Atkinson-EDF Post-Doctoral Fellow, Oceans

With world attention on both the environment and the economy, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is where policymakers and business leaders turn for win-win solutions. By focusing on strong science, uncommon partnerships and market-based approaches, we tackle urgent threats with practical solutions. We are one of the world’s largest environmental organizations, with more than two million members and a staff of approximately 630 scientists, economists, policy experts, and other professionals around the world. We operate in 22 geographies with unique projects running across four programs. You will be part of a vibrant workplace that welcomes diverse perspectives, talents and contributions, where innovation and results are a way of life.

Program Overview

EDF’s Oceans Program seeks to improve the livelihoods and well-being of millions of people who depend on ocean resources while leaving more fish in healthier ocean ecosystems.  The program includes a diverse team of global fishery experts and practitioners who develop and apply science-based tools and insights to improve fisheries management. With a focus on fishery management design, markets, policy and science, the team is a recognized leader on the diagnosis of fisheries problems and the implementation of comprehensive solutions. From data collection to implementation, the Oceans Program equips fishermen, fishery managers and other stakeholders with the knowledge, tools and training they need to boost the profitability and sustainability of their fisheries.


In partnership with Cornell University, Environmental Defense Fund seeks a recent Ph.D. with expertise in conservation technology and data analysis to develop, test, and help implement a passive acoustic surveillance system pilot study to deter illegal fishing.  The Post-Doctoral Scientist will work with Dr. Rod Fujita, Director of Research & Development for EDF’s Fishery Solutions Center and Dr. Aaron Rice, Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University, for this two year fellowship.

The project will focus on Chile, where illegal overfishing of the highly prized loco and similar species threatens ecosystems and economic well-being in coastal communities. The communities co-manage designated fishery areas (Territorial Use Rights for Fishing, or TURFs) as ‘cooperatives’, but illegal fishing undermines their effectiveness to achieve sustainability, and has deleterious ecosystem impacts. We aim to develop a surveillance system that is easy for communities to use and easy for government to embed in an effective enforcement process. The current concept is to use underwater acoustic technology to monitor near the borders of a selected TURF managed by a community with which EDF has strong relationships, and to develop software capable of detecting illegal fishing activities and alerting authorities in near-real-time to facilitate enforcement and deter illegal activity.  The Fellow’s principal duties will be to critically evaluate this concept, propose modifications or alternatives, develop the necessary software, work with community leaders and enforcement officials in Chile to set up and implement a pilot test, evaluate the pilot, and produced a refined concept. 

Successful demonstration of a practical surveillance system using passive acoustic technology has the potential to result in dramatic environmental and social benefits in areas that have few resources for surveillance and enforcement. There are over 700 community managed fishing areas in Chile alone, many of which face similar challenges. Many of the fisheries that EDF is working with around the world face similar problems, so demonstrating that this system is effective, and making it available for other communities to adopt, improve and deploy, could have widespread benefits.

The work of the Post-Doctoral Fellow will help EDF make progress towards proving technology is an effective tool to curbing illegal fishing, benefiting other communities across Chile. More generally, these types of technologies could help curb illegal fishing all over the world, including many fisheries with which EDF is engaged in Belize, Mexico, the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar, and China. 

The Fellow will be part of a cohort of Post-Docs and research fellows at EDF, and collaborate closely with our research partners at Cornell University. Continued professional development, training and mentoring by EDF & Cornell staff and partners will be provided to familiarize the successful candidate with specific issues, including illegal fishing, rights-based fisheries management, human centered design, economic impacts, acoustics, conservation technology, and marine conservation.


In collaboration with the project team and scientists in the field, the Post-Doctoral Fellow will:

  • Critically evaluate the initial concept using available data, and propose modifications or alternatives if necessary
  • Collect baseline acoustic data to measure loco extraction sounds and inform the viability of a real-time notification system
  • Develop a machine learning algorithm to automatically identify acoustic signatures associated with loco extraction (e.g., hookah divers, compressors, vessels, etc.)
  • Characterize the times and locations of legal fishing and illegal poaching in the study site to support the development of a surveillance protocol
  • Develop a proof of concept that the automatic identification of loco poaching can be incorporated into a near-real time surveillance system administered by the fishing cooperative and enforcement authorities
  • Develop papers for publication in peer-reviewed journals, reports, fact sheets, blog posts, conference presentations, stakeholder meetings etc. on the topic of technology as an effective tool to curbing illegal fishing


  • A recent Ph.D. in a relevant field (e.g. biology, ecology, oceanography, engineering etc.).
  • Experience in bioacoustic technology and data analysis.
  • Extensive experience conducting marine field research, including experience with deploying and recovering recording instruments in the field.
  • Strong quantitative skills (e.g. statistical analysis).
  • Strong creativity and critical thinking skills.
  • Ability to communicate complex ideas to a general audience in writing and orally.
  • Ability to conduct original research, from conception to completion.
  • An interest in and demonstrated capacity for translating scientific theory into real-world applications and practice.
  • Well organized, self-motivated and detail-oriented.
  • Ability to work on multiple projects, prioritize and meet deadlines.
  • Ability to work both independently and as part of a multidisciplinary team, including with colleagues from different technical and cultural backgrounds, and distributed across multiple geographies.
  • Ability and willingness to be flexible and adapt to an evolving area of work.
  • Willingness to travel semiregularly (e.g. once per month) domestically and internationally, including regular travel to meet with project partners at Cornell University.

·         Experience working with large datasets, leadership of a research project, and presentations at scientific conferences preferred.

·         Experience operating small boats and scuba diving preferred.

·         Experience with marine bioacoustics preferred.

·         Fluency in Spanish strongly preferred.


San Francisco, CA


2-year term


Full-time (35 hours/week)


To apply to this position, please provide a resume, a cover letter, and a list of your publications. 

Environmental Defense Fund is an equal opportunity employer where an applicant's qualifications are considered without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, genetic information, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other basis prohibited by law.