Our Scientists Answer Your Questions

We are sorry we aren’t able to answer all of your questions individually since we are a very small organization with limited time, but we have interviewed our staff scientists and asked them some of the most common questions. This page focuses on many of the most popular questions about ourselves and our organization. Please feel free to submit your questions via email and if any of them stand out to us and we have time to respond, we will do so and add them to this list as well.

If your request is for more generic information, such as what do marine biologists do or how to become a marine biologist, we would direct you to some of the many useful links already available.

If you are in grade school or high school and curious about the field of marine biology, check here, here, here or here.

If you are an undergraduate (or soon to be undergraduate) who wants to know how to become a marine biologist look here, here, here or here. Then there is always this classic post and it’s more serious follow-up post.

If you want to study whales and dolphins read this post.

If you want to study sharks read this post.

If you are worried about pollution or oil spills this is not an area of expertise within our organization so I’d encourage you to look for more authoritative sources such as 5 Gyres or the National Wildlife Foundation.

The questions we’ve answered below are specific to our organization and work. Feel free to quote any of the answers below and the scientist who answered them in any of your school reports. Our President has also answered some questions and the full interview can be found here. We hope this list and resources are useful for you!


What is your organization’s primary focus and what are some of the duties required?

Marine Conservation Institute focuses on tracking and evaluating global marine protection. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are places where human activities are regulated to protect the ecosystem. Many MPAs are not as effective as they could be because they are poorly funded, poorly staffed or not fully implemented. Others do not have strict enough regulations to effectively protect marine ecosystems. We use real-time information to update and evaluate the actual level of protection on the world’s seas. We house the definitive database on strongly protected marine areas where fishing and other human activities are strictly managed to limit or eliminate the harmful effects on the ecosystem. We track promised and in-process marine protected areas with our campaign tracker tool.

We also focus on the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on deep sea corals and how marine protection can best be put in place as they struggle to survive the rapidly changing oceans.

Do any of the jobs require a specific level of education?

A Bachelor’s degree is the lowest level of education among staff members at Marine Conservation Institute. For science positions, though, a Master’s degree or Doctorate is preferred.

How much more important do you think an organization like yours will become in the future?

Organizations like Marine Conservation Institute that are not part of the government are uniquely suited to provide third-party feedback on the laws and regulations countries implement, or promise to implement, to protect their marine habitats. This type of expertise and third party review will always be an important part of the process of protecting our oceans.

What are some of the greatest memories you've had while working at the Marine Conservation Institute?

Beth - When President Obama announced the expanded protections for our Pacific islands waters through the Pacific Remote Islands and Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monuments and the first strong protection of waters along the Atlantic coast with the New England Seamounts and Canyons Marine National Monument.

Sarah – I have not been at Marine Conservation Institute very long, but I am really looking forward to announcing the first Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES) award winners in September 2017!

If you had any advice for people looking to join the Institute or any other organization that involves conservation, what would it be? 

Study hard, get good grades and do as many volunteer internships and research apprenticeships as you can get because they are what help you build a network of contacts that will be invaluable in the future. And be sure you love the non-field work because 99% of what all marine scientists do involves long days writing and doing analysis at a desk with a computer.

What do you find most interesting about marine biology?

Marine biology is such a broad field it is like asking someone what their favorite thing about the world is. From the deep ocean to the shallow tide pools along the coast there are so many different forms of life and so many types of ecosystems. Most scientists will tell you that it is the fact that there are still so many discoveries to be made that is the most exciting part of marine biology. We study such an amazing diversity of ecosystems, from coral reefs to incredible deep-sea habitats that have only recently been discovered.

What is a typical day on the job like for you?

Beth – I work from home and telecommute so I spend a lot of time in my home office on the computer or on the phone. I occasionally travel for conferences or other meetings to work with other marine conservation colleagues.

Sam – I work in our Seattle office. Most of the time, I sit at behind a desk and make maps or create ecological models. I also spend some time writing grant proposals, papers, and blog posts.

Sarah – I am working to launch a new initiative at Marine Conservation Institute – the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES). I spend a lot of time reading and synthesizing scientific research about marine protected areas, communicating with our partners (including other scientists), and working on ways to communicate the initiative to funders, governments, and the public.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

Beth – I love working together with other really smart people who share my passion for the ocean and conservation. I have always been obsessed with maps and geography so it was a natural combination to bring together my love of the ocean and maps.

Sam & Sarah – We enjoy being able to learn more about our oceans, and to collect and analyze data in ways that help improve how well we understand marine ecosystems. Working in a conservation organization is especially rewarding because our research is actively being used to help protect our oceans.

When did you decide that you wanted to be a marine biologist?

Beth – I have always had a love for the ocean growing up on Cape Cod and sailing since I can remember. I never thought about doing anything else.

Sam – I’ve always loved the outdoors, but I grew up in a landlocked part of the country. Growing up I actually wanted to be a National Geographic photographer! I fell in love with the ocean during my time studying abroad in Australia during college, and decided that being a marine biologist was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Sarah – I grew up on Maui in a culture that revered the ocean. I have always felt a connection, a sense of awe, and a sense of responsibility to the ocean. I did not know any scientists, though, and studying the ocean never occurred to me until I moved to Northern California as a high school history teacher and began volunteering at a nearby marine laboratory during my vacations. I was quickly hooked.

Where did you go to school?

Beth – I went to Long Island University – Southampton College for my undergraduate degree and to Duke University for my Master’s degree in Environmental Management.

Sam – I got my undergraduate degree in Biology and Environmental Studies from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and then went on to get my PhD in Biology from Temple University.

Sarah – I earned an undergraduate degree in Public Policy and a Master’s in Teaching from Brown University. I took undergraduate science courses from Santa Rosa Junior College when I decided to pursue marine science, and I earned a PhD in Ecology from the University of California, Davis.

How did you start out in marine biology?

Beth – I studied marine biology in college, worked for many years on whale watching and snorkel charter boats teaching the public about the ocean. I volunteered with researchers who needed help on their field projects on coral reefs, sea turtles and whales.

Sam – My college did not have a marine biology program or access to the ocean, so I started out by doing internships in aquatic ecology (mostly lakes). I got my first marine experience while I was studying abroad in Australia, fell in love, and went on to get a PhD studying deep-sea ecology.

Sarah – I began by identifying and counting crab, mussel, and snail larvae under a microscope. They were collected in Tuffy sponges bolted to rocks along the coast. I was a volunteer, helping marine scientists with research about when and how these larvae settle and become adults.

What can I do to help the ocean?

Just asking that question means you’re already an excellent voice for the ocean. Our oceans are vast but they are not infinite. There are lots of ways humans are impacting the ocean. And there are lots of ways you can help! Volunteering time or money to a local science lab or conservation organization would be great. Eat sustainable seafood. Stop using single-use plastic such as straws or plastic bags. Contact your elected officials about the importance of the ocean to you, and when you are old enough, vote for people that share your love of the ocean.