UW News

June 26, 2017

The New York Times recognizes UW student policy recommendations

Office of Global Affairs

In 2015, a harmful algal bloom damaged ecosystems, communities and economies across the U.S. West Coast. Fisheries essential to local economies faced long-term closures to protect human health. Marine life suffered mass die-offs. Climate change makes recurrent events likely, but there is little assurance that public policy will better support our communities and environment the next time.

photo of the four team members

(From left) Team members Hillary Scannell, Eleni Petrou, Leah Johnson and Kate Crosman connect on the UW’s waterfront.University of Washington

Seeking to protect coastal communities from these devastating impacts, an interdisciplinary team of UW students authored a policy case for lawmakers. Their case won the inaugural APRU-New York Times Asia-Pacific Case Competition, besting submissions from 31 universities across the Americas, Asia and Australasia. The entries were judged by senior university leaders and staff from The New York Times newsroom. It will be published in the international edition of The New York Times.

The winning graduate students — Kate Crosman, Leah Johnson, Eleni Petrou, and Hillary Scannell — are from units across the College of the Environment and the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance.

“Each of us works on projects with overlapping interests, but we pull from different audiences. That lovely overlap was the genesis of this truly interdisciplinary group,” said Crosman.

Previous work with the Quinault Indian Nation after the 2015 harmful algal bloom inspired Crosman and Petrou to join the team. They had seen the effects first-hand and interviewed local clammers about the impacts on their livelihoods and communities.

“The economic impact on tourism, fisheries and other industries is significant,” Crosman said. “For many communities, the impact goes well beyond the economy. We need to be aware and plan for future harmful algal blooms.”

The graduate student team applied their expertise and first-hand knowledge to develop concrete recommendations for policymakers, with the overall goal of protecting public health while sustaining vibrant West Coast communities. They proposed a regional coordinating body to enhance collaboration between Washington, Oregon and California during future harmful algal bloom events, among other recommendations.

“Central to our case is the idea that harmful algal blooms know no boundaries,” Johnson said.

Experts from across the university and state were also key to the success of the project. Parker MacCready of the UW School of Oceanography, Ryan McCabe of the UW Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean and Daniel Ayres of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife supported the team and shared their latest research findings.

Crosman, Johnson, Petrou and Scannell plan to share their recommendations with Washington policymakers. The project also strengthened the UW’s network of researchers tackling the effects of climate change.

“We all have different avenues of research,” Scannell said, “but we see many possibilities for collaboration.”