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NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program

MEET: Paulo Maurin

National Education Coordinator and Fellowship Manager, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP)

In my job, I wear two hats: As the CRCP's national education coordinator, I work to increase environmental literacy and incorporate technology to make coral reefs accessible, interesting, and relevant in the classroom, especially in relation to the three main threats to corals that our program addresses: impacts from climate change, fishing, and land-based sources of pollution. As manager of the Coral Reef Management Fellowship, I coordinate a program that places highly qualified individuals, often recent graduates, for two-year fellowships in each of our seven jurisdictional partners: Florida, Hawaii, U.S. Virgin Islands, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. territories of Guam and American Samoa.

Paulo Maurin conducts an ocean acidification demo at the National Mall

What do you like most about working at NOS?

Both elements of my job are very rewarding. I work with a wide array of programs that carry out important marine conservation projects, including NOS programs such as the National Marine Sanctuaries, Estuarine Research Reserves, and Marine Protected Areas, as well as with colleagues in NOS headquarters. Many of these collaborations make my job easier and enable me to have a wider reach.

One issue I’m passionate about is ocean acidification (OA) – chemical changes in the ocean that result from carbon dioxide emissions. While OA is a subject of growing concern in the scientific community, much of the public has yet to hear or learn about it. I do many presentations on this topic, and I'm amazed at how much interest it generates in people, especially educators and students. It's encouraging!

What is the hardest part of your job?

Sometimes, finding a meeting room that’s connected to the Internet seems to be a big challenge! Those rooms are in high demand around here. On a more serious note, one of the difficult aspects of my job is seeing a need and wanting to work on it right away, but having to be patient and figuring out how to make it happen. For instance, students contact me who want to conduct research on coral reefs and ocean acidification or get involved in restoration efforts. I would like CRCP to have a structure to award scholarships, provide mentoring scientists, and procure coral settings to support investigations by determined students at the high school and undergraduate levels. I'll be working on this one.

What is your educational background?

After obtaining a master's degree in organizational studies from the University of Central Florida, I realized I wanted to make a contribution to the ocean environment. So I pursued a PhD in information sciences combined with ocean policy at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, where I studied marine resource management at the community level. I learned how marine stakeholders organized themselves to balance competing uses of coastal resources, especially recreation, tropical aquarium fish collecting, and conservation. 

What inspired your interest in the ocean and coasts?

I have been casually interested in the oceans for a long time. The experience that gave me real motivation and focus was working at Oahu’s Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, Hawaii's first and most popular Marine Life Conservation District, during my graduate studies. I saw what the work of a small number of very committed individuals could achieve. It was a marine area that had almost been “loved to death” and trampled over, until regular, concerned citizens started a movement to protect it. It now stands as an example of a balanced act between marine conservation, recreation, and tourism. It was very revealing to experience first-hand a local community taking ownership of its unique marine resources.

How did you end up working at NOAA?

Just before graduating from the University of Hawaii in 2008, I was a recipient of the Knauss Sea Grant Fellowship. The fellowship places graduate students in marine sciences with policymakers in Washington, DC, to gain experience with the federal government in general and NOAA in particular. While I hadn’t seriously considered working for the federal government before, my NOAA experience was so positive and rewarding, I decided to stay.

What advice do you have for young people wanting a career in the "ocean realm"?

It was a long and winding road that got me here. Most of my colleagues did not have a direct line from education and experience to and their current jobs, so it's okay if you don't see a straight line from what you're doing now to what you would like to be doing in the future. For me, the most rewarding experiences were the ones I did for free, or next to free, like volunteering as a docent at the Waikiki Aquarium, and working in a tropical marine bay formed by a half-sunken volcano. While the financial benefit of these jobs was easily quantifiable – minimal! – they paid off later on, such as when I joined a research cruise to the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and obtained a grant from the National Science Foundation to fund my dissertation work. These experiences and opportunities eventually led me to a satisfying career with NOAA.