Karen Peterson, Senior Manager of Special Initiatives at Seacology tells us about her personal journey into environmentalism, what drives her passion for conservation, and the inspiring work that she's been involved with over the past twenty-two years.
Can you tell us about the origins and mission of Seacology?
Seacology’s origins date back to 1990, but it became a staffed organization in 1999. From the very beginning, our mission has been to partner with indigenous island communities to help them protect their unique habitats and cultures. There are distinct pressures on island terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and an alarming 80 percent of species extinctions in the past 500 years have occurred on islands. And island communities are on the front lines when it comes to our changing climate.
From the very beginning, our mission has been to partner with indigenous island communities to help them protect their unique habitats and cultures.
We partner with local communities and local conservation organizations to launch projects that protect precious habitats, like seagrass, mangroves, coral reef or rainforest. In exchange, we provide a grant for a tangible benefit that community members have identified as a critical need - for example, a new school or solar power system. To date, we’ve launched 249 projects in 65 countries, protecting 1.4 million acres of habitat.
How did you come to work for Seacology and what drives your passion for the work that you do?
My connection with nature is at the center of my being. I grew up in rural Vermont, and since childhood, nature has stirred me to my core. In my 20s, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and started doing administrative work for a few nonprofits.
I eventually ended up at the Goldman Environmental Prize. In 1997, Seacology cofounder Dr. Paul Cox received the Prize in the Islands and Island Nations category, along with the late Samoan Chief Fuiono Senio. The story of the Samoan rainforest that they helped to save, and the school that was constructed so the community did not have to sell their forest in order to afford to educate their kids, is the story of Seacology’s origin. In the summer of 1999, then-Goldman Prize Executive Director Duane Silverstein and I became Seacology’s first paid staff members. This June will mark my 22nd year with Seacology. Our office is in California, but six years ago I moved to Northern Colorado. My free time is spent in the amazing wilderness that surrounds us; I’m a trail ultrarunner, but also love to snowshoe, ski and just hike.
My connection with nature is at the center of my being.
My professional journey has been a unique one; I have a bachelor’s degree in creative writing, but my passion for conservation, as well as my love and respect for indigenous cultures, have fueled my fire. I have traveled all around the world to learn about the intense challenges and pressures facing indigenous island communities. We’re based in the US and we don’t pretend to understand the complexities of what these communities face.
We rely on a network of field representatives, who live on these islands and are deeply connected to conservation, to identify and monitor our projects. My passion is based on the spectacular diversity of these islands, as well as their common challenges. It is incredibly humbling that this is my life’s work.
Can you tell us a bit about a Seacology conservation project that is particularly close to your heart, and why?
That is a hard ques