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My Green Job: Claire Fackler, marine life educator

April 13th, 2009

Claire Fackler, 36, Santa Barbara, California

What I do:

I have been working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA), National Ocean Service since 1999.  Currently as the National Education Liaison for the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, I work with various partners, such as National Geographic Society and the Institute for Exploration on national and regional educational programs that enhance public awareness, understanding and appreciation of the marine environment, particularly America’s underwater treasures, known as national marine sanctuaries.

One of the exciting new projects I manage is called Ocean for Life, which provides high-quality, immersive ocean field studies and follow-on education programs to facilitate cross-cultural learning, appreciation and lasting experiences between Middle Eastern and Western students.  Another fun program for students in grades K-8 is the Ocean Guardian Kids Club.

My job is extremely exciting and fun, with a wide diversity of activities ranging from scuba diving, assisting in research projects, giving presentations, planning and implementing field experiences for students, providing hands-on training for teachers, and much more.  Some days I sit at my desk and plug away at planning programs and ensuring ocean conservation information is available online, and other days I am out counting fish in marine protected areas, kayaking with students, or engaging teachers in ocean literacy.

How it helps:

Everyone makes choices daily that impact the environment and the ocean.  Ultimately, the ocean sustains life on Earth.  So anything I can do to get teachers, students, and the public-at-large to better understand the environment, especially the ocean, and their connection to it, the more likely people will make more informed decisions that can have a positive effect on the lifeblood of our planet.  Everyone needs to understand that they are connected to the ocean, no matter where they live, and that there is only one big, interconnected global ocean.

Everyone is connected to the ocean through their local watersheds, such as rivers and streams, and their daily actions have an impact of the environment and ultimately the ocean.  The NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries education vision is an ocean literate public making informed environmental decisions and our mission is to inspire ocean literacy and conservation through national marine sanctuaries.

How I got here:

I have always been fascinated with the ocean and marine life.  This stemmed from being born and raised in the Hawaiian Islands, and as a little girl, investigating tide pools and strapping on a mask and snorkel to observe life in the sea.  Throughout my childhood, I was absorbed by nature.  It was quite easy, considering I grew up without electricity for ten years on the slopes of Mauna Kea and wasn’t distracted by television or video games.  Through these childhood experiences, my passion for the ocean and the environment grew.

During my high school years in Hawaii, I had an opportunity to assist with research on threatened Hawaiian green sea turtles conducted by George Balazs of NOAA Fisheries.  Working with sea turtles, as well as with pinniped (seals and sea lions) rehabilitation in California and other exciting projects provided valuable field experience and fueled my ambition to promote ocean conservation.  Working with marine life had a profound impact on my future, although I hadn’t realized it until a few years after college when I started as a volunteer for the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in California.

I got my foot in the door through volunteer work and internships during and after college.  Many of the people I work with have very specialized marine science or oceanography degrees, yet I come from a very different perspective.  I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, which is quite an unconventional degree for someone working for our country’s leading oceanic and atmospheric science agency.  Yet this passion I have always had for the ocean allowed me the opportunity to work for NOAA.  Anything is possible as long as you have the passion and diligence.  This is an important message I often impart to the school children with whom I work.

Where I’m going:

My work with the ocean has inspired me to further pursue my interests in photography and in telling stories through compelling imagery.  As an avid diver who spends time underwater for work and for fun, I have captured images ranging from playful sea lions in the kelp forests of the Channel Islands to basking green sea turtles in Hawaii.  During a 28-day research trip to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in summer 2006, I witnessed firsthand the human impacts on the marine life and sea birds of these remote, uninhabited atolls and islands. As a result, I now am committed not only to share images of the splendor and magnificence of the ocean world, but also of the tragic impacts humans are having on our blue planet.

As an ocean educator, my prospects for growth are wide open at this point.  Careers in the environmental field will only become more relevant as more Americans and people around the world better understand the importance of conservation and protecting the environment for future generations.  Also, the Obama Administration looks to be emphasizing topics such as climate change and education, which will only lead to more opportunities to educate people about threats to the ocean and environment.

How I’m doing:

The salary range for an ocean educator can vary widely depending on what organization you work for.  My best guess of the current salary range is about $45,000 – $100,000/year.  Also remember that you don’t necessarily need a science degree to work in the ocean field.  There are ocean-related jobs in photography, cinematography, engineering, socio-economics, business, and more.

Advice:

My advice is to pursue your passion no matter what, even if it means volunteering, doing an internship, or starting at the bottom of the totem pole in a career.  Anything is possible as long as you have the passion and diligence to follow through!  Your life will be so much more fulfilling if you truly love what you do.

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