Sara Worden: Ocean Protection, An Ocean Away from the Coast

Author: Sara Worden
Fellow Type: California Sea Grant State Fellow
Year(s) of Fellowship: 2016
Host Agency: California Ocean Protection Council (OPC)

A move to Sacramento to work as a CA Sea Grant State Fellow at the Ocean Protection Council (OPC) was a huge transition for me, and represented a turning point in my career and my life as a coastal Californian. I never thought I would leave the ocean. I’ve lived within 10 miles of the coast nearly my entire life; and the kelp forests, rocky tidepools, old growth redwoods, foggy mornings, and that laid back coastal culture are so entwined with my sense of identity, that I’ve had to pivot the very way I interact with the world in my new place of residence.  In fact, I was so dead set on staying close to the ocean when I found out that I was a finalist for the Sea Grant Fellowship, that I immediately ruled out all of the fellowships that would force me to move inland. But once I started to understand the inner workings of each fellowship, I realized that I was doing myself a huge disservice by tethering my next career move to the coast. And I’m so glad I came around, as the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) Program at OPC was the perfect place for me to land, and in a way has brought my career full circle.

I’ve spent most of my career amongst the diverse array of seaweeds and invertebrates in the rocky intertidal zone, as a marine ecologist for the Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network.  I’ve traveled the Pacific coast from Washington to Baja California monitoring this important ecosystem, which represents the linkage between land and sea. As a part of this work, I’ve been involved with the rocky intertidal baseline data collection in California’s MPA network since the first MPAs were implemented in the Central Coast in 2007. Working in California’s MPAs was an amazing adventure, and a unique way to experience the state’s coastal diversity, both human and ecological. My blood, sweat and tears literally went into collecting the MPA baseline dataset in the rocky intertidal—I had to get rescued from an MPA site on the Central Coast and my knee still creaks and aches from the injury I sustained.  Now, I’m working in the state’s capital, integrating the knowledge and passion I gained participating in the MPA baseline data collection to affect MPA policy and help launch the state into the long-term phase of the MPA management program. I truly am getting the unique opportunity to lend my voice to the uptake of science I conducted into government policy. 

The day-to-day as a fellow in the OPC office is dynamic and fast-paced. We sit directly in the California Natural Resources Agency, which means that we have a stake in all coastal and ocean issues in the state. Essentially, all ocean-related arrows point back to the OPC, and because of this, I get to interact with a broad audience of stakeholders from other state agencies, academic scientists, tribes, and of course my fellow Sea Grant State Fellows. One day, I may be writing a white paper on how MPAs can build resilience along our coast, and the next I may be sitting in a legislative hearing up at the capitol building. Working specifically in the MPA Program allows for the perfect marriage of my science and communications brains. The work is challenging, but gratifying.

Although living in Sacramento takes feeling “landlocked” to a new level for me, the career connections I’m making and communication skills I’m learning are endless. I’m lucky to be a part of a cohort of fellows who work hard and play hard, and our professional collaborations and city adventures help make living in Sacramento fun. I am so glad I didn’t limit myself based on location when choosing a fellowship. There are huge benefits to being in Sacramento, the hub of political activity for a state that often leads the Nation in government policy. With a bit of imagination, I bring the ocean to me: when it gets really hot in the summer, I have a small, shady redwood grove near the capitol to visit during lunch to beat the heat, and when that “Delta breeze” picks up, I try to picture it blowing through the Golden Gate, over the San Francisco Bay and up the Sacramento River; my ultimate connection to the ocean.

Written by Sara Worden