Q&A with Henry Bell

Why did you decide to pursue a Master of Marine Affairs?

After college, I spent four months in the Caribbean conducting environmental research and filming a documentary to raise awareness about some of the more pressing issues facing marine

There are several long poles and 4 yellow buoys underneath a black fishing net on a beach. An adult man is crouched between the net and the ocean.
In Kiribati, Henry is with 14 Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) on a remote coral atoll. Photo provided.

environments. In 2016, I began teaching marine policy to undergraduates in the South Pacific for Sea Education Association, an ocean research and sailing program. While doing this work, I spent a lot of time with people in small, developing island nations that face everyday challenges related to sea level rise and environmental degradation. This inspired me to move from education and science communication toward a field where I could work more at the interface of science, people, and policy. I not only wanted to study marine issues and engage with the people who are most affected by them – I wanted to be a part of developing and implementing better management approaches and solutions. An MMA degree was the logical next step.

Why did you decide to come to UW’s SMEA for graduate school?

I was already living in Seattle by the time I started thinking about graduate school. I’d heard good things about SMEA from colleagues at Sea Education Association, so I set up a visit to campus to meet with SMEA faculty, staff, and current students. It seemed like the ideal program for me, so I didn’t apply anywhere else!

Tell us about your Capstone Project.

I worked with four other students on a capstone project focused on marine learning networks. We co-developed our research with the leaders of an emerging Brazilian network called PainelMar (“Ocean Panel”), and our qualitative study on lessons learned from a diverse array of marine-related learning networks is supporting the continued development of PainelMar.

Marine learning networks prioritize learning and knowledge sharing amongst various actors within the realm of ocean issues, conducting peer-to-peer learning exchanges, running capacity building programs, and otherwise bring together diverse sectors of society in order to provide information to those who most require it in order to improve ocean management and inform policy.

Our work incorporated interviews with 40 leaders and staff members from 16 different marine learning networks around the world. We delivered our report on the emergence, functionality, and outcomes of these networks to the leadership of PainelMar and we are presenting our work (virtually, due to COVID-19) at conference hosted in Brasilia, Brazil. Even though the capstone is officially complete, we are still refining our report in order to publish and share our findings with a wider audience. I’m very excited because our paper will be the first high level review of marine learning networks as adaptive solutions to challenges in marine governance.

What has been your favorite class at UW so far? Why?

I’ve taken many great classes, but I’d probably still say that my favorite was the International Organizations and Ocean Management class that Nives Dolšak taught during the first quarter of my first year. This course was an excellent intro to the type of work you do in SMEA and in graduate school in general. And Nives didn’t mess around! After introductions, we dove straight into case studies and policy ramifications on the first day. One of my main interests is international ocean management, and the course involved a really great balance between instruction and insights from Nives, seminar-style discussion of readings, and group work focused on various organizations, institutions, and corporations working in the sphere of ocean policy.

Tell us about how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed your SMEA experience. What’s a daily routine look like for you?

I start by making myself some coffee. Not sure I’d be motivated to get out of bed without that. Eventually I make my way to my desk (highly recommended over the couch if you’re planning to get actual work done) and sit down at my computer to read for class or tackle other projects. My classes have actually been going pretty smoothly – the breakout rooms for discussion over Zoom have worked really well. I usually mix in a run around the neighborhood in the early afternoons. On weekends, my fiancée and I have been making bagels and delivering them to some of our friends. Okay, I’ll be honest – she’s in pastry school, so she makes the bagels. I provide words of encouragement and serve as the delivery boy.

What do you like most about SMEA?

The community. That was biggest surprise for me coming in – just how incredibly friendly, interesting, and smart everyone is: faculty, staff, and students. I think I may have learned just as much from the other students in SMEA as I have from the faculty. And that’s not meant to discredit the faculty – they are fantastic, and they certainly know their stuff. But they also do a great job of incorporating into classes the insights and experiences that students have from working in marine affairs fields.

What’s it like to live in Seattle? What do you do in your spare time?

A white, adult man is wearing a green jacket, orange turtle neck, a blue backpack, black hat with sunglasses propped on the brim, and is holding ski poles in each hand. He's shown from the waist up standing on snow with trees in the background.
Taking in new places, this time skiing in the Methow Valley in WA. Photo provided.

When not sheltering due to a worldwide pandemic, I really enjoy getting out into the mountains to hike or backcountry ski. I’ve always said that my favorite place to be is a place I’ve never been before, and Washington has so many incredible spots to explore. If I’m not outside, I might be hanging out with friends from SMEA. Some of my best friends in Seattle are the students that I worked on my capstone project with.




If you could design your ultimate job after graduating, what would it be and why?

The million-dollar question. Ultimate job? I’d love to hop on another sailboat and keep studying ocean issues around the world, particularly from more of a human dimensions viewpoint. There are so many stories out there – struggles, successes, and other perspectives – that could help shape and improve how marine resources are managed.

SMEA student Henry Bell is shown from the shoulders up, and is wearing a salmon colored collared shirt. He is standing in front of green leaves on trees.
After graduation this June, Henry hopes to work on marine policy, but he’d also settle for exploring new places aboard a sailboat. Photo provided.

Last summer, a small-scale fisheries policy official that works for the government of Kiribati told me about how he travels from atoll to atoll, working with local communities on how to improve the sustainability of their fisheries. Top-down approaches don’t work in Kiribati – he can’t just tell them what to do. Each community has to decide what they want to do to preserve the habitats and resources that they depend on for their livelihoods, and he simply sparks the discussion to help them figure out their own improvements. How many other inspiring, alternative, and community-driven marine management methods are being used in islands and coastal areas around the world? What can we learn from these approaches, and how can we adapt some the ideas for use in other places and contexts?

I think I got a little sidetracked from the question here, but I eventually hope to work on marine policy at the state or federal level, taking to heart the lessons I’ve learned from my experiences and my education.


What is your favorite form of marine life, and why?

Even though I’ve spent most of my career working in tropical areas, my favorite marine creature is definitely the polar bear. That’s been my favorite animal since I was a child. Back in 2015, I got the chance to visit the town of Churchill on Hudson Bay in Canada on a trip with my mom. Hundreds of polar bears gather in Churchill every fall because that’s where the pack ice first forms in that region of the world. They’re incredibly hungry because they rely on the ice to hunt seals, their main source of food, and they’ve been slowly starving all summer. We got to drive around in these massive tundra buggies (with wheels taller than I am) to see the polar bears from a safe distance. Still one of the coolest experiences of my life.