Q&A with Sam Klein

Why did you decide to come to UW’s SMEA for graduate school?

I decided to come to SMEA because I had been working in labs as a research assistant studying many things from soil microbial ecology to bat acoustics to rocky shore biodiversity, but I wanted to gain an understanding of the policies that shape environmental management and governance. I am especially passionate about coastal ecosystems because I grew up in Hong Kong and love these dynamic habitats. 

Now that you’re one year into your MMA, what are you learning that surprises you, or made you think about something in a new light?

What has surprised me most is the insights I have gained from taking Cleo’s Critical and Imaginative Restoration Ecologies class and Griff’s Indigenous Adaptation to Climate Change class. In these courses the readings led me to interrogate my ideas of restoration, nature, justice and equity in environmental movements. For example, when talking about climate change and indigenous sovereignty many vulnerabilities we see in communities in the Arctic or small island nations are the result of colonization and historical injustice, not just climate change. Some groups even see these changes as opportunities to correct historical injustices and assert their decision making rights. 

Small floating pens on the Duwamish River hold nets with wetland plants in them. There are 3 open squares in the pens and two adults wearing lifejackets walking along the edge of the float.
Floating wetlands on the Duwamish River. Photo provided.

Given that there aren’t SMEA-specific courses over the summer, how are you spending the time?

I am spending my summer doing preliminary research for my capstone project. This requires me to spend a couple days a week out on the Duwamish River conducting over-water fish surveys and water monitoring with community scientists and other students. I also work at an aquarium shop part time, this makes me seem like I am a fish-crazed person but it has just worked out that way this summer. 

Are you doing a thesis or capstone project? If thesis: what are you writing your thesis about and why? If capstone: what is the project about? 

I am doing a capstone project in collaboration with the Green Futures Lab within the Landscape Architecture Department at UW. We designed, constructed, and placed artificial floating wetlands in the Duwamish River as a novel restoration technique. The lower Duwamish River was declared a superfund site by the EPA in 2001 and has a history of heavy industry, development and contamination. The goal of these wetlands is to provide habitat for out-migrating juvenile salmon and other organisms along the industrialized shoreline. This project also aims to address environmental inequalities in the surrounding community by inviting community members and students to participate in our research as citizen scientists. 

What do you like most about SMEA? 

I love the interdisciplinary nature of this program the best. I have classmates who studied micro plastics in orca poop and coastal mega-projects in Southern China. It is really exciting to see students from different backgrounds take similar classes and apply their knowledge to such a wide range of capstone and thesis projects. 

How have you adjusted during the COVID-19 pandemic? What’s it been like to have your SMEA classes and community moved online?

I have had to make a lot of adjustments to both my academic and personal life during the COVID-19 pandemic. In spring quarter I was a teaching assistant for a biology class which required me to teach labs on zoom. Instead of doing experiments in the lab as we normally would, we worked through difficult practice problems together. Additionally, my floating wetlands research was put on hold during spring break as we figured out COVID-19 protocols and we can now only work in socially distanced small groups in the field, which means we cannot include as many people in the community scientist program. I have been very grateful to live with three other SMEA students throughout this time. They were true lifesavers to work on projects together, help with mutual aid to communities most impacted by COVID-19 and hang out together. I really miss seeing my professors and classmates in person, but for now we hold zoom meetings and happy hours. 

After you complete your MMA, what do you hope comes next? What area(s) of Marine Affairs could you see yourself working in professionally?

After I complete my MMA I would like to work for a community organization that addresses environmental injustices. Some organizations I admire are the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition and the Save Lantau Alliance in Hong Kong. I see myself working as a restoration project manager, policy analyst or in community outreach. I also have not ruled out pursuing a PhD. 

What is your favorite form of marine life, and why?

Wow this is a really hard question. My favourite form of marine life right now is the spiny lumpsucker, a tiny fish from the Puget Sound. They live in eelgrass beds and the rocky shore and look like tiny spiny ocean fairies. The lumpsucker’s pelvic fins evolved into a tiny suction cup on their belly to adhere to rocks and solid surfaces. They have them at the Seattle Aquarium but I have yet to visit them or see them in person! Below is a painting I made of one.

A handmade painting of a Spiny Lumpsucker fish. The fish is yellow with gray spines along its back and fins.
A spiny lumpsucker, as created by Sam.