the proposed conch AMF to identify critical biological, social, economic and fishery-specific data for the Belizean conch management. Standardizing the sampling design and protocols will support more efficient data collection, comparability across sites, and trend analysis for predictive management. Improved analysis will help fishery managers assess whether management measures are having desired results in sustaining populations of the commercially exploited conch species and if not, whether there new adaptive management strategies should be adopted accordingly.

Ross Davison

Mountain View, California

Ross has spent the last six years immersed in applying 3D technology to new fields and applications. Ross has headed 72 projects across 21 countries on 5 continents, aiding in the active conservation and digital preservation of endangered sites. His current work has culminated in the Community Conservation Project, which utilizes drone imagery to create high resolution maps, models, and conservation materials for marsh ecosystems. Ross and his Common Solutions team were recently accepted into the Tech Futures Group (read more here).

As part of the CSP program, Ross hopes to better understand the dynamic between coastal communities, government policy, and industry stakeholders to develop solutions to improve management of protected areas.

Read about Ross' Year 2 Capstone

Ross is particularly interested in how data captured by an active citizen scientist community can support an increasing number of projects that drive conservation of endangered natural spaces. Ross’s capstone will address the the compounding challenge that land managers often lack the capacity to capture or analyze the necessary, large-scale data-sets that allow them to assess these changes adequately. In the coming year, Ross will work with leaders in ecological conservation, such as the Heartbeat Initiative, to improve the accessibility and usability of spatial data outputs. These outputs will be interactive maps and metrics that can inform and support the workflows that are currently being employed regardless of a users’ technological ability or financial means.

Having trained and advised teams in Syria and Iraq to document endangered cultural heritage sites during the recent expansion of ISIL, Ross is confident that similar regional approaches can be used for environmental conservation and research. By removing technological barriers to data use and expanding citizen science outreach, Ross hopes to support initiatives that address pressing issues such as land degradation, sea level rise, and development in economically and culturally important ecosystems and communities.

Dingxi Safari Fang


Safari is an international ocean conservationist from China. Growing up next to a polluted Yangtze River, Safari aspired from an early age to work in environmental conservation, and she connects deeply with communities that live the real consequences of pollution and habitat destruction. Safari currently works as a consultant on communications and sustainable seafood for China Blue Sustainability Institute and as a marine science interpretive guide at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Her goal is to lead collaboration between China and the rest of the world on ocean conservation. She is particularly interested in how Chinese and international philanthropy can help strengthen non-governmental organization capacity in coastal management, as well as using science-based analyses to inform policy at local to global scales.

Read about Safari's Year 2 Capstone

Safari is leading a project on sustainable aquaculture in partnership with local practitioners and the Packard Foundation’s China Marine Strategy. Her research aims to identify barriers and opportunities for transitioning the aquaculture supply chain to more sustainable practices. She will use interdisciplinary methods to conduct field research in China, perform literature and policy analyses, and develop a working theory of change for philanthropic investment to increase China’s sustainable aquaculture supply chain. Her fieldwork involves semi-structured interviews to determine social and market factors that obstruct a transition to sustainable aquaculture practices. One of the deliverables of her capstone will be a memorandum on high impact interventions and funding strategies for sustainable aquaculture development.

Celeshia Guy

Belmopan, Belize

Celeshia is passionate about advocating for the protection of the environment for both humans and wildlife. She has been working in the conservation field for over six years, with positions at the Belize Zoo, Belize Bird Rescue, and, most recently, Oceana Belize. Celeshia is a Climate Reality Leader and was awarded the Belize Youth in Conservation prize. In her spare time, she volunteers with the Sea to Shore Alliance to help rescue injured and orphaned manatees. Being accepted into the first cohort of the CS&P Program will empower her with knowledge and skills to make positive contributions to the protection of Belize’s coastal environment.

Read about Celeshia's Year 2 Capstone

Celeshia is conducting the first Population Viability Analysis of the Antillean manatee in Belize. This analysis will inform useful manatee conservation actions. With support from her UCSC faculty advisors Dr. Donald Croll and Dr. A. Marm Kilpatrick, she will be working with two practitioner partners in Belize, namely the Wildlife Conservation Society and Sea to Shore Alliance to further develop and ground truth this model. The model will highlight current and future trends of the Belize Antillean manatee population under differing levels of conservation actions to abate existing threats. Identified trends will provide estimates of the potential extinction rate and opportunity for recovery of the Antillean manatees in Belize. The modeled results will be used to help devise a list of possible management options and conservation interventions as well as prioritize pilot projects. Additionally, Celeshia will assist the practitioner partners and the Government of Belize to develop a five-year conservation action plan for the conservation of the Antillean manatee in Belize.

Andre Joseph-Witzig

St. Georges, Grenada

Andre Joseph Witzig is from the Spice Isle of Grenada. His background is in Life Sciences with Marine Biology and he has been involved with climate change and coastal zone management in Grenada, Carriacou, and Petite Martinique for the last four years. During this time, he has been fortunate enough to be involved with policy and legislation as well as data collection in the coastal zone. This has given him the opportunity to work with schools and technical staff on exciting areas such a community co-management, beach profiling, and ecosystem-based adaptation including both coral reef and mangrove restoration projects. Andre hopes that his time at the CS&P program will provide the skills to keep working with decision makers and community groups for sustainable management of the coastal zone.

