Nadia Rubio-Cisneros


Hometown:  Monterrey, N.L. Mexico

Current Job Title:  Marine Biologist

Work Location:  Bocas del Toro, Panama

Job Description:  I study coastal ecosystem services.



Company, Academic Institution, Government Agency or Non-profit affiliation:  Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Highest Degree Level Achieved: and Area of Study:  PhD in Marine Biology

What do you love most about your career?

When I am doing field research and I am out there somewhere in the sea or the coast, looking underwater or talking to fishers about their life, history and their perception of how the fauna in the ocean has changed in more recent times.

I really loved my latest research, which involved understanding how humans have exploited the coastal seas since Pre-Columbian times to the present. For these I had to travel to Spain to read old historical documents that show descriptions of the first Spanish conquerors that visited Mexico’s west coast. These describe the region with plenty of big fish, sharks, sea turtles, crocodiles, and numerous whales and sea lions existed close to the coast. Then I traveled to Mexico’s west coast and visited fishing towns to see how things have changed. I talk to fishers about their present catches and the fauna that today inhabits this region. Sadly I found a very different scenario to what the Spanish conquerors describe since the plenty big fish, sharks and sea turtle are nowadays scarce.

Sometimes younger people think history is boring, I believe knowing the history of things helps understand our oceans present. This is crucial in order to preserve the future of our oceans and the benefits they provide to humans.

What inspired you to pursue a career in marine science or STEM related field?

I am from Monterrey Mexico, a city with no sea. However, since a very early age my mom showed me the ocean, and ever since I fell for it.  I can say I had two “aha” moments one in my early childhood when my grandpa brought me a bunch of old National Geographic magazines and I saw for the first time what scientists where doing to study and protect whales and dolphins. My second “aha” moment was as a teenager when I dived for the first time in 1993 in the Mexican Caribbean coast and saw a coral reef. It was something really unbelievable for me at that time; I kept wondering how so many colors could be present at the same time in many different life forms.  

Describe one of the most exciting moments you’ve experienced in your work.

I can describe some of my most exciting moments at my work as snapshots I like to remember, since being a scientist also requires to sit at your desk and analyze data sometimes for very long periods, which can be very challenging. Then I like to remember….

The sound and view of a sperm whale as it comes to the surface to breath.

The eyes of colorful fish swimming in coral reefs.

A whale shark under water and their silky skin with their very peculiar color pattern.

The noise and view of a busy fishing camp in a warm afternoon in the middle of a mangrove forest.

Conversing with very elder fishers, their wrinkly eyes harbor many living testimonies of the many marine creatures that once populated coastal seas such as abundant sea turtles, large sharks and plentiful oyster banks.

Describe the biggest challenge(s) that you’ve faced and how did you overcome it.

Becoming a Marine Biologist was my biggest challenge. I had to move from my hometown in Monterrey Mexico, to study Marine Biology in La Paz, Baja California, Mexico. In the Latino culture moving out to get your college education is not very common, so leaving my family was very hard. Afterwards when I arrived in the United States to work as a Marine Biologist (in conservation genetics of marine mammals) and then to pursue my PhD (in studying coastal ecosystem services) it was also challenging to adapt to the American culture and pursuing a career in a language different than my native language.

Another challenge to overcome is to be a woman in science. Even today some people think you cannot do it because you are a women, you are too young or they just do not take you seriously. I guess I have overcome this situation by being very faithful to my dreams and research ideas. I am also very stubborn (in a good way), so if I want to do something, I just go for it. If many people say “No” at least one will say “Yes”, so never give up and keep trying, because things can really happen.

Who is your most influential mentor and how did they help you get to where you are today?

My inspiration for role models are all the “Latinas in Science” who are constantly in the “battle field” generating research that can help preserve the ocean so that the future generations can keep enjoying it.

I also have several long-term mentors such as Ira Fogel. He is an English editor at Centro de Investigaciones Biologicas del Noroeste CIBNOR at La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. I knew him since I finished my undergrad. He has always supported me and he firmly believed in me since the beginning. Through his great help I was able to write my grad school application for Scripps Institution of Oceanography and many other important documents throughout my career. Further throughout my PhD, my advisors Exequiel Ezcurra and Jeremy Jackson were always very supportive of my career and were great people to have support in times when I felt it was too hard.

How do you feel you are making a positive difference in the world?  

I feel good that I have the chance to dedicate my work to solve problems related to how humans can take better care of the ocean, their environments and their fauna.

My most recent research provides insight into current problems the coastal ecosystems (coastal lagoon and estuaries) face and how these have an ecological, economic, and social value for human societies.

For example how humans have overfished coastal seas and what can be the future consequences of this behavior for the welfare of coastal societies. Other example is how preserving local coastal habitats can have both an economic and ecological impact in very far away regions. For example preserving healthy breeding grounds for migratory birds that winter in Mexican mangroves matters for their further northern migration to their summer grounds in the United States.  

Overall I am very interested in disseminating my scientific research to broader audiences and feel very happy when non-scientist tell me they enjoyed reading my scientific work in a popular newspaper or non scientific magazine. I believe that passing the information so the public can have an idea about the current issues happening in our oceans, is what can really make a change of in people minds. This can lead to a higher interest in the society for the future preservation of our oceans.