When Green Jobs are Blue Jobs

Where to look for much needed marine conservation jobs in Hawai’i

If you ever thought that a career in marine conservation might be in your future, you probably imagined being a marine biologist studying dolphins or sharks. When “reality” caught up with you and you decided on a more “sensible” profession, you may have let the dream die. In fact, it’s never too late to reconsider a career in blue conservation, especially in a state where the ocean is always close at hand and there are many ocean-focused organizations regularly looking to hire people with a diversity of skills to support their mission.

Ocean conservation organizations have needs beyond attaching radio transmitters to sharks, monk seals or dolphins. If you’re passionate about ocean conservation, there is likely an organization that is desperately looking for someone that is good with education, social media, policy, data science, accounting or engine repair. So let’s consider some of the organizations in Hawaiʻi that need people to support marine conservation going from the federal level down to community organizations.  

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) conducts research and collects data on the marine ecosystems surrounding Hawai‘i and the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands. Its work is critical to the conservation of marine species and habitats that sustain human societies and economies alike. The NOAA and Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO) works with PIFSC, and leverages that organization’s data to apply it to policy. If fisheries, whales, sea turtles and monk seals interest you, then these organizations may have opportunities for you.

NOAA ship OSCAR ELTON SETTE supporting the Census of Marine Life expedition at French Frigate Shoals. Scientists, small boat captains, divers, and operations crew are all needed to support successful scientific expeditions. Photo by John Starmer.

At the state level, the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) has a number of opportunities to support marine conservation. The DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) will likely be the first thing to come to mind. These are the people that dive to evaluate reef health around our islands. But DLNR also has a Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) that might be a conservation career option if you have a law enforcement or military background.

Also at the state level, the University of Hawai‘i has a variety of jobs in ocean-related conservation. While there are a diversity of departments at UH, the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) is notable for housing the SeaGrant program which deals with topics from coral reefs to tourism and fisheries to climate change. While there is a focus on oceanography, SOEST provides various opportunities for ocean-related conservation jobs such as marine biology, marine geology and satellite remote sensing, among others.

Finally, there are non-profit organizations (NGOs). There are large national/international organizations like the Nature Conservancy and the Coral Reef Alliance that have a presence in Hawai‘i. There are also homegrown organizations like Kuleana Coral, which focuses on coral restoration, and the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council, which works on land and sea to protect coral reefs. Getting even more local, there are community NGOs that are focused on just a small part of an island, such as the organizations that comprise the Maui Nui Makai Network, which support the development of community conservation areas.

From government agencies to research institutions to non-profit organizations focused on ocean conservation, the job opportunities in Hawai‘i are abundant and diverse. Whether you actually studied marine biology or majored in accounting, if you care about Hawaiʻi’s unique marine ecosystem you can find work that will let you make a meaningful contribution towards preserving and protecting the ocean and the state’s unique and precious resources for further generations.

Census of Marine Life expedition divers at La Pérouse Pinnacle. The NOAA Fisheries boat captain makes the work on an international team of scientists possible. Photo by John Starmer.



UH Seagrant

TNC Hawaii

CORAL Hawaii

Kuleana Coral

Maui Nui Marine Resource Council

Maui Nui Makai Network

John Starmer