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Joel Moribe, Endangered Species Biologist

May 25, 2021

As an endangered species biologist in Hawai‘i, Joel is a key member of the Pacific Islands Regional Office protected resources team.

Diver exploring close to coral reef in the ocean. Joel enjoys free diving and exploring parts of the ocean.

What do you do at NOAA Fisheries?

I am an endangered species biologist for the Pacific Islands Regional Office, based out of O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. I do Section 7 consultations, natural resource program coordination, acoustics, effects analysis, effect minimization, and species protection.

Would you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I have more than 20 years of experience as a marine scientist, Endangered Species Act expert, and effects and project analyst. Before coming to the Pacific Islands Region, I spent 14 years in the Pacific Northwest conducting project analysis for the protection of salmon and killer whales. I also spent 3 years with the Navy as an endangered species project manager. And I actually do some fieldwork … sometimes!

What are a few words that describe you?

Hawai‘i born and raised, turtle lover, monk seal lover, coral lover and rescuer, entanglement and debris hater, scuba diver, free diver, University of Southern California Trojan, corgi lover, poi eater.

Why did you get into this field?

I've been fishing on O‘ahu since I was a very young child. Over the years I had noticed that fish were more difficult to catch, and conditions of the habitat were worsening. I routinely witnessed people violate laws, even within my own family. I knew I had to do something, or we would lose everything.

Endangered Species Biologist holding a net.
A self-described entanglement and debris hater, Joel was inspired to pursue his career at a young age after witnessing worsening conditions for ocean resources.

When did you know this is what you wanted to do?

I don't really know the exact time, but it could have been at a very early age when my grandfather was showing me his large and grand collection of shells. He described to me that after you collect one, you bury it in your yard, and the ants would eat all of the meat and leave you only the shell. My reaction was "Wait, so you have to kill an animal just for the shell?" At that point, I knew I saw the world differently than my family.

Why is your work important?

We keep endangered species alive. The core of what we do is keeping species from going extinct and putting together strategies to recover their populations.

What does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?

To be honest, I almost never think about it. The monk seals, sea turtles, and corals don't care what I am. They only care that I give everything I have to protect them, so I never gave it a thought until now. With violence against Asian Americans in this country up 150 percent since March of last year (up as high as 1,900 percent in some places), it’s important that we speak up. My family has been here for four generations. We are as American as you are. Some of my family had everything taken from them and were put into internment camps. My family came from nothing to work on the sugar plantations. I appreciate my presence here as well as other Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the workforce at NOAA.

What advice do you have for today’s youth interested in a federal career?

Trust yourself, be yourself, don't turn down an opportunity to learn something. Learn to communicate effectively. Listen when you have to, and speak when you have to.

Last updated by Pacific Islands Regional Office on May 25, 2021