Conservation Work In Our Backyard

Changemaker Catalyst Award recipient, Gabby Levine, spent her summer as the Outreach Leadership Intern with Healthy Gulf, an environmental non-profit dedicated to protecting the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico and the cultures, communities, and people that rely on these resources. Gabby is a rising junior, Class of 2024, majoring in Environmental Studies and Psychology. 

The journey to my internship with Healthy Gulf began last summer in the Chocó rainforest of Ecuador. Through Tulane’s Center for Public Service, I participated in the Tropical Field Biology course learning about the ecology of the area and conducting a research project on the sociology of conservation. After speaking with so many of my classmates, the local researchers of the FCAT station, and visiting researchers, I was impassioned with a new mission and understanding of conservation upon returning to New Orleans. I learned that too often people delegate conservation and nature to some far away, distant, and unknown place. Although, as I was reminded during my time in Ecuador, the same fight is happening in our backyard, and we must focus on protecting our home. I returned to do exactly that. 

When the time came to start thinking of summer plans, I began by looking at conservation-centered internships in New Orleans. After learning about Healthy Gulf, I was intrigued by the prospect to learn about environmental issues from a local non-profit that prioritizes grassroots organizing. At its formation, Healthy Gulf was a group of a few dozen members. Now Healthy Gulf maintains a large presence, running campaigns in all five Gulf states to advocate for the health of the Gulf. The organization collaborates with communities in the Gulf, conducts research, and advocates for the government’s compliance with laws and regulations.  I felt that working with Healthy Gulf would be the perfect opportunity to learn about the environmental issues community members were truly concerned about, while also engaging in meaningful conversations to hear about their experiences and thoughts firsthand. 

Click here for more information about the organization!
Click here for more information about the organization!

As the Outreach Leadership Intern, I worked on Healthy Gulf’s public outreach and community involvement programming. I coordinated Healthy Gulf’s grassroots outreach events by communicating with various event coordinators of local events like Farmers’ Markets, art markets, and music festivals. I began my internship by learning how to best engage the public in Healthy Gulf’s efforts to protect the Gulf. I met with my supervisor in Audubon Park as I learned his suggestions for how to best engage people and discuss environmental issues. He shared that he was Healthy Gulf’s Outreach Leadership Intern when he was a student at Tulane. I felt a little silly roleplaying how to talk to strangers at outreach events in the park, but trusted his expertise and felt enthusiastic about attending my first real event!

Tabling setup
A typical tabling setup.

I also attended the New Orleans team meeting for Healthy Gulf at the beginning of the summer to meet the staff and learn about what others were doing in the organization. Everyone was so welcoming and were so excited to have me interning for Healthy Gulf this summer. I met the community outreach manager for Healthy Gulf and reached out later on to get involved in her work. Now, we’re working on a project to disseminate research on the harmful effects of oil and gas leasing in the Gulf. 

The majority of my work with Healthy Gulf involved many emails and phone calls to event coordinators to arrange for myself to table. I became well acquainted with the art of follow-up correspondence. After confirming dates and details, I discussed with my intern supervisor on current issues he felt would be beneficial to table on at each event. He’d explain the issue to me, offer any readings on the topic, and highlight the importance of the timing of the issue. Through this routine and discussing with people at these events, I truly did learn a great deal about the local conservation issues of the Gulf. 

Yaks mein soup
Trying yaka mein soup from German Coast Farmers Market for the first time during tabling!

At each event, I had a wide array of experiences and interactions with community members. Some people were immediately confrontational and offended by my presence at these events, this was definitely a challenging aspect of the internship. On the other hand, I had numerous positive interactions where I was able to engage previously apathetic people, shed light on the importance of Healthy Gulf’s work, and listen to people’s life stories of working in industries dependant on the Gulf’s resources or simply their thoughts on environmental issues. 


As I reflect on my experience, I remember a little boy, around 8 or 9, who was so excited to talk to me about the science project he made this past year on aquaculture. He was so motivated by this issue, that he created a petition that hundreds of his fellow students signed. Throughout the entire day at the Biloxi Community Day Festival, he would bring more and more friends and family to my table,  insisting that they talk with me and sign my petition. This experience reminded me why my internship was so important and motivated me to talk to uninterested people after hours outside in the swampy heat. 

Biloxi Community Day Festival

During my last tabling event of the summer at the Gretna Farmers Market, I had a meaningful conversation with a man about his experiences in the commercial fishing industry. He was discussing how his boat was among the first of the recovery efforts in a Texas oil spill. We talked for a long time about his experiences and our thoughts on conservation efforts. He was so appreciative of the work I was doing and hopeful that Healthy Gulf would really make a change. He perfectly stated that the only way to learn about history is to hear from the people who lived the history. This idea was a major takeaway from this internship that I hadn’t expected. I wasn’t expecting to hear so many people’s stories. Many people were so eager to share their life stories and I was completely ready to listen. For me, this was the most meaningful part of my summer. I believe that conservation work cannot exclude the stories and experiences of people living in the areas impacted by conservation. The knowledge offered by locals is invaluable and in my opinion, must be at the forefront of each conservation effort. I will undoubtedly carry this revelation in all conservation work in my future.

Gretna Farmers Market
Gretna Farmers Market