Hawaii dreaming – Melanie Harrison-Okoro joins Real Scientists

Many thanks to the most excellent Dr Cameron Webb for his return week at Real Scientists, teaching us to look at mosquitos in a different way.  Which, if you think about it, is quite difficult.  Like Cameron, our next curator is also interested in the wildlife of streams and waterways.  Swinging around the globe again, we’re off to Hawaii to meet Dr Melanie Harrison-Okoro (@DrHarrisonOkoro) in the field.  Dr Harrison-Okoro is an environmental scientist normally based in California, but this week will be in Hawaii in the field – and on holiday! – reporting for Real Scientists.


Melanie is a water quality specialist and the aquatic invasive species coordinator for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAAFisheries), West Coast Region.  We’re delighted to have Melanie on this week, talking about the importance of water quality. In fact, this issue is central to the future of this planet, as Melanie explains:


No matter what your backgrounds we all use natural resources, in some form or another. The way we use them affects the socio-economica and environmental health of our communities; whether it be for recreational purposes, aesthetics, economic sustainability, or simply being able to breath in clean air. The management, preservation and conservation of our natural resources is vitality important. If we want future generations to experience them then we have to “care” about what happens to them.


We asked Melanie how she ended up in science, and how:

Why: I like to ask questions and investigate the unknowns. I’ve always been curious about how things work and when you’re a scientist the why is one of the first questions you ask yourself. You can do this with out getting into much trouble!

How: The science choose me. I thought I was going to be a neurosurgeon at age 7; sounded smart and I wanted to be a doctor. I found out that I can’t cut a straight line in a stick of butter and I faint at the sight of blood, so to go forward I went back to my roots growing up in Alabama, fishing with my greatgrandmother. It was like a magnet no matter how I veered away from my past, it followed me. So I stopped fighting it, because science is a part of me and my upbringing. It has always been a part of me.



Tell us about your work?

Currently, I work at the intersection of science and policy as a water quality specialist and West Coast Region Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator for the NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Services. When funny sounding plants like spongeplant and curlyleaf clog up our water ways and impact our endangered and threatened species like coho salmon and chinook I analyze the impacts to those species. When pesticides (e.g.., herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides) are applied in waters that have listed species or in their habitat, I analyze the effects of the action on listed species. When nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) enter our water ways from point and non-point sources such as agricultural fields and leakey sewer lines I work with agencies to identify best practices to minimize the impacts. I also get an opportunity to do quite a bit of outreach to the K-12 community and public on the importance of protecting our trust resources.


Do you have any interesting external/extracurricular obligations?

I am an active member of the American Geophysical Union, Early-Career Scientist on the Council. I am a Big Sister in the Big Brother Big Sister Program in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am also an member of the UCDavis AAUW Chapter. unnamed-5


Any interesting hobbies you’d like to share?

Is watching sports a hobby? lol [Ed. YES. Can we talk about cricket? Ok no]. If so, then that is it! I love sports!!!! I’m into mixed martial arts (MMA); not participating but an avid watcher! I love the game of basketball. I used to play in college and that’s how I paid my way through school. I like to bike ride, and have an old ten speed I test the limits of the road with. I don’t go very fast, but that’s okay. When I can, I love to snorkel!


How would you describe your ideal day off? (Scientists are people too!)

I like to take a nice hike or bike ride with the hubby. I’m an introvert by nature so these activities help to clear my head. We ride around town, stop to grab a bite to eat, back on the bike again and the cycle continues.

Please welcome Dr Melanie Harrison-Okoro to Real Scientists!


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