The unifying mission of my endeavors is: to make meaningful, tangible positive change in the world (idealistic, yes?); to raise the profile of underrepresented, but significant, voices and ideas; and enjoy the many wonders along the way. In other words: I strive to do good & have a beautiful time.
I include this here not as an exercise in self-absorption, but because several young researchers have reached out to share that it was helpful to learn more about my own pathway to working in conservation.
Where & when
Originally from Japan (Irish-Japanese mixed race pride!), I grew up in the arid, hilly landscape of San Diego County in California, and then braved the east coast to learn in the hallowed halls of Princeton University (fantastic financial aid program), when I began my life of extensive travel with field courses and research in Hawai’i, Panama, and Kenya. I spent the two years after graduation working as a field assistant in Thailand, Kansas, and Texas (and as a vitamin clerk at Henry’s Market to tide me through low-money times…yes, let’s talk about barriers to entering the conservation field!), and then got into a dream PhD program with the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
I spent 10 years there through my PhD and postdoctoral fellowship, including research in Peru, Madagascar, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico, and Myanmar, before moving to Myanmar to work for IUCN for a couple of years. After the heartbreaking passing of my father in 2018 from the flu, and a huge breakthrough in my minimally-speaking autistic brother’s communication, I decided to move home for a while to focus on family and try out freelance writing while continuing consulting work.
This happened to align almost exactly with the onset of the COVID19 pandemic, which certainly served to reinforce my transition to a San Diego-based, family-focused lifestyle.
The conservation side
From following dolphins and listening to villagers on remote coastlines, to sharing skills and ideas in classrooms, to developing and facilitating strategic workshops, my work is centered on the idea: How can we actually make a meaningful and positive difference through conservation – in a socially responsible way? This encompasses actively including community voices in designing solutions, to pragmatically evaluating conservation approaches and outcomes, to making conservation careers more accessible and inclusive, to larger issues of decolonizing conservation as a field.
I’ve migrated from behavioral ecology (zebras! monkeys!) to marine conservation (marine otters! dolphins! porpoises! other charismatic swimmers!) to more broad social-ecological conservation research, and from academia to the NGO world (which I personally found to be much more fulfilling, though not without frustrations) to this very flexible, but exciting, world of freelance consulting, where I can link academic and applied work.
Along the way, I’ve observed and learned so much about conservation in practice and conservation as a field, much of it inspiring and much of it disillusioning. However, I’m stubborn (“driven”) enough to turn that disillusionment into motivation to advocate and act for positive changes, and to continue to contribute what I can to ethical, equitable, and effective conservation. This includes my focus on conservation evaluation and a human-centered Design Thinking approach on much of my work, and I am particularly proud of my work with the Myanmar Coastal Conservation Lab at Point B Design + Training.
I’m continually working to build my skill set, experience, and perspectives from diverse field sites, projects, disciplines, and sectors, seeking insights and approaches to inform more thoughtful, practical, and equitable conservation. I see this as a quest for what I elegantly call “no bullshit conservation.” Through all of this, I have been truly fortunate to experience many fantastic places, see some amazing animals, and to work with dedicated, inspirational teams and colleagues in many countries and from many walks of life.
One of my high school teachers would make predictions at the end of the year about where his students would be in a decade, and these predictions were actually pretty well-informed. When it came to me, he smiled, puzzled over it a bit, and said, “I’m not sure what you’ll be doing, but you will somehow be working to make the world a better place.”
That’s a pretty good synopsis of my direction. Add the fact that I was eager to travel and see the world, and conservation ended up being a pretty good fit. But it’s not my only or even my most defining interest, and I’m exploring other ways in which I want to contribute to positive change and experience the world.
I have long wanted to enter the world of freelance, nonfiction writing, as a way to share important and underrepresented ideas and experiences in conservation, but also more generally to share perspectives and stories about travel, feminism, representation and rights of nonspeaking autistic people, and life experienced along the way. My brother Danny is also an aspiring (and really gorgeous) writer and autism advocate, and we are thrilled to be collaborating on some exciting endeavors! Gaining communication fluency with him has been such a revelation, and it’s opened my eyes to a whole universe of ideas and experiences.
Other interests include: playing in the ocean (surfing, SUP, diving, swimming), running, yoga; vegan concoctions; traveling and spending quality time with friends and family (including canines) whenever our paths cross; advocating for feminism, disability justice, and social justice generally; Spelling to Communicate; trying to master Japanese.