NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management (OCM) works with many partners to deliver products, services, and programs that help keep coastal residents safe, the economy sound, and natural resources functioning well. As the Southeast and Caribbean Regional Lead for OCM, Aranzazu manages partnerships and develops engagement opportunities. She has many years of experience working with under-resourced Indigenous communities.
I used to tell my graduate students that some of the best career trajectories are like braided rivers – you don’t have to stick to one path and commit to it for the rest of your life. My career path has been largely flowing downstream, sometimes taking many twists and turns. Yet, every step I’ve taken has been intentional and brought me to my current position. Prior to joining OCM, I worked for 10 years at a regional climate center, called the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center. I built a large, thriving network which was very useful when I applied for my current position. I didn’t always have the self confidence I have now; It took me decades to become a quick learner, adaptive and resilient. Coming to a federal position where I could bring my bilingual and bicultural background to the OCM mission, and where I could use my many decades of climate adaptation experience was perfect timing.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Nancy McKay, the director of the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority, a small agency that addresses non-point sources of pollution in the Salish Sea. I didn’t have a lot of skills or experience under my belt at the time, but she knew I was a curious, hard worker who understood the value of outreach and good customer service. In the year and a half I spent there, I learned the specific skills I needed to grow professionally. I learned about the protocols of engaging with tribal nations of the Pacific Northwest and the good work that happens when tribes are part of environmental stewardship.
Working with younger generations has always felt exciting and rewarding. They see the world around us with new eyes and more exacting questions. They are also future caretakers and workforce professionals. I spent several years curating one-week field courses for graduate students from different disciplines in the Southeast, with the focus on resilience and climate adaptation. I sought out physical, natural, and social scientists so they could all be out in the field. More importantly, the course centered around a curriculum that gave them the experience of understanding and communicating with each other so they work together to approach the most challenging environmental and societal problems. It was extremely rewarding to watch them talk with passion and curiosity about what they could each bring to the table.
I come from a family that has always admired and respected the outdoors. My grandparents were amateur botanists who grew orchids in their garden in Mexico. Growing up with those experiences, I know the importance of giving back to the places that feed me and nourish me in so many ways. I also think in generational time scales, knowing that I follow in the footsteps of my ancestors and also have generations trailing behind me. I want them to know that I wanted to make things just a little bit better for others. Latinos rank high in their concern for nature and their surroundings, so I have always found kinship with my cultural group in wanting to support and protect life. This also includes the deep, rich diversity of native peoples of the Americas, knowing that we can’t separate people from their localities and knowledge that has evolved over time. I am always on the lookout for that knowledge, whether I am in the marshes of the Southeast or the mangroves of Puerto Rico.