Ph.D. Student (Cornell)


Marissa Garcia is a Ph.D. student at K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics within the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, studying Natural Resources with Dr. Holger Klinck. With her research anchored in biological oceanography, marine ecology, and public policy, she aspires to use passive acoustic monitoring to reimagine marine conservation planning efforts. She strives to design dynamic management plans for high-risk marine species and ecosystems under climatic and anthropogenic pressures. Her priority is to put forward effective and equitable socio-ecological solutions for ocean management.

Her previous work has been on North Atlantic right whales — a critically endangered cetacean with fewer than 400 individuals left. Using acoustics, she has tracked their seasonal presence in Cape Cod Bay. She has also done field work in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, observing humpback whale behavior.

She earned an A.B. degree in Integrative Biology, with Highest Honors, and a minor in Environmental Science & Public Policy at Harvard University. During her time at Harvard, she led the Harvard College Conservation Society, managing projects between students and non-profit conservation organizations both regionally and internationally. 

She has told stories about dolphin whistles, nuisance algae, and octopus gardens for NOAA Sanctuaries, as well as endangered Southern Resident killer whales for the Duke University Marine Lab. 

When she is not being a scientist for the ocean, she is a scientist in the kitchen — experimenting with all things coffee! She is always excited to wax poetic about the latest coffee beans she’s brewing. 

Why is the HALO project important to you? Anything you’re most excited to learn about?

Public support for the project through the Gray Whale License Plate fund literally makes Oregon residents stakeholders in this project. I am a researcher deeply passionate about marine science being done for local communities, so that element alone excites me. I am also eager to analyze the data and possibly uncover shifting cetacean phenologies. 

Why is support from the public so essential to the
HALO project?

So often we hear altruistic businesses say our money is supporting charitable causes, but we often never see the results materialize. The Gray Whale License Plate Fund makes it so that esoteric research becomes personal for the public. HALO is a unique opportunity for Oregon residents to see how ecosystems in their backyards are changing over time, and I’m delighted that I get to undertake this work.