Paths to Careers in Marine Conservation

Learn from four Ocean Conservancy staff members about their unique journey to a career in the field of ocean conservation

Earlier this month, Ocean Conservancy had the privilege of co-hosting a very special virtual event with our partner Dream In Green, a South Florida-based non-profit organization with a mission to empower individuals (especially youth) to lead in the response to climate change and other environmental challenges. Through their Green Schools Challenge, Dream in Green provides environmental education for schools with students in Pre-K through grade 12, providing science-based, relevant information through joint lessons that outline the problems facing South Florida’s waters. They also place a powerful focus on how students themselves can come up with solutions to these problems.

This month’s event, Finding a Future in STEM, provided students with a unique look at four distinct pathways to careers in marine conservation. Public Allies Fellow and Dream in Green Special Programming Coordinator, Mareike Van Wie, asked four Ocean Conservancy staff members to share a glimpse into their journey to their current profession in ocean conservation.

Check out these highlights from the event, and be sure to watch the whole video on YouTube at the end of this blog!

Jon Paul “J.P.” Brooker

Director, Florida Conservation

J.P. Brooker

An attorney by training and member of the Florida Bar Association, J.P.’s career started with a deep passion and interest in the Florida marine environment. A native Floridian, he was born and raised on the state’s East Coast in Brevard County and grew up on Indian River Lagoon. Throughout his life, he’s seen that Florida’s waterways are deeply affected by pollution and development, and knew from a young age that he wanted to fight on behalf of Florida’s iconic wilderness. Now, as he leads our Florida Conservation program, he’s set himself on a career that has enabled him to be as influential as possible in Florida politics and policy.

Erica Nuñez

Senior Manager, Plastics Initiatives


Erica describes her journey to her current professional role as non-traditional. She originally thought she wanted to be a lawyer, but after getting a job working for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) in Florida, her eyes were opened to the world of ocean conservation, regional ocean policy and what it means to truly protect the ocean. Then, Erica received the opportunity to work on ocean conservation issues on a national level in Washington, D.C. Not long after that, she quickly realized she was fascinated by broader-scale work, including at the international level. She has enjoyed working in two worlds simultaneously, working on projects that seek solutions to the plastics problem while also getting to do policy work, where she speaks with businesses and governments from around the world about how they can protect our ocean. Erica shares that it was both the chance to talk to people of varied backgrounds and being open to learning that helped her truly find her passion for ocean conservation.

Allison Schutes

Director, International Coastal Cleanup


Allison is incredibly passionate about her job, and basically gets to do beach cleanups for a living! She always knew she didn’t want the typical 9-5 desk job, and now, her career enables her to work with national and local organizations, corporations and colleagues while traveling the world to document exactly what marine debris is finding its way to beaches and into the ocean. Her team’s mission is to document and remove those things. At the start of her conservation journey, Allison intended to pursue a degree in Environmental Studies but ended up majoring in psychology after moving through several majors. She found her niche in marine education, and after working with children at an aquarium for six years, she went to graduate school with the intention of being a city planner. But the ocean just kept calling her back, and nine years ago, she found her current job in ocean plastics work with Ocean Conservancy. “I haven’t looked back since,” Allison shared.

Jacob Petersen

Associate Director, Events and Partnerships 

At Ocean Conservancy, Jacob’s role largely focuses on event planning and raising money for the organization so that we can continue to do the critical conservation work our ocean relies on. Like Erica, Jacob also describes his professional journey as unconventional. Born in Germany to an Air Force family, he lived in seven different states growing up, including Florida. It was there that some of his earliest and most cherished memories were formed near the ocean, where he grew a love for the sea that has fueled his fascination and interest in a career in the environmental sector. After earning a degree in anthropology and sociology, Jacob worked in events management for a number of years, and eventually had the honor of working for his childhood hero: primatologist Jane Goodall! Jacob has now worked for Ocean Conservancy for a few years and leads the planning and execution of organizational events with corporate partners, donors, celebrities and more.

As you can see, while many careers in conservation begin with degrees in the science field, not all of them begin identically! From cleanup directing to policy and legal work and even to special event management, the potential paths to a field incorporating STEM and the natural world are truly endless. Watch the full recording of Finding a Future in STEM below, and be sure to follow Dream in Green’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to stay up-to-date on the latest opportunities to learn more about ways to make waves in conservation, both professionally and every day.

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