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How a Biology Geek became an Ocean Lawyer

Photo by Brian Treece

I’ve always been a biology geek.

As a kid, the ocean gave me a sense of awe and belonging.  I loved the other-worldly creatures of the sea and all the unexpected ways they interact with one another. I still love to be outside, in the water, exploring and observing the natural world.  So why, in the name of all that is good and sensible, did I become a lawyer? 

I grew up near Indian River Lagoon in Florida, a veritable marine biology camp of mangroves, sea grass beds, patch reefs, and beaches.  It was a place where a curious kid could learn a lot about how ecology works just by watching and wandering. During family outings, my parents would turn us loose with snorkels and fins in hand.  I’d head straight to the water, where I would poke around rocks and seaweed to see what was hiding in them, or hover over brain coral to see which fish had staked that spot as its territory, or watch a battalion of fiddler crabs move in eerie synchronicity along the shore. 

I’d spend hours enthralled with the things I discovered.  Like a head of coral where big, grumpy-looking groupers would line up like cars at a 1950s gas station and wait for tiny wrasses to dart out and clean parasites from their scales. I learned that sharks were swimming the sea with us, and that they most likely wouldn’t bother us if we didn’t give them a reason to do so, but ultimately we were in their realm. Everything had its place.  It made sense.    

As I got older, I saw things happening to the ocean that made less sense. I saw rampant development that destroyed coastal habitat and spewed pollution into once-clear waters. And I saw uncontrolled fishing that caused tons of fish and other sea creatures to go to waste. 

Coral and Parrotfish - A Love Story

WATCH Andrea ditch her briefcase for flippers as she dives underwater to protect the beloved coral reefs she grew up with.

To protect oceans, I learned about the ocean ecosystems and the role they play on our planet – they are very intricate, they give us oxygen, they store our carbon.  I learned economic arguments for not destroying the seas – they provide food, they support tourism, and they shelter coasts from storm surges.  

The deepest reason I became a lawyer is that the ocean is my home and the law is the best tool I have to protect it. 

I’m a lawyer because I’ve watched a loggerhead turtle lay her eggs on a local beach. I’ve held on and laughed while a manatee scratched its back on the bottom of my canoe. I’ve seen plankton spark with bioluminescence as I swooped my hand through the dark surf. And because every day, I learn some new fact about marine life that blows my mind. 

For all the inspiration and solace I’ve found there over the years, I owe it to my fellow humans and critters alike to do my part to make sure that ocean ecosystems keep working after I’m gone.

I’m a lawyer because the ocean doesn’t just feed our stomachs; it feeds our intellects and our souls.  

About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.