Meet Kristen Koyama, National Endangered Species Recovery Coordinator
Kristen Koyama is the National Recovery Coordinator in the Office of Protected Resources. She coordinates the development and implementation of recovery plans for species listed as threatened and endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
The NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources presents the third profile in our series to highlight staff members from various backgrounds who contribute to the field of marine ecology and conservation, and specifically individuals who work on Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act programs that support our mission.
Kristen Koyama grew up on the west side of Los Angeles, California near the ocean. The ocean was always a presence in her life and she visited the beach on weekends. However, she still struggled to connect to the natural world even though she was fascinated by it. “It may seem counterintuitive, but I think living in an urban area made me seek out nature more. That interest in marine science and the ocean continued throughout my education and my career,” Kristen says.
Her interest in nature led her to a multifaceted career in ecology, public policy, and international conservation issues. Today Kristen plays an important role at NOAA Fisheries as the national recovery coordinator for species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
An Open-Minded Educational Journey
As an undergraduate, Kristen majored in biology with a focus in ecology, behavior, and evolutionary biology at the University of California, San Diego. Kristen did not enter college knowing what she wanted to do, but she knew she had a passion for wildlife conservation. “My advice to students is to be flexible. These traits are important for fostering the ability to recognize that the things that might be a good fit for you may not be what you initially had in mind.”
Kristen took her own advice to be open-minded when she took an undergraduate course that explored human dimensions of conservation biology. It also examined the interactions between science, law, and conservation outcomes. That one course shaped the trajectory of her life. “Because of that class I became interested in how management policies need to be constructed around solutions that work for people as well as for the living resources that need protection.”
“After my undergraduate education, I was not quite sure where I wanted to go with my future studies. I didn't think I wanted to go into research, but I was still interested in the field of conservation biology,” Kristen remembers. So she enrolled in a unique masters degree program at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine—a master’s of science in animals and public policy. This graduate program focuses on human-animal relationships and their implications for policy and community action.
“I got into my current field through my master’s degree work,” Kristen says. During her master’s, Kristen did a legislative case study about the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the use of Navy sonar. This case study opened the door for her first job after graduate school, which was with NOAA Fisheries’ Greater Atlantic Regional Office. She was a biologist working on Section 7 consultations with the Navy. Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act requires other federal agencies to consult with NOAA Fisheries or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when any project or action they take might affect an ESA-listed marine species or designated critical habitat.
“Before then I never thought about a career in government, but I found the work to be really interesting and satisfying so I stayed,” she says. In her position, Kristen also had the opportunity to help NOAA Fisheries develop and implement its North Atlantic right whale ship strike reduction strategy. Since getting her start at the Greater Atlantic Regional Office in 2003, Kristen expanded her interests into international conservation taking positions at NOAA headquarters and the State Department. She currently works in the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources as the national endangered species recovery coordinator.
Protecting and Conserving Endangered Species
Recovering endangered species is a core priority of NOAA Fisheries’ mission. And Kristen’s work as the national recovery coordinator is critical to that mission.
A big part of Kristen’s job is coordinating and guiding the process of developing and implementing endangered species recovery plans. It is NOAA Fisheries’ responsibility to recover listed marine species to the point where they no longer need to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Species recovery plans are the roadmap for how we and our partners will conserve and protect endangered species.
“Recovery plans may guide a species’ recovery for many years, so it’s important that they are based on sound science and that they lay out a logical and comprehensive strategy to achieve success. These plans must also be consistent with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act related to recovery planning,” Kristen says.
Kristen also works closely with NOAA Fisheries’ regional offices and regional recovery coordinators to help them implement species recovery plans at a local level.
Other parts of Kristen’s day includes:
- Developing the recovery plan for the threatened oceanic white tip shark
- Managing and coordinating the Species in the Spotlight program to focus attention on critically endangered species
- Gathering information from regional recovery coordinators to use in the biennial Recovering Threatened and Endangered Species report to Congress
Advice to the Next Generation of Marine Conservationists
“My career trajectory was not always a straight line and I had many different opportunities before coming to the Office of Protected Resources. My advice to people who want to pursue a career path in marine conservation is to be flexible but persistent,” Kristen suggests.
When Kristen took her undergraduate class in human dimensions of conservation biology, she could not have imagined where her career path would lead. “For me, it was about taking advantage of any opportunity to help me build my skills, expand my expertise, and become more versatile—I worked hard on improving things I didn't think were strengths of mine, like public speaking or learning how to communicate to broader audiences.”
Kristen uses her communication skills, policy knowledge, and conservation biology background in her position. Her work plays an important role in the Office of Protected Resources’ mission and NOAA’s overall mission of science, service, and stewardship.