Open Spaces: Careers in Conservation: Inspired By Cousteau

Careers in Conservation: Inspired By Cousteau

By Judy Gordon, USFWS

Why did I choose my current career path? One name: Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the oceanographer and marine conservationist.

Growing up I probably watched every one of his TV specials about his adventures aboard the research vessel Calypso. I knew by the time I was eleven years old that I wanted a career in a marine biological science so I could be near the water and study biology.

My parents were fully engaged and encouraged me to head to college.They always wanted me to have a choice when it came to my career, which was something they didn't have as children of the Great Depression.

gordonSampling fall chum on the Yukon River in Alaska (Photo: USFWS)

Armed with images from TV specials and support from family I started down my career path. I earned a Bachelor’s degree in population Biology and as Master’s degree in Quantitative Ecology with a minor in Statistics. This robust education allowed me to get jobs in Massacheusettes, Alaska and Washington. I also got to complete research work off the coast of New England, in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Pacific Northwest.

Over the past 30 years, I have seen amazing things: a whale shark feeding at the surface of the ocean; porpoises enjoying themselves riding the bow wave of a ship; a grizzly bear and her two cubs walking across a hill side; a pod of beluga whales; polar bear running across the tundra; a tarpon jumping out of the ocean; the vividly colored Queen Triggerfish; mahi mahi moving so fast they appear to be just streaks of color underwater; a black bear strolling along a river bank; a moose taking a drink; a startled herd of musk ox forming a protective circle around their calves,; streams full of salmon in their spawning colors; a family of river otters playing; herds of caribou, elk, bison, and mule deer; frigate birds, wild swans and bald eagles. And I haven’t even listed all the different species of fish!

One of my favorite things about my work is a moment when I feel most connected to the natural world. Be it standing on the deck of research vessel heading to port in twenty foot seas, the quiet in the morning when you wake up in your tent, the smell of sea air and the sounds of sea birds, or seeing a run of brightly colored fish returning to spawn in a creek. Those are the moments that I most strongly feel a sense of calm, a better understanding of our place in nature, and the importance of conserving the natural world.

I can’t imagine doing anything else!

Judy Gordon is Center Director at the Abernathy Fish Technology Center in Washington State

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Last updated: June 21, 2012