Elizabeth L. McLean

Elizabeth McLean is a graduate student in the Department of Natural Resources Sciences. She began her PhD in Environmental Sciences in fall 2010, working with Dr. Graham Forrester. She has a Bachelor's degree from the University of Ovidius, Romania, a Masters degree in Sciences from the University of Puerto Rico –Mayaguez and also from the University at Buffalo. Her past research has focused on ecological interactions between sea sponges and soft corals, and documented the importance of sponge-soft coral interactions on coral reefs and the ability of some sponges to outcompete soft corals. Being born and raised in the Dominican Republic, she was exposed to the ocean from an early age and was always drawn to it.

McLean was attracted to URI by the innovative multidisciplinary studies conducted by URI researchers on marine protected areas (MPAs) as social-ecological systems, and how it is important to understand how people interact with the natural world to create effective governance of the MPAs. During her first year at URI she was recipient of a Graduate School Diversity Fellowship and took part in a pilot study on local ecological knowledge of RI lobster fisherman within the context of management. This collaboration between scientists and fishermen illustrates her belief in the need to frame ecological knowledge within its social setting in order to sustain livelihoods and to conserve our ecosystems.

This past summer, McLean's research as a Coastal Institute Graduate Fellow took place in coastal communities of Samaná in the Dominican Republic. She interviewed over 150 fishers and explored the fishers’ knowledge of their fishery and the ecology of the coastal environment, and characterized the role of fishing in the livelihood of coastal communities. She discovered that although MPAs are designated in the area, they lack active management and she hopes her future work will lead to effective engagement of the local community in MPA governance.