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Reflection on Everblue's 2020

To the Everblue community:

On January 1, we celebrated our third birthday, which signifies three years of working to keep the ocean ever blue by increasing scientific literacy and encouraging people to live more ocean-friendly lifestyles – and we couldn’t have done it without YOU!

My name is Ellie, and I'm the Founder and Executive Director of Everblue. I wanted to write to you now from a place of reflection and hope – looking back on our last year and looking forward to Everblue’s goals and plans for 2021. A week of 2021 has already gone by as I write this, and already I can tell that the new year is going to be filled with just as many challenges and opportunities for growth as 2020 was.

But mostly in this blog, I want to be transparent with you. I want you to see the real workings of a small, startup ocean communication nonprofit, with all of its success, mess, and joy. I want you to see all of the work that your support and donations uplift in our organization, and I want you to get to know our team and see our passion and drive for the plans we have in this new year.

In the spring of 2019 - yes, we're going that far back to start - I, along with Everblue team members Morgan, Rachel, Leo, Andy, and Joanna, graduated from the University of Oregon (‘sco ducks) to begin our lives working in marine, conservation, and environmental science. At the same time, team members Natalie and Emma graduated from Whitworth University and Pepperdine University. I made the exciting, albeit terrifying, decision to spend the next couple years of my life working to turn Everblue into a nonprofit. Our team had been working tirelessly on Everblue for the last two years, and we’d talked about becoming a nonprofit, but we all realized quickly how much work it would take and that there was no way we’d be able to get it all done while also in the throes of difficult upper-division coursework, individual research projects, and exams. If I wanted to truly take Everblue down the road towards 501(c)(3)-dom, I knew I’d have to devote my full attention to it.

Summer jobs teaching and working on the coast came and went, and in the fall of 2019, I moved to the southern coast of North Carolina to live close to my sister while putting in the work to create a nonprofit from the ground up. I got a job working at a local fish market, with the hopes of learning more about the fishing industry and how to effectively communicate with local fishermen. The minimum wage work paid my bills while I spent at least an hour every day – my personal goal – sitting on my computer and researching how to start a nonprofit. I can’t tell you how many phone calls and meetings I went through that started with me admitting how very little I actually knew about starting a nonprofit and asking help from people who knew more than I did. It was nerve-wracking to admit my lack of knowledge, but I was only ever met with help and enthusiasm. In the end, it didn’t matter if I didn’t have every single bit of knowledge necessary. I had the passion and the ideas, and everyone I met was more than willing to offer help along the way to fill in the gaps in what I knew. I relied on people for knowledge on creating a budget, managing our accounting, writing our bylaws, creating a Board of Directors, and every little bit in between. Bonnie Monteleone, the Executive Director of our partner organization Plastic Ocean Project Inc., was an instrumental mentor to me, and a dear friend in my new home of Wrightsville Beach.

The new year rolled around, and with it, a new decade. The Everblue Team had two huge goals for 2020: become a nonprofit and launch our new program Laboratory Collaborations. We had conferences lined up almost every single month: the North Carolina Marine Debris Symposium and the Oregon Marine Debris Action Plan meeting in January, the inaugural Pacific Northwest Consortium on Plastics conference in Washington in February, the Benthic Ecology Meeting in Wilmington in April, the International Coral Reef Society meeting in Germany in July, the International Marine Conservation Congress in Germany in August… we were going to attend each conference as science communication experts, sharing our model for science outreach and education with researchers from around the world. 2020 felt to me like the year that Everblue would explode in success, and I was so ready for it.

The NC Marine Debris Symposium offered Everblue with the chance to become a part of the community addressing plastic pollution on the East Coast. I met with people working on NC’s version of the NOAA Marine Debris Action Plan and was able to offer our insights and advice from the last two years of working on Oregon’s action plan. I attended the event with our partners from Plastic Ocean Project Inc. and was excited to make new connections.

Team members Leo and Jennie attended Oregon’s meeting for the Marine Debris Action Plan for the second year in a row and continued working on important updates for the plan.

February came, and with it, a huge success – our nonprofit consultant Alexia, who we had gotten connected to through our team member Rob back in 2019, found us a fiscal sponsor in Oregon! The fiscal sponsor, the Charitable Partnership Fund (CPF,) offered to sponsor us as a startup nonprofit. Their model offered us an incubator, where we could act as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, fundraise, and work towards our project goals while working under their guidance. After a few phone meetings, planning sessions, and signing of documents, Everblue was finally recognized as a nonprofit under CPF. (And, as an added bonus, we gained the designation on my birthday!)

At the same time, preparations for the first meeting of the Pacific Northwest Consortium on Plastics were in full swing. The meeting was to take place in Bremerton, Washington, right outside of Seattle.

