Coral Reef Conservation and Coastal Zone Management programs
What is your title and what do you do in your position?
As a Site Liaison for NOAA’s CRCP and CZMP, I oversee both programs’ interests in improving coral reef health, protecting coastal communities, and balancing economic development in American Samoa, the only inhabited U.S. Territory south of the equator.
How did you end up working at NOAA?
I spent my twenties traveling the world and discovering my place within it. I worked as an abalone farmer in Mexico, a science educator in Tahiti, and a marine biologist in Fiji. Getting paid was a bonus. I ultimately ended up coordinating coral reef conservation efforts for the Government of American Samoa. Upon completion of my term there, I looked for new opportunities and landed my current job with NOAA.
What do you like most about your job?
NOS recognizes the importance of having “boots on the ground” and emphasizes direct and intimate engagement with the resources and communities we work with. Although American Samoa is part of the United States, it has a unique history, culture, and language. A place-based approach to coastal management allows us to take a national program and make it locally relevant. In this way, we are able to develop meaningful partnerships in the diverse, complex, and interesting places where we work.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Resource conservation is complicated. Understanding organisms, ecosystems, communities, and the relationships between them is humbling. There are more unknowns than knowns, but endless opportunities to learn.
What is your educational background?
I studied aquatic biology at the University of California at Santa Barbara and graduated with a master’s in marine science and management from the University of New England in Australia.
What inspired your interest in the ocean and coasts?
As a second-generation Japanese-American, I was brought up on an overdose of education. After school, I went to another school to learn everything all over in Japanese. I never had time for organized sports, but discovered surfing as something that I could do on my own. Surfing also provided the perfect counterculture to what I was otherwise being molded into, and I soon became enamored by the lifestyle and the wild ocean. By my late teens, I realized that I was indebted to the ocean and anted up with a pledge to give back. I haven’t looked back since.
What is one of the most important things you've learned while working here?
I am regularly wowed by life in the ocean. During a routine safety stop on a dive, I noticed an army of tiny hermit crabs (genus Paguritta) living inside of a coral colony. Instead of living in a shell, these hermit crabs bore homes in the live coral. Now immobile and without the ability to scavenge, they use their antennae-like nets to passively catch drifting plankton. What an ingenious and alternative lifestyle for a hermit crab! Scaling your perspective up or down reveals new discoveries.
What advice do you have for young people wanting careers in the "ocean realm"?
Get your hands dirty, experience as much as you can, and figure out where your passions lie. Academic backgrounds are important, but aren’t fully leveraged without life experiences. There is more time—and limitations are fewer—than you think, especially during your early career. Learning what makes you tick will lead to greater fulfillment and longevity in your career. Take a risk! The rewards are great and often unexpected.