This week we chat to…Heather Peterson, Program Director at CIMI/Guided Discoveries in the USA. Heather has been driven by her passion to protect the ocean and continues to be inspired by the team she works with. She suggests always taking opportunities that come your way and remember the sky is the limit!
Name: Heather Peterson
Job Title: Program Director
Organisation: CIMI/Guided Discoveries
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
I have always loved the ocean. For a long as I can remember, the only thing I have ever wanted to do is a job revolving around the ocean. The details were never specific, though I have always loved animals. As I continue to learn more, I am driven by the desire to protect the ocean for future generations and to protect the animals that live in it today.
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
I have been working for CIMI now for over 12 years and while here, I have been able to work a variety of different positions, learning new things each step of the way. In addition to taking on new roles, I am in the process of getting my Master’s in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences from the University of Florida. I don’t know what I want to do next in my career, but I feel that having my Master’s will help me have an advantage and I also really enjoy learning.
- How did you land your current job/position?
After graduating from UCLA with a degree in Marine Biology, I spent a year trying to find a job at a local aquarium. I finally reached out to a friend who told me about the position as a marine science instructor on Catalina Island. Once I got here, I never looked back!
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
I’d probably have to say the people, our mutual passion for ocean conservation, and getting to share first time ocean experiences with kids. Every day I get to work with an amazing team that supports me and gets excited about the same nerdy stuff I do. Who else has a dog named after a nudibranch?!
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
One of the things I feel like I make the most difference is in the lives of my staff. I hire lots of people who are fresh out of college and don’t necessarily know what they want to do. I get to help teach them new skills that they will use both here as instructors and as they move on in their careers. I get to help guide people through the start of their careers and help them discover what they want to do in the future.
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
Say yes to more opportunities and try out for more opportunities. My favorite saying these days is “if you don’t ask, they can’t say yes.” The more new experiences you have, the more you learn and grow.
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
Boat driving! I just kind of picked it up after moving to Catalina island, but depending on where you want to go, it can really open a lot of doors. Especially if you want to work in the field.
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
The sky is the limit! Meet as many people as you can and apply for any opportunity that interests you. There are so many places that knowing people can help open doors for you or give you that connection to help you get to your next job.
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
Cuttlefish. They are beautiful and crazy smart. When you look them in the eye, you can tell that they are conscious and aware and looking back at you. I also think the fact that they can display two different color patterns on different sides of their body is just amazing. Telling individuals on one side that they are not a threat and on the other side, come mate with me.
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
Last year, around April 2020, we had a big plankton bloom and the bioluminescence was just spectacular. I went for a ride at night to check it out and saw more than I could have ever imagined. As we drove out of the cove, you could see individual fish swimming near the bottom as glowing blobs. We made our way down the coast and found a sea lion playing at the surface. It was doing backflips and somersaults, glowing like a snow angel and then dip down below the top level of plankton and disappear. Then to top it all off, on the way home, there was a small pod of dolphins that lit up in our wake. Truly a one of a kind experience.
Thank you Heather.