Jennie and I were attending to lead the Consortium’s science communication team and offer a small workshop on communicating science to audiences outside of academia. Looking back, the whole trip (especially traveling without a mask) felt like a giant calm before the storm that was about to come in the form of a global pandemic. The conference was a whirlwind of good energy and motivation, as we met with familiar faces from our other partners in Oregon and met new partners from Washington, California, and Alaska. At the end of the conference, Jennie and I drove down to her home in Oregon and so I could make a special and important visit home. Rob, one of our original Everblue team members who helped us create and plan our ideas for Everblue back in the fall of 2017, had been fighting cancer for years. During my visit home, we drove to the coast to explore the tide pools, eat clam chowder, and visit Oregon’s stunningly beautiful Haystack Rock. The whole day, the drive, listening to music, piling on warm hats to keep us warm on the chilly windy winter day, accidentally flooding our boots with seawater as the tide rolled in, is one of my dearest and favorite memories from all of last year. It hurt to get on the plane back to North Carolina and leave the people I loved so dearly.

Almost exactly a week later, the first cases of coronavirus started showing up in the United States. The whole country was hit with a wave of uncertainty and fear, where no one knew what the best practices were, businesses struggled with wondering who was considered essential, and people were urged to stay at home. The wave of state shutdowns and stay-at-home orders prompted a series of cancellation emails from every one of our conferences that we’d worked so hard to plan for. The local beach near me was closed by authorities, caution tape over the public entrances, and my heart crashed without being able to touch and talk to the ocean each day. Seeing the ocean daily had become an important practice of mine to remind myself what we were working for and give myself time to rest and breathe, but then that, too, became a concern for public health. Everblue team members who were still in school or doing graduate studies shifted to online programs and suffered a loss of field work. Our team member Erin, who had been working at a lab in the Bahamas, was sent home. I set up an at-home work sanctuary, where I could fold out a desk for my computer and fold out a yoga mat to work out in the same space.

Then, at the end of March, with the blessing of having time to rest alone with his family in the face of a pandemic, Rob passed away. We lost an important member of our Everblue team, one who had provided us with guidance, motivation, and a unique perspective on conservation for years. Our team didn’t know what do to. How do you grieve the loss of a loved team member, the loss of our plans for the year, and the loss of our ability to do outreach and work in person at the same time?

You should’ve seen my planner for the months of April, May, and June. It was a mess of eraser marks, removing the penciled-in conference dates, outreach events, and launch plans. I was devastated by our loss of Rob and struggled to move forward with any new plans. We still continued to work on our plans to launch our Laboratory Collaborations program in the spring, but without the in-person conferences to do outreach at, we were a bit of a mess. Then, after we’d all been at home for a couple of weeks, we started to see aquariums around the US put out online educational materials and engagement opportunities. The Monterey Bay Aquarium started creating “MeditOcean” videos for online meditation to scenes from their ocean exhibits. Aquariums started letting penguins roam their empty halls, and the videos of the little birds waddling around the deserted buildings gave us all a laugh and a sense of lightheartedness while we were all stuck at home. At our meeting in April, we realized that in the face of COVID-19, we could either let all of our setbacks and cancellations burn our young nonprofit to the ground, or we could adapt to our new environment. The way to move forward, we realized, was to take the cards we were dealt and play them to continue what we’ve always done: education and outreach to encourage ocean-minded living.

With this newfound realization, we created our Everblue At-Home Education program. We took recently published papers and turned them into free PDF lesson plans that students, educators, and parents who were stuck at home could download and use to teach their children about the ocean even when the beaches were still closed. The program took off, and we gained new partners, were featured in newspapers, and were able to share our lessons with teachers around the United States. We were also able to merge this program with our Laboratory Collaborations, offering scientists a unique lesson plan curated for their research when they started a Lab Collab with us.

The month of May started to warm up the skies again, and the Everblue education committee made up of Joanna, Erin, and Jennie was hard at work rolling out a new lesson plan every single week. Our team was also busy with preparations for a June launch of our Laboratory Collaborations. Team member Andy created a beautiful promotional video, with help filming from our partner Arisa, the founder of Women for the Environment. We created an online brochure with edits from team members Morgan and Leo, and Morgan’s brother Quinn contributed stunning coastal drone videography to Andy. Rachel created a new page for the Lab Collabs on our website, Sibly created a beautiful newsletter for the launch, and Tyler researched organizations and listservs we could digitally share the launch with. We were ready with our materials for a launch in June, but then at the end of May, the murder of George Floyd sparked a series of protests across the country in support of black lives. We held a special meeting of the Everblue team to talk about support for this movement that was so important and necessary, and we halted our efforts to launch our new program in favor of providing space for leaders of the movement for black lives on social media.

We #ShutDownSTEM on social media with other ocean science organizations to give time and space to voices from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who needed to share important educational materials about how to be anti-racist and information about marches and peaceful protests. At the same time, the Everblue team worked together to create a commitment for our organization to regularly amplify BIPOC voices by covering research written by scientists of color. Our role was, and is, one of uplifting and supporting diverse voices in the fields of conservation and science.

Towards the end of June, with our new commitment to promoting diversity in marine science in mind, we launched our Laboratory Collaborations program. Everblue was now available for consulting ocean science outreach and communication work through our program Laboratory Collaborations. If you’re a scientist and you want to do outreach work but don’t have the time or resources, you can contact us and we’ll work with you to feature your research in our educational posts, website blogs, and lesson plans. We were so excited to launch the program and started accepting requests for Collaborations on a regular basis. And, at the end of the month, team members Dom, Tyler, and Kalli graduated from college, and Jennie graduated from her master’s program. We were starting to find our motivation again as an organization, and it felt good.

