Dr. Anderson’s Biography
Sean Anderson, Ph.D.
Professor of Environmental Science and Resource Management
California State University Channel Islands
Center for Conservation Biology
Marine Population Biology
Bachelor’s (double major)UCSB
Ecology & Evolution
Note: This is a looong biography. You can find a much shorter one on our For The Media page.
Dr. Sean Anderson is a broadly trained ecologist and conservation biologist who has tackled environmental questions from Alaska to the Antarctic.
Sean launched his formal science career on and under the ocean. As an undergraduate researcher at UC Santa Barbara, he worked on several SCUBA-based subtidal ecological studies ranging from the ecotoxicology of wastewater generated by offshore oil drilling (so-called produced water) in the Santa Barbara Channel, to surfperch (e.g. Embiotoca jacksoni) behavior, to density-dependent recruitment of gobies (Rhinogobiops nicholsii and Lythrypnus dally) onto patch reefs, and long-term krill (Euphausia superba) population dynamics off the Antarctic peninsula.
Not content to focus purely upon a research path, Sean was the rare Teaching Assistant while an undergraduate. He TAed courses in both the Environmental Studies and Sociology Departments. Those experiences, typically positions reserved for graduate students, whetted his appetite for teaching. He also put a toe into the dark pool of academic administration when, as a junior, he co-authored a study for his Environmental Studies Department that argued for and soon led to both the creation of a Bachelors of Science track and the creation of a graduate program (realized a few years later as UCSB’s Bren School).
Following graduation, he ran the joint Schmitt–Holbrook lab full time before heading back to Antarctica and then to UCLA to start his Ph.D. on the subtidal ecology of algae (with a focus on the super cool Dictyotalean Zonaria farlowii) surrounding Santa Catalina Island with Rick Vance and Rich Ambrose.
While pursuing his doctorate in Marine Population Biology at UCLA, Sean became increasingly interested in restoration ecology, eventually helming a large salt marsh restoration effort at Mugu Lagoon in Ventura County, California in something of a second Ph.D. His expanding interest in Restoration Ecology also led to his securing a highly competitive fellowship with the Collegium of Teaching Fellows. That fellowship allowed him to both create and teach the first-ever Restoration Ecology course at UCLA (something he would soon repeat for Stanford and CSU Channel Islands).
After graduate school, Sean headed home to the San Francisco Bay Area to join the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University as a Postdoctoral Fellow for Paul Ehrlich. At Stanford, Sean began focusing primarily upon restoration and conservation work as he expanded his work into terrestrial systems. While his primary focus was restoring seasonal wetlands, coastal streams, grasslands, and oak woodlands, his studies soon grew to touch on almost every dimension of coastal management and the then-nascent field of sustainability science. For example, he censused endangered butterflies at the nation’s first-ever Habitat Conservation Plan site, managed growing mountain lion (Puma concolor) populations and the associated public unease along the wildlands-urban interface, assessed the economic impact of invasive grasses, waded into the minefield that is tule elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) management, and designed museum exhibits on sustainable product design.
Sean packed up his Pirate Lab in 2005, returning to southern California to join the then three-year old California State University Channel Islands as an Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Resource Management. The uniqueness of building a public university from scratch has been made that much more fun as it is an Anderson family affair. His wife, Dr. Stacey Anderson, also left her position at Stanford to help pioneer and soon direct CSU Channel Islands’ Composition Program into a groundbreaking program (indeed, she discovered the job announcements and first suggested they consider a move to Channel Islands). Since then, Sean has created a unique restoration curriculum, embedded Service Learning and undergraduate research throughout his program, and helped shape CSU Channel Islands into a university designed for the 21st Century.
His novel approach to teaching emphasizes community service, applied field research, and engagement with contemporary environmental challenges, often making use of “bleeding edge” online and multimedia tools to boost student engagement and learning. He has developed several signature courses wherein students travel across California, the Pacific, and the U.S. Gulf Coast to conduct long-term monitoring and serve local communities grappling with major environmental challenges. His most well known course (ESRM 492: Service Learning in New Orleans) has run each Spring since 2007. In that class, students travel to New Orleans and southeastern Louisiana to examine drivers of wetland loss and policy failures, conduct post-Hurricane Katrina and post-Deepwater Horizon environmental impact assessments, rebuild homes, install community food gardens, and engage with a large cross section of Louisiana’s arts and businesses communities. Sean’s energetic and innovative education efforts have been acknowledged with a variety of teaching awards including the Maximus Outstanding Faculty of the Year, Center for Service Learning Faculty of the Year, and the inaugural President’s Innovations in Teaching and Learning Award. He has also been nominated for the Carnegie Foundation’s U.S. Professor of the Year and was one of seven national finalists for the Lynton Award for Scholarly Community Engagement Awards.
Sean’s research ranges from the Middle East to South Pacific and usually falls into one of four broad themes:
- assessing and restoring degraded ecosystems,
- improving the management of the coastal zone,
- conservation mechatronics, and
- scholarship of pedagogy
His large-scale ecological restoration projects across California, Louisiana, and eastern Turkey (for which his team was awarded the 2008 Whitley Gold Award for International Conservation) most frequently focus on wetland or riparian systems. His coastal zone management work includes quantifying the effects of roads on mobile animals in southern California, evaluating the sustainability of seafood options available for purchase in California, and assessing the impact of pollutants on marine and estuarine systems. He created the NCEAS National Working Group on the Ecotoxicology of Gulf Oil Spill to investigate the long-term ecological consequences of the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history and currently runs several efforts to quantify the impact of oil spills on littoral systems. He and his colleagues created the Sandy Breach Rapid Assessment Synoptic Survey in 2013 to objectively measure the health of sandy beach ecosystems annually across southern California and the greater Pacific, a tool that has become key to understanding the impacts of the 2015 Refugio Oil Spill.
Most recently Sean has created a new Pirate Lab division (the Aerial and Aquatic Robotic Research Group) and spearheaded a new consortium for the use of Remotely Piloted Systems (flying drones & swimming ROVs) to improve the management of coastal systems. The policies and procedures he and his Channel Islands colleagues have created are now being replicated across many other universities and helping to professionalize the “wild west” of drone users. His Drone Use and Perceptions survey is the first ever nation-wide sampling of the public attitudes toward the emerging public use of drones annually.
Sean is or has recently been an elected or appointed member of several conservation-related working groups, boards, and joint power authorities, including the Ventura County Resource Conservation District, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Advisory Committee, California’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative Panel, Ocean Protection Council’s Mitigation and Restoration Working Group, the IUCN’s Transboundary Specialists Group, and the Council on Ocean Affairs, Science and Technology.
Sean’s energetic, innovative teaching and conservation efforts are often covered in the popular press and spawned the eponymous “Sean Anderson” character (played by Josh Hutcherson) in Warner Brother’s Journey film franchise.
When not teaching or conducting research, Sean fails to help his wife clean the house and dives with his son across the reefs of southern California.
To quell all the student queries for pictures of me “before you got old” or “when you had hair,” I offer this limited foray through the Pirate Lab archives. I am not necessarily young or shaggy in all of these, but there are stories for each and every image…that I may not be willing to share. Hopefully these will suffice for now.
More professional & current images are at our Pics & Vids page.