Read about Andre's Year 2 Capstone

For his Capstone project Andre will be piloting the use of the Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs (InVEST) framework to model coastal vulnerability in Grenada. This will entail utilizing the best available local and regional data (including through technologies such as remote sensing) as well as ascertaining feedback and input from stakeholders on the ground. The framework will be able to provide information on the benefits that ecosystems such as coral reefs, mangroves and beaches play in protecting the coast against storm surge, coastal erosion and coastal flooding.

InVEST was developed by the Natural Capital Project as a tool to value and map ecosystem services and provide information to decision-makers. It has been used in other areas of the Caribbean such as in Belize and the Bahamas to create coastal management and adaptation plans. With guidance from the Natural Capital Project as a partner practitioner, the Environment Division of the Government of Grenada and UCSC faculty advisors, Andre aims to use this tool to create outputs which can further advance the application of integrated coastal zone management in Grenada.

Andre also worked with Central Coast Wetlands Group to help identify and document adaptation best practices and case studies to inform the City of Santa Cruz’s planning efforts.

Mali’o Kodis

Volcano, Hawaii

Growing up in the rainforests of Hawaii laid the foundation of Mali’o’s passion for conservation science. Throughout high school and college, Mali’o conducted research in a wide variety of environments, from coral reefs to mountain forests. After graduating from Brown University, Mali’o was a Helen Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History for 2 years, where she conducted research on ecological niche modeling and coastal community resilience. Mali’o is excited to learn from and with a diverse community of peers in the CSP Program, and she aspires to one day lead coastal adaptation strategy efforts at an internationally recognized conservation organization to implement scientifically-rooted, ecosystem-based conservation solutions that are centered around local community needs.

Read about Mali'o's Year 2 Capstone

During her capstone, Mali’o is applying her coursework in science, policy, and communication to implement climate change adaptation strategies across scales in the United States. Over the summer, Mali’o developed a science- and community-informed master plan for a regenerative farm incubator on the Central Californian coast. The ongoing transformation of the 418-acre property from a monocrop Brussel’s sprout farm to a collaborative agroecological enterprise serves as a model for how farms in California and across the nation can transition from extractive practices to regenerative, carbon-sinking agriculture while also nourishing communities, revitalizing indigenous cultures, stewarding native ecosystems, and training the next generation of sustainable farmers. Mali’o wrote more about her experience in this blog post.

From October through May, Mali’o is working across multiple coastal chapters of The Nature Conservancy to create a theory of change outlining the role of conservation land trusts in strategic retreat, which is the managed migration of existing and planned development away from areas prone to coastal erosion and frequent natural disasters. Too often, the existing buyout processes are very slow and difficult to navigate, and the open space left by retreat is not managed appropriately to provide full ecological and disaster-mitigating benefits. With a clear theory of change and delineated best practices, The Nature Conservancy and conservation organizations that follow a land trust model could become key actors to help get people and development out of harm’s way and harness the power of nature-based solutions to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Samruddhi Kothari

Mumbai, India

In 2013, after gaining eight years of experience in the corporate sector of banking and business, Samruddhi started her entrepreneurial journey in fashion jewelry manufacturing and retailing, incorporating sustainable practices and the work of local artisans. She began SCUBA diving, and witnessed two different worlds under the sea: from awe inspiring scenes to truly heart breaking moments. She decided to pursue a full time career in marine conservation and sustainability. The CS&P program will help her address the needs of coastal communities in developing nations in a sustainable and balanced manner.

Read about Samruddhi's Year 2 Capstone

Harnessing the knowledge of business and finance Samruddhi is keen to understand 1) how climate risk impacts businesses and cities and 2) how insurance can support and inform business decisions ahead of these risky events. The insurance industry’s current climate risk strategies focus on short-term time horizons. However, given the unpredictability of climate and weather events the insurance industry is distinctively positioned to foster risk mitigations efforts. The industry is already using its current risk knowledge and level of awareness to make risk-based decisions but is also stimulating the energy and utility industries to adopt long-term decision-making approaches.

