A Portuguese Spring

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About the author: Stephen S. Hale joined EPA’s Atlantic Ecology Division (Narragansett, RI) in 1995 as a Research Ecologist. Last spring, he spent two months in Portugal with the Embassy Science Fellows Program.

image of author I gazed over the podium at the Portuguese faces waiting to hear how the U.S. EPA measures the health of U.S. estuaries and coastal oceans. A conference in the Azores was comparing the approaches used by the U.S. and the European Union (EU). A few opening pleasantries quickly exhausted my what-you-can-learn-from-ten-CDs knowledge of the Portuguese language and I switched to English.

A two-month Embassy Science Fellows Program brought me to Portugal. The U.S. State Department draws upon other federal agencies to provide scientific and technical expertise to American embassies around the world. Portugal held the revolving EU Presidency, and the Embassy in Lisbon requested help with coastal and ocean issues resulting from the EU’s Water Framework Directive (akin to our Clean Water Act) and Marine Strategy.

If I sailed due east from Rhode Island along the 41st parallel, I would bump into Portugal, a small country that could hold 23 Rhode Islands. My previous experience with things Portuguese—other than Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish that sometimes land on our shores—was a peripheral involvement with research my division conducts on the Superfund site in New Bedford Harbor, MA, an area with many people of Portuguese descent and common ties with (earlier) whaling, and now fishing.

In Portugal, I met with government agencies, universities, and environmental groups to learn how the EU directives are being met and to explore areas for collaborative research. Fueled by strong coffee (bica) and cream tarts (pastéis de nata), at universities all over the country, I gave seminars on developing ecological indicators for the U.S. National Coastal Assessment and on the EPA research that has led to the U.S. National Coastal Condition Report. The Portuguese were keen to adopt some of the study design and methods I shared. In turn, I learned about methods used to intercalibrate indicators among different EU countries.

While serving on two scholarship panels (Fulbright Commission and Luso-American Development Foundation), I saw a flotilla of bright Portuguese students who will come to the U.S. for graduate study.

Throughout my stay, I met dedicated and passionate people who were determined to turn Portugal’s proud sea-faring tradition into modern-day leadership on environmental research and policy to keep our oceans healthy. I returned fortified with different ways to advance our shared goals—better water quality and healthier marine ecosystems. Obrigado.