Born in Puerto Rico, Helen will tell you she could swim before she could walk. Though she didn’t actually dive until after graduating from high school, once was all it took for her to be hooked. Not that surprising given that the first dive happened to be on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef during a stint waiting tables on Heron Island.
Helen returned to school and completed a degree in biology at Swarthmore before heading to UC Berkeley to pursue a PhD in Integrative Biology. For her doctoral research she examined coral recovery from blast fishing and low-tech reef rehabilitation options in Indonesia, collaborating with colleagues from The Nature Conservancy in Komodo National Park and publishing several papers on the project. She’s managed to work in almost 1,000 research dives, having also worked on marine research and conservation projects in the Solomon Islands, Belize, Australia (with a Fulbright Award), and Florida, where she was an “Aquanaut,” living underwater for 10 days at the National Underwater Research Center Aquarius facility.
She joined WWF in 2004 and is still working at what she refers to as her ‘first real job.’ Helen spends her time providing technical and scientific support to the marine places where WWF works. With colleagues in the Conservation Science Program, she is also working on seascape planning and researching the links between marine protected areas (MPAs), sustainable fishing and livelihoods in order learn how to design MPAs to deliver benefits to people as well as biodiversity.