By: Elizabeth Ramsay
Last week I had a wonderful opportunity to get to know one of our own, Elodie Le Cornu. Elodie is a research analyst here at the Center for Ocean Solutions (COS) where she studies coupled human-natural systems as a way to inform policies and solve issues facing the oceans and coastal communities. When she first joined the COS team in 2012, she collaborated with a group of international scholars to explore the use of social data in ocean and coastal management and ways to better integrate the human dimensions into planning and decision-making. Since 2013, when Elodie was hired as a research analyst, she has been working with various stakeholders both locally in California and internationally, to incorporate lessons learned, best practices and innovative ideas to improve sustainability in small-scale fisheries.
Elodie is a French native. She completed her college career at the University of Paul Valery-Montpellier III in France where she earned her Bachelors of Arts in three languages, English, Spanish and Chinese, applied to law, policy and economics. She went on to complete her Masters of Arts in Ocean and Coastal Management, completing a well-rounded education fully preparing her for an interdisciplinary career solving issues
Elodie is an inspiring woman with a true motivation and passion for change for the better. She has immersed herself in a challenging field, determined to bridge two distinct but overlapping dimensions to improve the resilience of coastal communities and the health of the world’s oceans. As you can see, she is a perfect fit here at COS.
Tell me about your position at COS, what drives your interest here?
My position as a research analyst gives me so many opportunities to diversify my knowledge about oceans and learn new skills every day. I’m involved in all stages of the projects I’m involved in from the conception to the communication. I do things like grant writing, the research itself, publishing papers, planning workshops, presenting at conferences, etc. What really drives my interest here at COS is the variety of projects I’m involved in and the opportunity to work with incredible people. And of course, the interdisciplinary aspect is the most important, challenging, and exciting part of the job for me. I love juggling back and forth between human and natural science and making it relevant and applicable to policy and decision-making.
Why is it important to study human-natural systems?
I think that in order to respond to the challenges facing our oceans it’s critical to understand the linkages between human and natural dimensions and how they potentially affect sustainability. In general, people think that the main interaction between oceans and people is that marine ecosystems are being negatively impacted by humans. But relationships between people and oceans are far more complex than that and they are not well understood or studied. Yes, negative human impacts are one part of the equation but there are also other interactions, where environmental dynamics impact coastal communities in positive ways like providing important ecosystems services or in negative ways like natural disasters. In addition, these linkages are not a one-time cause-consequence situation but rather continuous feedback loops. One of my goals at COS is to advance research on this topic, especially in small-scale fisheries systems, and propose paths forwards.
Tell me about your favorite project to date.
My favorite project is actually more like a partnership, or a working group, aimed at advancing research on small-scale fisheries sustainability. The working group model is one of my favorites because it is a think tank for practitioners, decision-makers, researchers, stakeholders, etc. to share and bridge different perspectives on the same topic. We started this working group in 2012 and so far we have explored different aspects of small-scale fisheries sustainability and social justice globally as well as in specific areas like in the Monterey Bay in California. At the moment, I am leading a project looking at a specific management approach called rights-based management, which basically allocates resource shares to fishers in the form of designated areas or quotas. We are conducting a global assessment with 74 case studies, looking at how such management approaches, originally designed for industrial fisheries, apply in small-scale fisheries settings and how cultures, livelihoods, practices, or traditions are taken into consideration in the process. There is a lot of interest and attention from funders worldwide to implement more rights-based management without really knowing the consequences it has on linked human-natural systems. In this research, we are trying to identify conditions for successful implementation and provide recommendations in an effort to guide governments and practitioners who seek to make a positive change on the water.
Describe your happy place.
What about an ocean ranch? I’ve seen goats and pigs on the beach before, right? I don’t have a specific location in mind yet, but somewhere somewhat nice and warm where I could build a ranch near the ocean and start a little community of people who want to join me in making goat cheese, growing vegetables, fishing, and horseback riding on the beach. Sounds like a happy place to me!
