Meet the Experts: Polita Glynn, Manager, Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation

Polita Glynn joined the Pew Environment Group in 2009 as manager of the Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation, which provides fellowships to outstanding natural and social scientists, researchers and others around the globe to support innovative projects aimed at developing and implementing solutions to critical challenges facing the world's oceans.

What were some influences that caused you to develop a passion for protecting the ocean environment?

I grew up in Boston and on Cape Cod, so the ocean and the coast have always been a part of my landscape and the place that I go to for tranquility and restoration. Now I live in Miami close to the ocean, and I am reminded daily of both its beauty and its incredible importance as part of our planet and our lives.

I worked for many years in the field of education, project management and media production, but my projects always came back to ocean protection, whether in the Florida Keys, Biscayne National Park or St. Augustine. 

Living in Florida and diving since the early 1980's, I see the changes going on in the ocean. When I first started diving here, the reefs were full of live coral and fish. Fifteen years later, when I went diving with my son, I witnessed the terrible sense of “shifting baselines,” where our personal baseline of experience influences our expectations about what is pristine. My son was thrilled to see a few angel fish in the wild, and I was saddened to see extensive patches of dead coral. I want him to be able to dive with his children and experience the beauty of vibrant, colorful live coral. But beyond the aesthetic experience, I want him to live on a planet that has a healthy, functioning ecosystem.

When I was offered the change to manage the Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation in 2005, it presented the perfect opportunity to help run a program that supports some of the best and the brightest global talent in marine conservation. I am inspired every day by the 119 Pew Marine Fellows from over 30 countries around the world, as well as our program advisors and supporters who represent such an incredible fusion of research, science, policy, creativity and a love for adventure.

What do you like about the work you do now?

As part of the Ocean Science Division, the Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation provides fellowships to outstanding scientists and other individuals across the globe to support innovative, applied projects aimed at developing and implementing solutions to critical challenges facing the world's oceans. Each year, individuals or, occasionally, teams are selected by a prominent international panel of experts to receive the fellowship. Each Pew Fellow is awarded a $150,000 grant, allocated over three years, to complete an original, research-based marine conservation project.

Sometimes I feel as if I have the best job in the world. Each year, we go through an extensive process to seek out emerging marine conservation talent from around the world. The Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation invites a different group of experts every year to serve as nominators, and these individuals nominate candidates who are then invited to submit an application for the fellowship. Their proposals are reviewed by an external advisory committee that has the tough job of choosing the fellowship recipients. Managing the process, from the nominations to the applications to the final selection, is like watching a fascinating drama unfold over the course of a year. 

All the nominees are remarkably creative, strategic thinkers who propose innovative, problem-solving ideas related to ocean conservation. And, of course, making that phone call to let someone know they have received the fellowship is indeed a priceless experience. In turn, I get to support the work of smart, passionate and committed scientists, lawyers, economists, media makers and organizers working all over the world to protect the ocean and coastal systems. 

How has the Pew Fellowship Program contributed to global marine conservation?

I think the program has contributed to marine conservation in many ways. First, I believe the fellowship award is not only a monetary prize, but an opportunity for recipients to advance in their work and career aspirations. Second, the program fosters a global community of marine conservation scientists and experts. But most importantly, there are real and specific achievements accomplished by each Pew Marine Fellow through project work and the continued outcomes for years after. The new 2011 Pew Marine Fellows certainly will continue that tradition by contributing so much to the knowledge, expertise and experience needed to protect the ocean for future generations.

What should we look for in the 2011 Pew Marine Fellowships?

The 2011 Pew Marine Fellowships will support projects to map genetic patterns in dolphin populations, measure the economic and ecological tradeoffs of removing small fish species from the ecosystem, lay the scientific foundation for the establishment of marine-protected areas in the Chilean fjord region, and analyze the common threads in communities that prioritize environmental conservation.