Throughout the rest of the summer, we continued to move forward with our regular outreach work online, highlighting the work of Black marine scientists, creating unique lesson plans, and gaining interest in our Lab Collabs. In August, we attended the online Sixth International Marine Conservation Congress. It was so motivating to be able to connect with scientists from around the world and share our science communication expertise and Laboratory Collaborations program even in the midst of a global pandemic – we might complain about Zoom after hours of meetings on a screen, but oh my, is it a gift for global research connections. We met with new scientists and greeted old partners, and I gave a talk on Everblue’s model for ocean outreach and education.

In the fall, we gained a new exciting partner in the SeaBlue Collective, an online marketplace designed to shift focus towards small sustainable businesses. We planned and executed a brand-new event with SeaBlue, an online webinar where we invited their vendors and a panel of scientists invited by Everblue into a zoom room to talk about waste, sustainability, and how scientists and small business owners can work together to find practical solutions to problems like ocean pollution and climate warming. It was an incredibly successful event, with participation from every vendor and scientist, and we’re planning more for 2021 that will be open to the public to view.

October brought along a new sense of anxiety and uncertainty in the United States – the presidential election was coming soon, and everyone was watching. Running Everblue’s social media pages, I saw post after post about the plans each candidate had to tackle climate change. The issue of fixing our climate was huge in this election, and I was ecstatic for that highlight on important environmental issues, but as a marine scientist, I looked hard for news articles, posts, and coverage on ocean-specific policy. After a while, I realized that I just couldn’t find any information summarizing the candidates’ stances on the ocean. I worked with Everblue’s graphic designer Dom to go through official statements, articles, and presidential plans with a fine-toothed comb to pick out plans pertaining specifically to the ocean, and Dom turned my research into a beautifully concise graphic outlining information for Everblue’s audience about the role the ocean played in the 2020 election cycle. The graphic was shared all over the country, and I’m so proud to know that our outreach work was able to reach so many people and put the ocean in our followers’ election debates.

November and December rolled along, and it felt strange to finally reach the end of the most challenging year of Everblue’s existence. I met with our CPF advisor and he granted us another year of working under their umbrella as we finalize and put together our documents for becoming our own freestanding nonprofit in the state of Oregon. Joanna defended her master’s thesis, Erin got hired again at her lab in the Bahamas, and Leo got a job working at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology. I started working as a server at two local restaurants to pay my bills while I continued to spend my days leading Everblue, managing our day-to-day operations, and finding opportunities for us to grow as a new nonprofit.

At the end of the year, I am so endlessly proud of our team, our nonprofit, and the work we’ve done. Our monthly team meetings, which we started holding on zoom this year so we could see each other, are always a joy to me, laughing with our team members and holding our pets up to the computer cameras to say hello as we plan practical actions and outreach to save our oceans. In 2020, we lost a lot, and endured grief and uncertainty. In the same timeline, our team members Morgan and Leo got engaged, Emma got married to the most incredible man who we’re excited to welcome to the Everblue family, Jennie started her dream job as a middle school STEM teacher on the coast, Erin adopted a cat named Merlin, and Morgan and Leo adopted a cat named Oster. Our challenges and setbacks allowed us time to rethink and adjust our programs, budget, and plans for applying for nonprofit status so now we’re more prepared and ready than ever. In 2021, we’re working on creating aggressive strategic and development plans, attending online conferences to continue to spread the word about our programs, hosting more webinars with our partners (keep an eye out for the release dates to mark your calendars,) and working with marketing and advertising interns to grow our community. We have a lot in store this year, and we’re taking the lessons we learned from last year into our new ventures.

Thank you for reading about our journey through the uncertainty, losses, and successes of our organization in 2020, and thank you for being a part of our journey. We couldn’t do outreach work without an audience, and you are absolutely integral to sharing our education with people who want to learn more about the ocean and how to play a part in saving it. Be sure to share our page with the people in your life who don’t follow us yet, sign up for our newsletter, and if you’d like to help us reach our financial goals for 2021, visit! We’re so ready to see what this year has in store for Everblue, for our beloved ocean, for our country, and for the world. Here’s to hoping that with trusting science and the new covid vaccines, we’ll be able to meet with you all again for in-person outreach events soon, but if not, we’ll continue to safely stay at home – you know where to find us @oceaneverblue! To quote one of our favorite marine scientists, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, we’re looking forward to finding truth, courage, and solutions for the issues facing our ocean in this new year by continuing to learn about our ocean, share our knowledge, and change our actions. Are you ready to help us protect the ocean in 2021?

Here's to another year of keeping the ocean forever blue,

Ellie S Jones

Everblue Exec Director

The Everblue team dedicates our efforts as a nonprofit to Rob Waibel, our team member and friend who provided the motivation and inspiration for starting Everblue three years ago. His passion for environment and ocean conservation lives on in our daily work.

Links to websites of our partners mentioned in this blog:

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