Inside CORAL’s Action-Packed Staff Summit

Recently, the CORAL team gathered in the vibrant coastal paradise of Cozumel, Mexico, for an unforgettable staff summit. This event brought together staff members, board members, and key partners from around the globe to collaborate, learn, and set the course for the future of coral reef conservation.

Our primary goals were to foster relationships among team members, promote cross-departmental collaboration, and provide opportunities for personal growth and skill enhancement. We dove into open-space conversations, tackled conflict resolution workshops, and enjoyed fun activities like scuba diving and snorkeling. These moments helped us bond, improve communication, and strengthen our commitment to protecting our oceans.

Experiencing Our Mission Firsthand

The dive excursions were a highlight for many of us, providing a chance to see the rich coral reefs of Cozumel up close. We enjoyed several morning dives (and snorkels), including a memorable dive with our board members. These underwater adventures were nothing short of magical. We encountered a variety of marine life, from baby sharks and giant sea turtles to elegant rays and a dazzling array of colorful fish. Every dive served as a reminder of the vibrant ecosystems we are dedicated to protecting.

It was particularly exciting to watch our dive masters talk through CORAL-produced dive guides, reminding visitors to adhere to sustainable diving practices. We dove in a Marine Protected Area (MPA), which added an extra layer of significance to our experience. Having a patrol boat check our passes was a highlight, as we know the importance of regulatory efforts in preserving these fragile environments. It was affirming to witness firsthand how our collaborative efforts with local authorities and partners are making a tangible difference.

Diving in the MPA not only allowed us to observe the stunning biodiversity of Cozumel’s reefs but also gave us a unique perspective on the impact of our conservation efforts in the region. Being in the water together and experiencing the beauty and challenges of the reefs reinforced our dedication to our mission and the importance of our work.

Photo by Kate Beebe

El momento más bonito para mi en el summit fue cuando me lancé al agua para hacer snorkel! (The most beautiful moment for me at the summit was when I jumped into the water to snorkel!)

-Monica Urrutia, Community Scientist

Spending time with the team and board members underwater was an incredible experience. It allowed us to see firsthand the vital importance of our work and underscored why protecting reefs is essential.

-Heather Starck, Executive Director

My favorite moment was diving with the whole team! Key moments included spotting a seahorse, double flying gurnards, and a huge turtle!

-Dr. Andrea Rivera-Sosa, Project and Outreach Manager

Workshops and Knowledge Sharing

Our summit was packed with engaging workshops and activities designed to boost our personal growth and skills. One of the standout sessions was our conflict resolution workshop. Using translation software, we broke down language barriers and connected with colleagues we hadn’t previously worked with. These sessions mixed insightful talks with hands-on role-playing exercises, giving us practical tools for navigating challenges and creating a more harmonious work environment.

We also participated in open-space conversations, where we could choose from various CORAL-related topics and break into small group discussions. This format allowed us to share thoughts, questions, and ideas freely, encouraging creative problem-solving and a deeper understanding of each other’s work.

Photo by Kate Beebe

The best part of the week was being able to see each other and interact personally, connect as a team, and identify our strategies and ways of collaborating. I think this strengthens us as a team.

Julio San Martin Chicas, Principal Program Coordinator for the North Coast

I loved connecting with coworkers I don’t usually meet with, gaining a better understanding of CORAL’s reach, and making valuable connections with the Western Caribbean team.

Sarah Severino, Maui Nui Program Research Coordinator

My favorite thing was getting to know more about the ‘whole person’ of many of our fabulous staff!

Dr. Helen Fox, Conservation Science Director

My favorite was feeling the good vibes and team bonding…and all the smiles!

Javier Pizaña-Alonso, Program Manager

Learning From the Cozumel Program Team and Local Partners

Throughout the week we had the opportunity to learn about Cozumel’s conservation program in the Western Caribbean. Tanya and Javier, our local experts, provided an in-depth overview, shedding light on both the challenges and successes faced by the region. They discussed the current state of Cozumel’s reefs, highlighting the main stressors such as climate change, pollution, overfishing, and tourism pressure.

Our ongoing efforts in the area include reef restoration, sustainable tourism, and community engagement programs. Tanya and Javier outlined our goals for FY25, emphasizing our commitment to expanding these initiatives. 

Collaboration with Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) and the cruise industry was another key focus. By creating DMOs, we ensure tourism development aligns with sustainable practices, benefiting both the environment and the local economy. Engaging with the cruise industry allows us to advocate for responsible tourism and reduce its environmental footprint.

At the end of the session, CORAL staff had the opportunity to sit down with local partners to better understand their work and explore future collaboration. These discussions provided invaluable insights and strengthened our commitment to working hand-in-hand with local communities to protect and restore coral reefs.

Learning from the successes and challenges in Cozumel gives us a deeper understanding of coral reef conservation complexities and inspires us to implement similar strategies globally.

My favorite part of the Summit was the opportunity to showcase the work being done here in the Western Caribbean, while connecting with the entire team as colleagues and most importantly as humans with a common goal.

Tanya Amaya, Regional Program Director

It was great to connect with someone who works directly with the Marine Protected Areas around Cozumel. Having an open dialogue and hearing firsthand about the challenges and benefits of this system was incredibly valuable.

Taylor Cook, Conservation Program Coordinator

Spending quality time with my remote coworkers is always a treat. Being physically in the same space as these wonderful humans–who share the same level of passion and dedication to the ocean–has deepened relationships in ways we are not able to through a computer screen.

Kate Beebe, Associate Marketing Director

Looking Forward

The CORAL Staff Summit in Cozumel was a testament to the power of unity and shared purpose. As we return to our respective regions, we carry with us renewed energy and a deeper commitment to protecting coral reefs. Together, we are poised to make even greater strides in conservation, ensuring that these vital ecosystems continue to thrive for generations to come.

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