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Mary Allen, Socioeconomics Coordinator/Social Scientist

Mary Allen

Mary Allen, Socioeconomics Coordinator/Social Scientist.

The Coral Reef Conservation Program is a partnership between the NOAA offices that work on coral reef issues. NOAA takes a multidisciplinary approach to understanding and conserving coral reef ecosystems. Mary Allen serves as the social scientist lead for the Coral Reef Conservation Program, engaging with local communities to understand the ways in which coral reefs benefit them.

What are your job duties?

As the social science lead for the Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP), I aim to improve our understanding of the human connections to coral reefs and represent the diverse social values in coral reef management. I coordinate and oversee a variety of social and economic projects, including evaluating ecosystem services, or the ways in which coral reefs benefit coastal communities. I also lead the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program Socioeconomic Component, and oversee CRCP’s key involvement in the Global Socioeconomic Monitoring Initiative. My job mainly involves engaging with local communities, cultivating partnerships, and providing technical assistance to state and territory partners in social science planning, survey research, data collection, analysis, and interpretation.

Describe how you came to be where you are today in your career.

I have always been attracted to the water. Growing up in Oklahoma, I loved exploring lakes, rivers, and the outdoors, visiting the local aquarium and watching ocean documentaries. One day, my family took a trip to the Florida Keys where I snorkeled and saw a coral reef for the first time. I was fascinated with this hidden underwater world and all the life that exists there. This experience changed my life forever; from that moment on, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in the marine sciences.

How did you know you wanted to pursue your current career?

Originally, I wanted to be a marine biologist, but my interests evolved towards the human aspect of things, and why all of the amazing science we do matters. People and nature are interconnected, and I wanted to make a positive, meaningful impact on both. I worked in environmental outreach and public education for some time during and after college. Throughout that time, I realized that people think and respond to environmental issues in very different ways, and there are no easy fixes, but people are an absolutely critical part of the solution. This realization and all of my previous experiences combined are what led me to become a social scientist and pursue a career that integrates elements of human experience and biophysics, or the application of physics to study biology.

Describe a person who influenced you or encouraged you.

There are many people who have encouraged me along the way. My parents are my biggest heroes and have always supported me and encouraged me to follow my dreams. My mom, who is also a scientist, inspired me to pursue a career as a woman in science. My dad helped me find the courage to be myself, never give up, and learn from all of life’s challenges. Professionally, Dr. David Loomis, my doctoral advisor at East Carolina University, has had a large influence on my career.

What NOAA project have you enjoyed working on the most?

I have really enjoyed and am extremely proud of working on the Socioeconomic Component of the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program, or NCRMP, the only federal coral reef monitoring program that includes the human dimensions. Because NCRMP collects benthic, fisheries, climate, and socioeconomic data, we are able to holistically assess how coral reefs and adjacent coastal communities are doing. We are approaching the third socioeconomic monitoring cycle, so it is very interesting to see how people’s perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes toward coral reef conservation are changing over time. It’s also been fun working with our local partners and communities in each of the jurisdictions and learning about their cultures and the relationships they have with coral reef ecosystems.

How has your cultural background/history influenced your career?

I was born in South Korea, adopted at 6 months old, and grew up in Oklahoma. During my childhood, there were times when I struggled with my identity and sense of belonging. My parents encouraged me to find my own voice and that I didn’t need to be like everyone else. I think that it’s important to embrace new and different perspectives, and I try to promote diversity, inclusion, equity, accessibility, and justice as core principles in not just my career, but life in general. I’m a member of groups such as NOAA’s Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Employee Resource Group, and the Korean American Adoptee Network. These groups help foster belonging, diversity, inclusion, equity, accessibility, and justice, and they help overcome the barriers minorities face.

  • Name: Mary Allen
  • Location: Silver Spring, Maryland; travel throughout the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Pacific Island Regions
  • Education: B.S. in Marine Biology; M.S. in Marine Resources Management; Ph.D. in Coastal Resources Management, Human Dimensions
  • National Ocean Service Program Office: Office for Coastal Management (OCM), Coral Reef Conservation Program

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Author: NOAA

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