Merging Ocean Science and Community-Driven Environmental Restoration — The Nature Conservancy in Washington

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Marco Hatch, a Samish Indian Nation member, scientist, and board trustee for The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Washington, admires the resilience and cultural significance of clams and other tidal species. He channels his passion as an ocean scientist into creating opportunities for students, including those from Indigenous communities, to pursue careers addressing critical climate challenges.

Marco believes that people can create a better world by looking to many ways of knowing, including Western science and traditional knowledge, to help nature and humans coexist. As an Associate Professor of Environmental Science at the College of the Environment, Western Washington University, and a trustee for TNC in Washington, he combines traditional ecological knowledge and emerging technologies with a focus on food systems.

His connection to the ocean and marine ecology began in early life. Marco grew up playing on the beaches of the Hood Canal, a fjord formed by a retreating ice sheet about 13,000 years ago between the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsula. He found joy in digging up clams and chasing shore crabs. Today, he leads a resurgence in clam gardening, a sustenance staple for Samish people. When the Samish Indian Nation established an internship to fund students’ college expenses in 2002, Marco began studying at the University of Washington (UW) with the goal of “incorporating Indigenous knowledge in the marine sciences.”
“During my internship, we camped out doing a variety of ecological, cultural, and archaeological projects in the San Juan Islands,” Marco said. “Working with the Samish Tribe taught me to see land and seascapes not as they are today, but as they were before human contact, and find what species are missing that were once abundant.”

After completing his internship and graduating from UW, Marco temporarily relocated to San Diego to study at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where he earned a doctorate in Biological Oceanography, the study of how marine organism communities interact with each other and their environment. As a professor at Western Washington University (WWU), he leads the university’s Coastal Communities and Ecology Lab, where he and his undergraduate and graduate students work with local communities to learn about and preserve the rich food sources in tidal ecosystems. Some days are spent tagging and tracking clam development, others gathering water samples at low tide to test for biotoxins.

Outside of his work at WWU, Marco is on the advisory committee for the United Nations Ocean Decade Collaborative Center for the Northeast Pacific. He’s also on the steering for the  Clam Garden Network, an informal network that continues the long history of Indigenous-led garden management. Today, Marco sees a “real resurgence” of clam gardening spanning from Washington through British Columbia and southeast Alaska.

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