May 10, 2023

Ryder Burliss, a Restoration Ecology student in 2019, recently shared with us a huge career update! When we last caught up with her, shortly after her graduation from the University of California, Berkeley, she was looking for an impactful role in the environmental field. She has been able to do just that, as an environmental scientist + assistant land use planner for GHD!

Ryder’s time at work is split between office and field work, both of which provide opportunities to make a difference in the lives of people and animals in California. Not only does she work on documents related to the California Environmental Quality Act, she also recently finished her training to become a Protected Species Observer, which allows her to monitor marine mammals when GHD projects require it. One such project in May 2023 did just that. Ryder spent a week in Long Beach, CA monitoring the shore for dolphins and sea lions while Carnival Cruise Lines reconstructed a pier there. The reconstruction process included pile driving, which is quite loud and can cause significant harm to nearby marine mammals. Ryder’s job during this time was to either ensure the sea creatures did not enter the “exclusion zone”, or to take any necessary mitigation measures if they did.

Ryder had this to say of her week in Long Beach:

“Days in the field can be uneventful at times, scanning the water for hours during vibratory pile driving (which is extremely disruptive for marine mammals within a certain vicinity), but then you’ll see a dolphin’s dorsal fin or sea lion head pop up or swim by and it’s exciting every time. I’ll follow protocol by radioing in my sightings to the other Protected Species Observers (PSO’s). I’m reminded that I’m keeping these animals safe by being there, and that makes it worth it. Thankfully for the marine life, there have been few sightings of marine mammals within the exclusion zone, which would prompt a halt on any construction. We have 4- 7 PSO’s onsite, depending on which kind of pile driving is going on, and we are in constant communication of any updates to construction or sightings. It feels good to switch it up from working on Environmental Policy documents and research in the office and be out in the field – or in this case, Long Beach Harbor! My time with WRFI in the Restoration Ecology course not only furthered my passion for environmental protection but also ensured I would be prepared for in-field work with the basics: making sure I had enough layers for all weather conditions and enough food/water. These are simple things, but also a skill; to be able to have exactly what you need given any situation.”

Ryder, thank you for sharing your update with us, and keep up the good work!