Meet our new director of science: Dr. Kyle Van Houtan

Dr. Kyle Van Houtan, a conservation ecologist with expertise in marine biodiversity and global change, has been named director of science at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Dr. Kyle Van Houtan
Dr. Kyle Van Houtan

In his new position, Dr. Van Houtan will manage, coordinate and strengthen our science programs and partnerships. This includes conservation research focused on sea otters, great white sharksPacific bluefin tuna and other iconic California Current species and ecosystems.

For the past six years, he has led several initiatives in global change and protected species from the director’s office at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Hawai’i. His research and teaching focus on multi-faceted approaches to marine biodiversity conservation, and his work spans a range of topics from animal behavior, foraging ecology and physiology, to fisheries stock assessments, climate change and ecosystem-based management.

His work includes studies using bomb radiocarbon from Pacific nuclear tests to help in sea turtle conservation.
His work includes studies using bomb radiocarbon from Pacific nuclear tests to help in sea turtle conservation.

His latest research paper uses bomb radiocarbon from Pacific nuclear tests to aid in the conservation of critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles. He has also spoken and written widely about issues of environmental policy and ethics.

Dr. Van Houtan earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia, a master of science from Stanford University and his Ph.D. from Duke University, where he serves as an adjunct associate professor in the Nicholas School of the Environment.

A passionate science and conservation communicator, his research has been featured on National Public Radio, in the New York Times, Nature, Science, National Geographic, WIRED andSmithsonian. He is also a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President Obama for his pioneering research into how climate influences sea turtle populations.

When he received the award, NOAA Fisheries Chief Science Advisor Richard Merrick, noted that Dr. Van Houtan “has shown how a deep understanding of biology, ecology, and climate science can provide answers to the important question of how climate change can affect animal populations over decades and vast geographies.”

“We are fortunate to have Kyle Van Houtan as our director of science,” said Margaret Spring, vice president of conservation and science, and chief conservation officer for the aquarium. “He brings new perspectives to our work on behalf of iconic ocean wildlife at a time when marine ecosystems face unprecedented challenges from climate change and ocean acidification.”

Learn more about our Conservation Research initiatives.

We’re Saving Animals From Extinction

May 15 marks the 10th anniversary of Endangered Species Day. At the aquarium, we’ve worked every day for the past 30 years to save wildlife from extinction.

It’s the focus of many of our efforts – from our living exhibits, to the research we conduct here and in the wild, to our work to shape public policy in ways that protect ocean habitats and wildlife.

SAFE_logo_webSeafood Watch, too, contributes to wildlife protection by giving individuals and businesses tools so they can choose seafood that’s caught or farmed in ways that protect ocean ecosystems.

We’re not alone in our efforts. We’re part of a 229-member conservation organization – the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) – whose members are making a difference for wildlife around the world.

Collective action for conservation

Today, we’re stepping up in an even bigger way through a new initiative called AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction. We’re combining the collective power of our 180 million annual visitors with our resources and expertise to save animals from extinction.

For decades, we and our AZA colleagues have been conservation leaders so the world will preserve its incredible wildlife. At the aquarium, we’re actively working to understand and protect sea otters, sharks and bluefin tuna. We rescue and release wildlife including Western snowy plovers and stranded sea turtles. We’re working for the recovery of steelhead trout in California. And we raise corals that we share with other aquariums, to reduce the need to collect from the wild.

African penguin at Monterey Bay Aquarium
African penguin at Monterey Bay Aquarium

We’re the wildlife experts

Among conservation organizations, no one has more animals, scientists or access to the public than AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos. In addition to the visitors we reach, we have the largest group of life scientists working for species preservation. And we have the largest living wildlife collection – more than 75,000 animals representing over 6,000 species, including 1,000 endangered species.

Collectively, we spend $160 million each year on conservation projects and programs.

Through AZA SAFE, accredited aquariums and zoos will build on a legacy that began more than a century ago, when zoos brought the American bison back from the brink. In the future, we’ll do more. We’ll convene scientists and stakeholders globally to identify key factors threatening species, develop Conservation Action Plans and engage the public to help us make a difference. You can follow the latest developments via social media by using the hashtag #savingspecies.

White shark with tagsA 10-year plan for saving species

In 2015, SAFE will focus on 10 endangered species, adding an additional 10 species each year for the next decade. The inaugural 10 species include several you can see in Monterey: African blackfooted penguins, sharks, Western pond turtles and sea turtles. Our next special exhibition, featuring marine life of Baja and the Gulf of California, is home to the critically endangered vaquita porpoise – another species that SAFE will work to recover.

How can you help? Every time you visit, you support our work to save animals from extinction. Our members are our partners in everything we do to assure a future with healthy oceans and abundant ocean wildlife.

When you stay in touch, as a member and through our social media accounts, we’ll let you know when you can take action to make a difference. And we’ll celebrate our progress – because, with your help, we are making progress!

Learn more about our Conservation and Science programs

Become a member and support our work