Scientist Leading Safaris #SeaGrant50

Author: Phil Giovannini
Fellow Type: California Sea Grant State Fellow
Year(s) of Fellowship: 1995
Host Agency: California State Senate

As the National Sea Grant College Program celebrates its 50th anniversary, we take a look back at how our program has supported education through graduate fellowships.

In month-long this series, we explore what former California Sea Grant State Fellows have been up to since their fellowship.

Former California Sea Grant State Fellow Phil Giovannini
Phil Giovannini was a California Sea Grant State Fellow in 1995. After his initial placement with the chair of the California Legislature’s Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, he moved to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water. During his fellowship, Giovannini wrote a petition to protect spring-run chinook under the state Endangered Species Act. The salmon was eventually listed.

Two years after completing his California Sea Grant State Fellowship, Giovannini moved from Maui, where he had been a project manager for a company that raised tropical fish for the aquarium trade, to Tanzania. There, he became the academic director of a 15-credit semester abroad program in wildlife biology and conservation, offered through the Vermont-based School for International Training, which once trained U.S. Peace Corps volunteers. His course – he designed, taught and staffed it – included taking college students on field trips, aka safaris, through east Africa’s spectacular Serengeti grasslands.

He returned to the United States in 2001, with his African wife and their young son. “My parents were getting older,” he said, “and my wife wanted to see America, and go to school and improve her English.”

The beauty of the region’s wilderness, and Africa itself, evidently left a deep impression on him. After returning to California, he opened a safari tour company, Blue Moon Safaris, which takes adventure travelers through the same wilderness areas he and his students explored in the late 1990s. “My other jobs, fortunately, allow me the flexibility to return to Africa for weeks or months at a time,” he said.

“Eventually, when I am able to, I will retire and run safaris full-time with my son,” he said. But for now, Giovannini and his family are busy learning English and exploring America’s water parks and playgrounds.

In terms of his experiences as a California Sea Grant State Fellow more than a decade ago, Giovannini said he remembers what an eye-opener the world of politics was, especially for someone coming out of academia.

“The fellowship has served me well,” said Giovannini, who holds a doctorate in biological and agricultural engineering and master’s in international development from UC Davis. “Not because of what I achieved but because of what I saw. It was a quick and real look at how politics operates. The dominant paradigm was completely different from academia.”

In academia, questions remain open, he said. Ideas are endlessly swirled and re-examined from different sides. “But in the political world, questions have to be answered. Everything comes down to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote. That’s tough for scientists charged with advising on technical issues who rarely have all the data they would like.”

Giovannini currently works at the California State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento.

Originally published February 2007