written by Emma Morrow
Chris Hale is the Program Manager for the Socio-Economics Group at Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies. She has a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from Millersville University and a Master’s in Marine and Environmental Science from the University of the Virgin Islands. Her experience in marine science and human dimensions support the ecosystem valuation work that the Group is well known for.
Chris has been interested in marine science and environmental conservation from a young age. She grew up with four siblings in the suburbs of Philadelphia and recalls creation of their “nature club” (they collected bugs, rocks, and leaves) and annual trips to the seashore as influential. Chris did not follow a traditional academic trajectory, describing hers as a “curvy and winding path.” After completing her undergraduate work, she decided to travel the world to do seasonal, temporary, short-term internships and jobs related to marine science. One of her most memorable experiences during her days of world exploration was studying wild dolphins and other marine creatures in New Zealand. She loves the biodiversity of that region, as well as the communities and people. In the Maori language, Aotearoa is the name for the country, which can be translated to “land of the long white cloud.” Chris recalls those clouds while navigating the team’s small Alumacraft through the peaceful Marlborough Sounds, listening for the telltale sound of dolphins and whales spouting air through their blowholes.
While studying coral reef ecology in the Caribbean, Chris got involved in outreach and extension projects. During this time, she began to understand the applicability of science. “It’s one thing to do science for the sake of science – to add to the scientific understanding of life on Earth – but in order to improve people’s lives and the way we live, work, and play, I realized that we have to understand ourselves and how we interact with and value nature.” She began pursuing research that ties together the ecological and social sciences.
Chris’s advice to anyone interested in a similar career path is to consider the road less traveled… “be open to opportunities that may not be traditional, because they may open doors along the way.” She believes the more you experience the ‘real world’ through these opportunities, the more it balances your classroom education. Chris’s road allowed her to experience some of her childhood dreams – becoming an artist, writer, or marine biologist – which she never lost sight of. She ultimately chose to go into the Marine Science field, but she also applies her writing skills daily, and in her free time tinkers in her backyard pottery studio. She encourages others to continue to be challenged and to keeping learning.
Chris and her husband Stephen have two children, Elsie (12) and Benji (8), both of whom were born in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Chris loves adventuring outdoors with her family, be it snorkeling, diving, fishing, hiking, birding, digging in the garden, or simply riding bikes around the neighborhood. Together they love to experience new places, where they might encounter wildlife as well as diverse cultures. They enjoy eating the food they grow and the fish they catch, reading books, listening to music, making art, and watching movies.