Photograph by Tane Sinclair-Taylor
Photograph by Tane Sinclair-Taylor
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I have always been obsessed with fish, but I don't think I ever wanted to grow up to be one (although sometimes I think gills would be nice!). It wasn't until college when I realized I might be able to spend my life studying the fish and ocean, which have been so awe-inspiring since my childhood. In addition to being fish-motivated, I am really passionate about proper management and sustainable use of our ocean's resources. As such, I hope to direct some of my research and motivation toward answering the difficult questions facing marine fisheries management and the future of sharks in the ocean.
How did you get started in your field of work?
My interest in the environment was fostered by my time at the College of Idaho, where I became fascinated by the intricacies and interconnectedness of environmental problems. I have since been able to apply my love for these types of problems to marine fishes and ocean stewardship.
What inspires you to dedicate your life to marine and environmental preservation?
I am really driven by a passion for exploration, and the ocean remains one of the final frontiers on our planet. Combining this unknown of such a vast, opaque environment with a love for fish ecology and a desire to leverage my skills for societal benefit—that's what gets me out of bed in the morning.
What's a normal day like for you?
Like many scientists and explorers, I struggle to define normal.
I spend a good portion of my time between campuses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where I take classes, analyze data, prepare publications, and do other career science things. Over the last few years, I have been lucky enough to spend a significant portion of my time in the field, including sailing the Phoenix Islands Protected Area in the South Pacific and the offshore reefs of northern Sudan as well as searching for sharks and rays in the Azores archipelago. These expeditions are often full of long days on the boat and lots of time in the water working with fish, deploying tags, and keeping a detailed record of the data we're collecting. While these trips are often stressful and always exhausting, they are particularly rewarding when we return from a remote destination with hard drives full of new data to analyze and brains full of new questions to answer.
What's been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?
My favorite field moments continue to be the magical encounters I have with the natural world and the people I get to experience them with. A colleague and I once held our breath for several minutes on a white-sand bottom of a gorgeous amphitheater of coral in the Red Sea while stingrays swirled around us and brushed our masks with their wingtips.
I also vividly remember encountering a big school of hammerheads below 150 feet on a reef in the Sudan and the muffled screams of joy from my research team as they came within an arm's length to check us out. While these moments are unforgettable, it is often the research team that comprises the most memorable moments in the field.
Many of the challenges we encounter in the field arise unexpectedly, and we end up pulling each other through difficult times. I broke several ribs and had a botfly burrow into my hand while living in a Sudanese fishing village. Another sailing trip to Sudan left me unable to eat for a few days with a violent stomach bug. Maybe more difficult than these relatively acute challenges, though, are the long, hot days in the field on no sleep with broken sampling gear, uncooperative fish, and rough seas. Those are the days that are the most challenging but, at the end of the day, feel the most rewarding.
What are your other passions?
When I'm not behind the computer or on a boat to work with fish, I prefer to have a fly rod in my hand chasing ... you guessed it ... fish. The wild trout of western North America are some of the most amazing animals on our planet.
In Their Words
I am really driven by a passion for exploration, and the ocean remains one of the final frontiers on our planet.