Samruddhi wants to understand the long-term risk management strategies that could be adopted by businesses in the energy and utility sectors based on the level of protection and affordability of insurance and regulations. Working with a private consulting firm, Samruddhi’s capstone explores actuarial implications of climate events on business decisions and policy regulations, with a special focus on the need for premium readjustments. Her capstone year is divided into 3 phases:

  1. Review current risk-industry analysis methods
  2. Identify forward-looking scenarios that can reflect future risk from hazards such as cyber-attacks, weather-related natural disasters and climate hazards such as sea level rise; and
  3. Review how premiums are set, based on baseline risk, and infer potential premium adjustments in the forward-looking scenarios, (e.g., premium with sea level rise adjusted risk)

Biraj Shrestha

Hetauda, Nepal

Biraj is an ardent amphibian lover from Nepal. Since gaining a Master’s degree in Environmental Science (2013), he has actively been involved in the study and conservation of amphibians and reptiles across the country. He has been awarded a number of research grants and funding from different institutions for conservation of freshwater species. In June 2017, he was awarded the Future Leader of Amphibian Conservation Award at the Amphibian Conservation Research Symposium at University of Kent, UK. Biraj strongly believes that freshwater species are at high risks of extinction and highlights the destruction of freshwater ecosystems around the planet as the most pressing problem of the 21st century. With the knowledge and practical experience obtained from the CSP program, Biraj hopes to broaden his career horizons by working toward identifying solutions-oriented approaches of effective freshwater biodiversity conservation, characterized by improved ecosystem services of those freshwater systems.

Read about Biraj's Year 2 Capstone

Biraj is interning with the City of Santa Cruz Water Department as a Watershed Management Intern. Within Santa Cruz County, Birajs is working in the Loch Lomond Reservoir, adjacent watersheds and north coast watersheds. Biraj will support the department by:

  • Preparing a draft plan for invasive species management (American Bull frog, Canada geese) in collaboration with the City’s team
  • Supporting stream monitoring (gauging, flow measurement, water quality) at multiple sites including Loch Lomond Reservoir, Lower Newell and Upper Newell stream, San Lorenzo Lagoon, and North Coast Flow
  • Assisting ongoing fisheries population research in designated county streams.

For his second year capstone, Biraj is pursuing a partnership that will help him hone his skills in addressing and strengthening freshwater biodiversity conservation. 

David Torres

Cuzco, Peru

After finishing college in Lima as a Forest Engineer, David moved to Cuzco to volunteer in Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary helping the park rangers and researching the park’s ecological systems. He began working at Nature Services Peru in 2014, designing and implementing ‘Payments for Ecosystem Services’ schemes that connect communities from the Peruvian Amazon with companies in the main cities of Peru. Together these partnerships form the Nature Stewards Network, working to reduce the deforestation in key landscapes of the country. Currently, he is preparing a web platform to help scale and adapt the network to the Peruvian coast and the Andes. With the CS&P program, he hopes to develop his ideas to better address the challenges facing his organization and generate positive impacts in Peru.

Read about David's Year 2 Capstone

David’s capstone project focuses on the design and testing of new applications of two technological innovations.

Lumina Decision SystemsAnalytica tool:
David will support the development of a climate intelligence module and pilot testing with the City of Santa Cruz, California, for Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions analysis. If successful, this tool will allow new ways of analyzing the city’s climate action, achievement of GHG emission reduction and serve as a resource for the City’s GHG emission assessment.

Nature Services Peru’s Regenera platform:
David’s work for the Regenera platform will center on adapting its landscape dashboard for use in coastal settings, specifically in Tumbes Bay, Peru. As part of the Tumbes Bay pilot, research will assess its readiness for a payment for ecosystem services mechanism to conserve and restore the local mangrove forest.

To better prepare him for his capstone work, David pursued two trainings in Summer 2019 that centered on technology implementation to tackle complex XXI century challenges. These trainings included the Wolfram Summer School (Wolfram Research) and to the Global Sustainability Summer School (Santa Fe Institute). Through these programs and engagement with teammates, David completed two projects:

Together with his capstone work, the summer trainings will help him to find ways to effectively support emerging strategies of local resilience in urban and rural areas along the Pacific Coast.

Casey Zweig

Malibu, California

Casey Zweig is a graduate of the Duke University Environmental Science and Policy program and prior to joining the CSP program led environmental programs for the City of Malibu with a strong focus in coastal issues including water quality, waste management, and coastal adaptation. She is adept at building partnerships across sectors, which has proved successful in the award-winning “Keep it Clean, Malibu” storm water campaign, single-use plastic bans, and expansion of the Clean Bay Certified restaurant program. In 2020, Casey was accepted into the Ellen MacArthur Foundation From Linear to Circular Program. After the CSP program, Casey plans to bring together diverse stakeholders in strategic partnerships to tackle expansive ocean issues like coastal adaptation.

Read about Casey's Year 2 Capstone

Plastic pollution and climate change are two of the most pressing environmental crises of our time. Current consumption trends and ineffective waste systems pose major threats to our climate, environment, and human health. Concern over plastic pollution is receiving unprecedented attention and support in public spheres as well as more focused effort by public and private sectors to address organic waste and recyclables, particularly in light of China’s decision to minimize importing waste. This comes at a time when waste companies are already struggling to keep their business models profitable and governments and communities are championing climate action planning to mitigate their impact and develop adaptive capacity for a changing future. This project aims to change the status quo of waste systems by bringing to market a new technology that sequesters carbon from organic waste, creates a more valuable product from organic waste than only compost, and creates an easily compostable and marine degradable bioplastic that can serve as an alternative to plastic. Full Cycle Bioplastics’ circular economy technology will be proven at a pilot scale followed by the early planning stages for a commercial scale facility.

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