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ESP Team Member Spotlight: Austen Stovall

Austen Stovall is the newest member of Team ESP. She joined us this spring after completing a Sea Grant Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship in Rep. Jared Huffman's (D-CA-02) office. During her fellowship, Austen worked on introducing the Help Our Kelp Act, drafting and sending letters to the Biden Administration regarding illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, and pushing the Bureau of Land Management to ban cyanide bombs on public lands (which was a success!). She has a background in coral reef ecology, nature-based solutions, and coastal management and holds a Master's degree in coastal science and policy from UC Santa Cruz.

We asked Austen a few questions about her background and what drives her:

1. Where does your interest in the ocean come from? 

I grew up in Kill Devil Hills, NC on the Outer Banks so I have always been inherently tied to the ocean and coast. The ocean serves as my place of refuge and calm, and my source of endless curiosity.

I admire the fact that the ocean is bigger than us– literally and figuratively. There is so much we don’t know about the ocean, which leaves room for a lot of hope. Hope is what we need more of these days.

2. What path took you into ocean policy?

My path to ocean policy has been the opposite of a straight line. I’ve worn many hats throughout my career including summer camp counselor, Aquarium educator, coral restoration technician, and coral reef conservation practitioner. I moved from Key Largo, FL to Bocas del Toro Panama, to Manteo, NC, to St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands. Each of these roles and places provided me with diverse skills, but my passion for ocean and coastal management grew when I worked as the National Coral Reef Management Fellow for the U.S. Virgin Islands. Afterwards, I earned my Masters in Coastal Science and Policy at UC Santa Cruz, where I investigated whether federal hazard mitigation programs could support coral restoration for flood risk reduction projects. My time digging into scalable solutions for super wicked problems with the Coastal Resilience Lab at UC Santa Cruz led me to the Knauss Sea Grant Marine Policy Fellowship. After a year on Capitol Hill in the Office of Representative Jared Huffman, I was hooked on ocean policy for good.

3. What are you looking forward to in your work with ESP Advisors? 

I’m excited about being a connector of smart people working on smart policy on the Hill with critical programs and organizations that support our ocean, coasts, and communities on the ground. I love being a creative problem solver, and I’m excited to think critically about how we can further elevate the importance of the diverse services provided by our ocean and coasts.

4. What's something about the ocean and/or ocean policy you wish more people knew? 

The ocean is resilient and so are the people who depend on it, research it, and protect it! Coastal folks face dynamic challenges that constantly alter their place of home, livelihoods, and sense of normalcy, but they, and the ocean community at large, will never stop working to ensure its resources and services are guaranteed for future generations.

Stay tuned for spotlight posts on more members of our team!

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