We had the good fortune of connecting with Dawn Bailey and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dawn, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
It was really a culmination of several realizations that led me to believe I needed to run my own show, so to speak.
1) I had designed large scale projects similar to the business I am creating;
2) I was asked to leave several positions because I refused to adhere to faulty methods of collecting scientific data and compromise important research; and
3) I taught outdoor education in some way my whole life and been very good at it, I was a natural at telling relatable antidotes, conveying complex ideas to a broad range of audiences and inciting passion for the things I cared about. So I thought why not just create my own mechanism to inspire and enable people to participate in quality scientific research while preserving the places they love through personalized experiences. I had the connections, I have the experience, my passion is contagious, and I’m not afraid of leadership.
So the journey began to figure out how exactly one creates a business…
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a marine ecologist and the founder of EcoSea Expeditions. My research covers entire reef systems and investigates species interactions and anthropogenic (human caused) effects that drive changes within the system. My work is centered on marine conservation and creating stewardship of the seas. I am passionate about the ocean and preserving the delicate balance in our underwater world. We depend on the oceans in ways most people can’t fathom. As Jacques Cousteau simply put it; “People protect what they love.” It is my job to help people fall in love with life in the sea. We all have training and a professional skillset in something, right? It’s what we do with that training that sets us apart. I’m trained in marine biology but really, I’m a facilitator. I have a knack for conveying complex scientific ideas in a way that people can identify with. I use my training to develop scientific research methods that anyone with a bit of experience swimming in the ocean can put to use right away. That includes, fishermen, tourists, gleaners, divers, or marine law enforcement. I use my passion and my unique skills to create “Citizen Science” projects in both tropical and temperate reefs and personalize a connection to the sea by integrating the public and making research attainable. Citizen science is not a new thing but it’s a term that has recently been recognized. Basically, it’s an amateur researcher, someone who’s curiosity and enthusiasm drives them to investigate natural history. Working with professional scientists, these enthusiasts have contributed immense amounts of data, data analysis, and even generated new research questions. Through EcoSea Expeditions, I partner with citizen science groups, government agencies, universities, and local Scuba-dive operators to create unique scientific expeditions that not only inspire and entertain but create a sense of stewardship and responsibility for the way we interact with our oceans. Through EcoSea Expeditions, tourists become citizen scientists that collect critical marine ecological data. I teach divers to use SCUBA as a tool for making scientific observations. My clients use both SCUBA and snorkel gear to survey fish, invertebrates, coral, and kelp populations and investigate the health of a reef. Basically, I teach people how and why swimming around counting critters is not only fun and entertaining but critical to conservation. Utilizing enthusiastic SCUBA divers allows me to create a workforce of trained amateur ecologists. Through these unique expeditions, my clients continually document change in marine populations and assess the effects of conservation measures, anthropogenic impacts, and climate change. Working in citizen science also allows me to integrate local communities into the scientific process, communicate research discoveries to a broader audience, and provides a powerful tool in promoting adaptive management strategies for conservation and sustainability. I got to where I am today due to a sense of adventure and desire for exploration. My journey started with Peace Corps service in the Marine Resource Development and Conservation Program. I joined after college because I knew I wanted to gain a greater perspective on the world and learn how things were done in coastal areas beyond the west coast of the USA. I was assigned to a marine research organization in Palau, where I designed a long-term monitoring program for the marine resources of a very unique coral reef ecosystem. By marine resources, I mean the fish, invertebrates (clams, sea urchins, mollusks, and sea cucumbers), corals, and sea grasses that could be harvested for food or provide habitat for fisheries (food) species. In graduate school, I continued my study of ecosystem function and made attempts to return to Palau for further study and follow-up on the work I started but politics prevented it. I tried to find jobs that would someone allow me to return to Palau but jobs in marine biologist are scarce and highly competitive. Finally, in 2015 I was able to return to Palau with a university professor and his students. He had adapted my methods manual from the long-term monitoring program into a summer course for an environmental studies program! What a compliment to the hard work I had created and what an opportunity. I discovered the program while doing some internet research on Ngederrak Reef (the unique coral reef I studied). It turns out he has been replicating the surveys for several years. This was encouraging news! Long-term monitoring is difficult to get funded; its labor intensive, requires lots of personnel, boats, and equipment; which are all very expensive. Having A class of college students addresses the problem of personnel and using tour operators solves the logistics issue. It’s a win-win situation. I reached out to the professors and was able to join the course for the next 2 summers. When the professor decided to move to a new location for his course I knew that I had to carry on the work myself; that I was going to have to forge my own path and that path was not going to be strictly science. Citizen science was the answer. Without the affiliation of a university, I would need to form my own expedition groups and instead, create a conduit for the tourism industry to contribute to scientific research. I can’t say the path to where I am today has been an overly difficult one but I definitely live the motto ‘passion over paycheck’ and I am just beginning my entrepreneurial journey. I think the biggest challenges and most difficult times are still to come. I am in my mid 40’s and a bit more set in my ways than a bright eyed, fresh-out-of-college, optimist in her mid 20’s. In my career as a marine biologist, I’ve “put in my time” and proven myself by taking on less desirable work and volunteering for projects and I’m not too keen on going through all that again. However, hard work and long hours don’t scare me. I have learned to ask others for help and take contributions where I least expect them. Working with tourist, who have their own unique professions and perspectives, certainly provides unexpected contributions and allows others the opportunity give back while creating camaraderie and stewardship. If I can inspire my clients to love and protect marine ecosystems as I do, then the struggles will be well worth it.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Well, its Covid so i wouldn’t take my friend anywhere to eat or drink in public. I would harvest veggies from the garden I started in my backyard thanks to City Farmers Nursery in City Heights and Green Gardens nursery in Pacific Beach. I would order fresh-off-the-boat delivery of local seafood from Hawthorn Fish or pick up fresh local fish from Catalina Offshore. I might visit the farmers market in Ocean Beach or Little Italy. For libations I’d pick a wine from Fruitcraft – who use all kinds of locally sourced fruit to make wine and kombucha. But as far as dining out… It’s not my thing anyway. I would stay home and cook with my friends, enjoying the gorgeous kitchen and the the counter-space I created thanks to Imagine Marble and Granite. For a good outing I’d launch my kayaks in La Jolla and explore the kelp forest and sea caves or take a Stand-Up-Paddleboard yoga class from Bliss Paddle Yoga in Mission Beach. I’ve always wanted to explore the 7 Bridges walk but have yet to do so. Sunday mornings are perfect for Hoppy Yoga – Yoga in a brewery! That’s right, do some yoga and stick around to enjoy a beer. With Covid, its not happening but they still have a donation based Zoom class.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My parents!! They always believed in me and encouraged me to believe in myself. Mysty Rusk at ‘the Brink ‘ Small Business Development Center here in San Diego, who recognized my potential and helped me get the resources I needed. and 2 kindred entrepreneurial spirits Trisha Williams and Joe Unger of Pigeon Hole Productions, who helped me unlock the creativity in my story.
Ken Marks, Tom Carr, Dawn Bailey