“A good way to spend a life” is how marine ecologist Heidi Weiskel describes her work to preserve the world’s ecosystems
By Linda Hall January 30, 2013
One of the most exhilarating things Heidi Weiskel hears before a business trip: Pack your boots. That means fieldwork, and whether it’s studying snails in San Francisco Bay or trying to protect endangered mangroves in Panama, the sights, sounds and science of habitat exploration and preservation are more mission than job for this marine ecologist.
A trip to Buenos Aires Province in 1999, while she was a graduate student at the Cummings School, was the hook. Weiskel joined a research team studying the impact of local fishing on Franciscana dolphins, a threatened species that were ensnared and killed by fishing nets.
“That experience made me realize how much I love the detail of keeping data, doing background research, figuring out what a species is doing in its own habitat—and why,” she says. “The fact that you could have an entire career out with these animals and in these habitats—it seemed like a gift.”
After graduating from Tufts with a master’s degree in animals and public policy in 2002, Weiskel quickly decided she “wanted to be the scientist offering the expert opinion.” She earned a Ph.D. in ecology at the University of California, Davis, and in 2012 started work as one of three scientists at the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, a nonprofit based in Eugene, Ore., that provides science-based evidence and legal advice to lawyers and activists in 70 countries working to protect endangered environments and the people who depend on them.
Already Weiskel has traveled from Baja to Belize to Panama. In Baja she advocated for measures to protect marine organisms from the brine and cleaning substances that would have been discharged from a large desalination plant proposed to support mining operations.