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Stephanie Milne: Protecting marine life while supporting responsible industry developments

Stephanie Milne is Senior Environmental Manager - U.S. Offshore Renewables at RPS. In this interview, written for International Women's Day 2022, we caught up with her to ask about her career so far, her most exciting projects and her advice for future marine biologists.

08 March 2022 | 1 min read
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The RPS Protected Species Observer (PSO) team monitor protected species during industry activities like offshore wind farm development and energy exploration surveys, to mitigate for potential impacts to protected species.

Stephanie joined RPS in 2006 as a PSO after working in the field in Alaska as a National Marine Fisheries Observer for six years. In 2013, she transitioned into an office-based role as a project manager of our marine environmental programs. She now manages that Protected Species department and is the US Team Leader of Offshore Wind.

Q What are some of your most exciting projects – either past or present?

I can honestly say that there are too many to pick from! But if forced to choose, there are a couple that are especially memorable. Early in my career I was deployed to a project in Peru where passive acoustics were being used for the first time to identify and minimize potential impacts on local marine mammal populations. I lived on a small vessel for several months off the coast and my job was to listen and document humpback whales calling. The data we collected during that project helped scientists to understand that the humpbacks passing through that region stayed much longer and extended much further north than previously thought.

One of my most exciting contributions has been creating field trials for some of the new technologies that biologists can use to detect marine species - infrared camera systems; hydrophone array networks deployed from gliders and autonomous vehicles; satellite systems that let video and acoustic data be streamed from vessels hundreds of miles offshore to biologists, who can monitor the feeds from the comfort and safety of their homes. It’s exciting to be a small part of integrating these advanced technologies into marine mammal protection.

Q What role can your profession play in the fight against climate change? How can your work make a difference?

Climate change is heavily impacting our ocean ecosystems and most species are under threat from many stressors. By addressing some of the threats (interactions with industry operations and impacts from sound generated by human activities, to name a couple) we can help alleviate some of the pressures on some of the vulnerable species. Transitioning our reliance on fossil fuels to development of green energy, like offshore wind, is going to be a key component to addressing climate change and our team supporting this emerging industry in the US in a way that minimizes impacts to marine species.

Q What has your career path been so far?

My undergraduate degree was in Wildlife Biology where I also focused on resource management – I didn’t know anything at all about the opportunities for careers in offshore applied sciences. It was my first job out of college as a NMFS fisheries observer that opened my eyes to biology field work that felt meaningful, exciting and adventurous. That led me to looking at other offshore biology roles and into Protected Species observing, where I eventually realized that I could have a greater impact protecting marine life while supporting responsible industry developments like offshore wind.

Q What do you enjoy most about your role?

The most exciting and challenging thing about my job is that no day is the same; I regularly find myself thinking “I can’t believe we are doing this!” Of course, there is a lot of work that repeats itself, but I also spend a lot of my week doing exciting new things: designing testing protocols for cutting edge technology that our clients would like to start using in the field, and learning about new industries, like offshore wind, so I can understand the problems the industry faces and look for ways that we can help them.

Q The 2022 International Women’s Day theme is ‘Break the bias’, aiming for women’s equality and celebrating inclusivity. However, there are seemingly fewer barriers for women entering consulting, ecology and similar roles. Is this industry getting things right?

I am not sure that the larger number of women in life sciences is as much a testament to something that this industry is doing right as an indication that other science fields are doing something wrong - mainly, it appears, discouraging young girls early on in education from continuing in other science fields. Many women scientists cite the presence of institutional discrimination as significant factors in their choice to pursue other career options. But the push to make space for women in all STEM careers by many colleges and companies seems to shifting this imbalance in a positive direction.

Q Which woman or women inspire you?

So many! I have to start by crediting my own mother, an incredible example of a woman who balanced a demanding career with raising a family, but also my two grandmothers, both of whom were strong, independent women. They all set such an incredible example for me from an early age.

Professionally, I admire so many women scientists that have clearly found career paths that inspire them, and through that inspiration and incredible hard work, have made big differences to their field.

Stephanie Milne, RPS PSO team