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About Us

George Leonard

George Leonard

Chief Scientist
Santa Cruz, CA

As climate change dramatically impacts our planet, I am hopeful that we can find new solutions to save our ocean—the essential life-support system for the Earth. The ocean’s future is our future.

Areas of Expertise

  • Marine debris and plastic pollution
  • Ocean acidification and climate change
  • Marine protected areas
  • Sustainable seafood, wild fisheries and aquaculture, and genetically-engineered fish
  • Federal and state ocean policy and management

As the Chief Scientist at Ocean Conservancy, George provides strategic leadership on science and policy across our organization. He describes himself as the “chief firestarter,” the person who ignites new ideas and then helps to build bold new initiatives based on emerging knowledge and key conservation needs. In recent years, this has included tackling threats like ocean acidification and integrating a robust response to climate change impacts on our ocean.

Trained as a marine ecologist, George has 20 years of experience in ocean policy and advocacy, market-based solutions to environmental challenges and marine research. He has been instrumental in leading some of the most cutting-edge and comprehensive research on trash in the marine ecosystem, which has led to Ocean Conservancy’s work on Trash Free Seas.

Before joining Ocean Conservancy, George developed the scientific foundation for the nascent sustainable seafood movement at Monterey Bay Aquarium by working closely with major seafood buyers to improve their seafood procurement practices. He helped launch the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea (COMPASS), an innovative approach to communicating emerging marine conservation science to policymakers, NGOs and resource managers.

George earned a Ph. D. from Brown University in Rhode Island and a M. S. from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California. He completed his undergraduate education at Middlebury College in Vermont. A native of New England, George is based in Ocean Conservancy’s office in Santa Cruz, California.


  • Ph.D., Brown University
  • MS – Moss Landing Marine Laboratories
  • BA – Middlebury College

My Favorite Thing About the Ocean

If I were a sea creature, I would be the sunflower seastar, Pycnopodia helianthoides. These are the coolest and largest seastars in the world, growing to up to 1 meter in diameter. An awesome sight, Pycnopodia first caught my attention while I was doing scientific diving in the California kelp forests during my Masters research. Unlike most sea stars that move very slowly, sunflower stars cruise across the bottom at a high rate of speed, actively foraging on sea urchins, clams, snails and a host of other invertebrates. With a color that ranges from bright orange to deep purple, soft velvet-textured bodies and up to 24 separate arms, Pycnopodia is by far one of the most charismatic invertebrates along the California coast. I am drawn to their unique look, their apparent sense of purpose, and their important role as a keystone predator in California’s underwater world, the ecological communities that sealed my commitment to pursue marine biology professionally in 1993.

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