Jessica Dutton

Jessica Dutton, Ph.D.

Special Projects Director
USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies


What do you enjoy most about working with marine coastal ecosystems?

The coastal zone is much more dynamic and vibrant than people realize. Often when people think about marine biology they imagine the open ocean, but the majority of marine life actually lives relatively close to shore. In southern California, we have beautiful kelp forests and rocky reefs right off our beaches. But we also have a lot of people who use the coastline, and all of that activity has an impact. Climate change is also altering coastal areas worldwide, and we can see those effects here at home. It’s more important than ever to study marine environments, track how they are changing, and think about how we can protect them.

How does citizen science support your research?

Citizen science is enabling a whole new era in research. There’s only so much that individual scientists can do on their own, but the data collection possibilities are so much broader with the help of passionate volunteers. For our particular fieldwork, we need extra hands and eyes to monitor the different ways our coasts are changing: from water quality to marine life, and even the comings and goings of human users along our shores. Volunteer participation helps us collect critical data to understand local marine areas and plan the future of the California coastline.

What is one of your favorite moments in the field?

The most memorable moments are always the ones you don’t plan – whales bubble feeding next to our boat in Alaska, or Emperor penguins approaching us on the sea ice in Antarctica as we fish. Every day is a surprise. Fieldwork reminds me how amazing nature is – and that’s what inspires me to do the job I do every day.

  • Ph.D. in Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara (U.S.)
  • B.A. in Biological Sciences, Mount Holyoke College (U.S.)
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