You mentioned you love diving. Where is your favorite dive spot?
I know the obvious answer would probably be a beautiful tropical place with colorful fish and corals and I’m going to be honest, I love these dive spots too. But I think the most epic dives I ever did were in the south of France where I grew up, in the Thau lagoon. It is a really interesting place to dive because, first of all, it is the home of one of the largest populations of seahorses in Europe; on top of that there is usually a bunch of pink flamingos hanging out nearby. Pretty magical. But what really made me like diving in this spot is this “hole” in the middle of the lagoon where you can actually dive to the bottom, which is approximately 100ft deep. The lagoon is mostly shallow and very high in salinity but there is a resurgence of fresh water from a nearby river that comes from this hole, creating a blurry patch at the surface. The hole is narrow, dark, and a little scary and when you get to the bottom the water is even more blurry and you can actually see and feel the fresh water coming out. It’s a really unique experience.
What is something not many people know about you?
One of my passions outside of work is painting. A lot of people are surprised when I show them my art because they think science and art are not compatible. I am a very creative person and I’ve tried many different kinds of art media. At the moment, I use a lot of watercolor. I love creating and I think that really helps in my work as well. This is one of my goals for the near future; I’m working hard to integrate art into my work and into marine science in general.
Where did you grow up?
On my dad’s side of the family we come from Brittany and Normandy, both by the ocean, and on my mom’s side we come from Burgundy, right in the middle of France, a region where they have good cheese and wine! My parents met in suburban Paris and moved to the south when they were eighteen. My sister and I both grew up in the South, in a city called Montpellier. It is a really unique city on the Mediterranean coast with a lot of history. It is more than a thousand years old and was built during the crusades. There are still a lot of old buildings and castles from that era as well as remains from the Roman Empire and the Renaissance. It’s also the home of one of the oldest universities in the world, law and medicine in particular. The nice art is that I didn't have to go too far to study!
What’s one of your fondest memories?
One of my favorite things to do is traveling. Since I was a kid, I never missed an opportunity to explore the world. I usually travel by myself but this particular memory was shared with my dad. One of his best friends created an NGO aimed at discovering Asian cultures and helping alleviate poverty in India, China, Tibet and Nepal. My dad and I are involved with this NGO and one of our trips was in the Himalayan mountains in a region of India called Ladakh. Right before we arrived the whole region went through a devastating flood and one of the goals of the trip was to help people get through this crisis. We also spent some time with a group of nomads in the mountains and explored the region. This trip was a huge bonding experience with my dad but also with the people I met there. We went through really rough times but also a lot of happy and relieving moments.
If you could have one other career what would it be?
I think I need something like nine lives at least because there are so many things I want to do. With my background as a linguist with a focus on law, policy, economics, etc. as an undergraduate, I was preparing for a degree to become an interpreter and I could see myself in an NGO or working with governments, still in the solving problems realm but probably more on the policy side of things. But now, if we are talking about childhood dreams, I’ve always wanted be an archaeologist. I had a weird obsession with Egypt and pharaohs and wanted to be one of those people who discovered a new pyramid, or tomb or something. Oh, and I had an awesome collection of rocks and fossils at home and would label them with made-up scientific names, display them as if they were in a museum and make my friends pay to see them… My favorite piece of the collection was a roundish rock that was labeled as a fossilized dinosaur egg. But let’s be honest, I really enjoy being a marine scientist and contributing to solving problems in the oceans, and I hope this is the start of a long career.
Message to a young scientist?
Do what you love and love what you do, of course! Keep pursuing your dreams even when people challenge you. I think pushing your limits and getting out of your comfort zone is really important, as a scientist especially. Explore new fields and try to integrate interdisciplinarity to your work. You will find that it is way more interesting and challenging than sticking to one single thing and in my view, it is closer to reality anyway. Problem solving, in oceans especially, requires the expertise of many stakeholders with diverse backgrounds.