Career Interview - Conservation Advocate

Career Interview with Consevation Advisor, Bill Chandler


Q: What is your job title?

A: Conservation Advisor.

Q: Briefly describe your job.

A: As a Conservation Advisor, I help Marine Conservation Institute’s administrative and legislative advocacy office. I assist in devising and implementing strategies to conserve our marine environment. My duties as a Conservation Advisor include supervising and guiding policy staff, communicating with congressional offices and government agencies, and analyzing policies, rules, and reports. 

Q: What encouraged you to be a conservation advocate?

A: While obtaining my political science degree at Stanford University, I became very interested in the interplay between culture and the environment. During that same time, the environmental movement began in the United States. My studies in political science and my courses in anthropology led me to pursue work focused on terrestrial conservation. Prior to joining Marine Conservation Institute in 2001, I served as a legislative assistant for members of the US Senate and House of Representatives, worked as a regional study director for the National Commission on Water Quality, advocated for the Nature Conservancy, managed the National Parks Conservation Association Department of Conservation Policy, and led my own natural resources policy consulting firm. After spending a majority of my career advocating for the protection of our nation’s lands, I realized the ocean was in desperate need of protection as well. This realization led me to Marine Conservation Institute in 2001 and I have been here ever since.

Q: What kind of educational background and experiences did you pursue to become a conservation advocate?

A: I earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Stanford University and a master’s degree from John Hopkins University in Government. During my graduate studies, I focused my research on U.S. marine laws, particularly the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.

Q: What are the benefits of being a conservation advocate?

A: As a conservation advocate, bridging science and policy continues to be intellectually challenging and well worth it when you efforts pay off. There is no better feeling than when a victory for the environment is made. It is also a joy to work with other conservation advocates, those that dedicate their lives for the betterment of the earth and its inhabitants.

Q: What are the drawbacks of the job, if there are any?

A: The greatest drawback is that there is never enough time to address the many issues harming the environment. It is difficult to pick and choose the causes you believe your organization has the time and effort to address. Even if we had all the time in the world, it can be difficult as a non-profit organization to drum up enough support from donors to support the work. The last drawback to my job is that the hours can be long during certain times of the year, but generally that happens in whatever career path you choose.

Q: How much does a conservation advocate make?

A: On average, conservation advocates make anywhere between low to mid $30,000 for an entry level position to $80,000 a year with experience and at least a master level degree. However, this depends on the size of the organization you choose to work for. Conservation Advocates that scale the organization ladder and become upper management can make up to $140,000 a year.

Q: What advice, if any, would you give to someone following the same career path as yourself?

A: First and foremost, you must be adept in understanding both science and policy. Many of the employees at Marine Conservation Institute have both science and policy experience that has proven to be very effective in the protection of the marine environment. While it is not mandatory, a legal degree or a great understanding of the legal intricacies of policy comes in very handy.

Another important skill is writing.As a conservation advocate, you spend a lot of your time writing reports and letters, aiding in the development of policy and education materials, and communicating with legislators, government employees, and fellow advocates in written form. Make sure you find a higher education program that focuses heavily on perfecting your writing skills.

Finally, taking time to enjoy the environment you are protecting is critical as well. Whether it is in the form of performing field research or taking vacations to the beach, knowing and understanding the environment you are trying to protect is a priceless education.

Q: What is so fascinating about the ocean that would make you want to protect it?

A: As mentioned earlier, I began my work as a conservation advocate in the terrestrial arena. Over time, I realized that the ocean was grossly under-protected compared to land and the ocean was in desperate need of protection. As I investigated this under-protection more, I became angry at the wasteful and mindless destruction of ocean resources.

Q: What is your greatest career success?

A: I led Marine Conservation Institutes policy efforts to protect three marine national monuments in the central Pacific Ocean during the George W. Bush Administration. The monuments include Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, and Rose Atoll Marine National Monument. Together, these monuments protect approximately 240,132 square miles of marine habitat from commercial exploitation.