Wes Crile thinks it takes a watershed to save a reef. Sound daunting? Not to him—he views it as a great opportunity. Since joining CORAL as a Hawai‘i field manager in January, he has been busy getting to know his new watershed in Maui. Because Maui is an island, he says, some of its water quality problems are more obvious than in a watershed like Chesapeake Bay, where he worked previously. “On Maui, a simple trip to the store can easily take me through 10 to 15 separate watersheds. You can really see the direct impacts (both positive and negative) that our actions on the land are having on the sea and the reefs.”
In addition to restoring streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Wes has worked with communities in northern Nicaragua to protect endangered sea turtles and build sustainable tourism partnerships, with small-scale farmers in West Africa and Haiti, and fishing communities in Latin America and the Caribbean, among others. He is building on those experiences at CORAL.
“Whether I’m engaging with farmers, neighborhood associations, or marine tourism providers, I’m getting a chance to work across all of my skills,” he says.
A certified dive master and licensed Coast Guard caption, Wes is getting his feet (and body) wet in Ridge to Reef activities, engaging with a variety of groups throughout the watershed. He’s working with fellow Field Manager Liz Foote to set up a floating workshop for decision makers (scheduled for this summer) and helping conduct snorkel tours for local government officials and other stakeholders to show them firsthand the difference between healthy and unhealthy reefs. His favorite part of the job—as it was in his previous work—is collaborating to find solutions to problems. “A scientist tells me we need to reduce polluted runoff, but what I get excited about is how to do that,” he says. “I like finding creative solutions to issues and working with business owners, community members, and others to find solutions that make sense for both the environment and the needs of people. I like explaining sustainability to a general manager at a hotel or resort and really seeing him or her get it.”
Although as an avid diver he loves coral reefs, Wes says he’s motivated more by water—where it goes and how clean it is. “It’s what ties the whole community together. It falls on a mountain, flows through different land uses, like agriculture, forests, people’s backyards: As it exits into the ocean, does it leave in a better or worse state? Can we get it to leave in a better state? So many coral reef issues start farther upstream.”
He says some solutions to addressing polluted runoff and poor water quality downstream are very simple. “Solutions don’t have to be complicated and expensive or high tech. They can be implemented on a small scale but make a big difference. The rain gardens and other low-impact development options we and our partners at the Ridge to Reef Initiative are working to educate people about are one example.”
Read more about Wes here.