Because the ways in which we interact with our natural environment and with each other are interconnected.
Welcome to the Wildlifers' Blog, where we step into the world of our fellow wildlife professionals. The array of professional pathways in wildlife science and management is extensive. Not only that -- the Bay Area is a big region, with many diverse ecosystems, people, mirco-climates, and cultures! The goal here is to share experiences and interests among our members on a monthly basis, as a virtual option for low-pressure community engagement and fun. Any member of The Wildlife Society is welcome to participate. We've prepared some pretty simple template questions for you to work from, but please feel free to share more if you like! Please keep all language respectful.
Email TWSBayArea@gmail.com to be featured on the blog!
This month we are featuring Wildlifer, Laura Duffy!
County Where you Live: San Francisco
Profession: Wildlife Biologist, Marine Ecologist
What are you working on these days?
Tell us about a favorite project or a recent day in the field.
I am currently working on a NEPA-driven environmental planning effort for National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), studying the implications of potential offshore aquaculture in federal waters offshore of California. Due to the heavy planning effort (not permitting or regulatory) of the project, it's all behind a computer these days! While I really miss field work and wildlife interactions, for now I am excited to be working on big-picture, marine environmental systems at the crossroads of science and policy. Every day I coordinate in the virtual space among protected resource specialists, fisheries biologists, oceanographers, economists, social scientists, and other subject-matter experts within the agency and research centers, as well as with other agency personnel and local stakeholders.
My favorite place to be is along the coast or out to sea. You learn very quickly when you go offshore if it's the life for you or not -- some people think it is scary or go stir-crazy; I find it exciting and serene. I've worked previously for NOAA/NMFS as a fisheries and protected resources observer (spending up to eight weeks out at sea!), and have done wildlife surveys all over California. It's fun to combine my California and offshore experiences in this position.
What sparked your initial interest, and/or what has inspired you most in your career?
I was raised on the coast, and could never get enough of the water and the outdoors -- constantly taking in my surroundings, learning how things interacted in my environment. You never know what you may see wandering along a beach; it is such a crazy-dynamic place. You can walk the same stretch over and over and get entirely different experiences depending on the tide, the direction of the wind, time of day, etc. The same drastic changes can happen underwater: the surface may be completely chopped up with wind, no visibility, but if you dive down just three feet or so, a whole world can open up. You never know what's going to pop out from under the surface of the water, or what is happening just beyond your sensory capabilities! The ocean is just crazy interesting, from a physical, biochemical, and ecological standpoint.
What resources (and/or who) helped you get to where you are today?
Describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences. How could others, who may be trying to have a career like yours, take advantage of similar opportunities?
Between undergrad and returning for a MSc, I worked as a fisheries and protected resources observer in the commercial fisheries, and I would HIGHLY recommend that adventure to anyone! You don't have to be a marine biologist, any natural science degree is required. After an intense training on US Coast Guard safety and specifics of whatever region you choose (I went to Alaska), you go collect biological and statistical data on target species, bycatch, and protected resources at sea. Not only is it a super exciting way to get field experience, it is a great way to gain some financial stability (which could apply anytime in life, but for me it was after spending too much money on beer and pizza in college). Ideally, you spend your entire contract at sea, so many of your monthly expenses are taken care of by living/ working/ eating on the ships, or staying in provided bunkhouses while in port.
The job also provides collaborative access to people from every walk of life. Folks come from all over the world to work in the US fishing fleet -- they may not have similar education, hold the same opinions, or even speak the same language. But on a ship, no one is there without a specific job to do, and everyone relies on each other for a successful trip and for each others' safety. When your "world" is a floating hunk of metal over 1,000 miles from land "world peace" becomes a very achievable goal, no matter who is working shoulder to shoulder with you. You have to figure out a way to cooperating with and respect one another. I've taken that with me in my career and in life.
Where is one of your favorite places to play outside in the Bay Area?
Fort Funston, part of the Golden Gate Nat'l Recreation Area
Before I lived in San Francisco, I discovered Fort Funston on a day finding dog-friendly beaches in the area. It's one of largest areas that allow dogs off-leash, which can be really fun (if you are a responsible dog owner with a well-trained pup... but I digress...). Its dramatic sandstone cliffs, giant dune systems, native plants, and variety of wildlife amazed me! It's a big expanse of land that overlooks the city from a distance. I've seen barn owls, great horned owls, coyotes in the wooded areas; hawks and ravens soar over the dunes; tons of shorebirds of course; and marine mammals can often be seen surfacing from the beach or bluffs. Sometimes whale bones even pop out of the sand for awhile after some major sediment transport after a storm.
Honestly, a big part of how I ended up going to SFSU for grad school and living in my neighborhood for the last ten years is because I discovered Fort Funston. Beautiful views are easy access on a paved loop from the parking lot, or you can go up to 11-miles round trip into the bluff trails south of the lot. Highly recommend!!
Photo credit: Laura Duffy.
Photo credit: Laura Duffy.
Thank you, Laura!
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