Our People

Jenn Burt

British Columbia Marine Program Lead

marine scientist jenn burt in front of the ocean

Jenn Burt BC Marine Lead © Nature United

Areas of Focus

Works on marine planning, resilience and adaptation in coastal communities and kelp forests.

You can read about marine species in textbooks, but doing experiments underwater or surveying the seafloor, you get a different sense of how everything connects. It’s my version of space, like there’s another planet on Earth.

Biography

Since beginning at Nature United in 2019, Jenn has worked to build a marine program focused on finding innovative solutions to the intertwined social-ecological challenges that face Canada's Pacific. Through that, she works with First Nations, governments, industry partners and other stakeholders to support sustainable fisheries, marine planning, ecosystem based management, climate change adaptation, and thriving ocean-based coastal communities.

Jenn obtained a Masters degree in Pacific salmon ecology from UBC before becoming a Marine Planning Coordinator at the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. She was also involved in multiple coastal planning initiatives, including as a science representative for marine planning and MPA network planning processes in B.C.’s Central Coast.

She also holds a PhD in marine ecology and resource management from Simon Fraser University, where her research focused on monitoring kelp forests in central B.C. in addition to work on the Coastal Voices project, where she learned how to navigate the complex social-ecological challenges associated with sea otter recovery and find alignments across divergent perspectives. Her work contributed to both new understandings of subtidal kelp forest dynamics, and elevating Indigenous voices and perspectives on the recovery of sea otters and how that affected shellfish, kelp and the human communities that relied on them.

Jenn has been a life-long naturalist and adventurer. She is often found on the forest trails, sea shores, or mountain cliffs—hiking, swimming, or rock climbing—enjoying time outside and examining the flora and fauna with her wife and daughter. 

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You’ve spent a lot of time doing research underwater — a part of the world most of us never see. What’s it like under there?

It’s my version of space, like there’s another planet on Earth with the same zero-gravity feeling. You can read about marine species in textbooks, but doing experiments underwater or surveying the seafloor, you get a different sense of how everything connects and interacts. You can see kelp or fish on the water’s surface, but swimming next to the fish in these liquid forests is different. People understand why ecosystem stewardship is important when they see it, eat from it, swim in it.

Where did your love for the ocean begin? 

The pivotal moment for me was when I started volunteering at the Vancouver Aquarium. I fell in love with everything they were doing and got a job in the education department. I’d pull sea cucumbers, urchins, and crabs out from a bucket and got people to touch them and learn about them. People left connected and inspired.

I made friends with Donna, a taxonomist and aquarist there. I followed her around on feeding shifts and asked, “What’s that?” I had a notebook and wrote everything down. Eventually she said, “Go get your scuba diving certificate and come back to me. Then I’ll show you what’s really out there.” One dive and I was hooked. I’m still diving with Donna. She helped inspire me to do what I do. 

Jenn Burt
Jenn Burt As BC Marine Lead for Nature United, Jenn Burt is supporting the implementation of the Marine Planning Partnership. © Nature United
Great Bear Sea
Great Bear Sea Sea stars and kelp in the ocean off Hurst Island, BC. © Jon McCormack

How did you go on to develop your passion for marine life?    

After the Aquarium, I did a master’s degree. I joined a salmon science lab because salmon are emblematic of the connections between food, people, culture, economics, and ecosystems. Most of my work on salmon’s response to climate change took place where they spawn — in rivers — dynamic and important ecosystems. But for my PhD, I said, “This time I want to be in the marine environment.”

I went on to study kelp forests on the British Columbia Coast. Along with doing cool underwater science in many remote kelp forests that only a handful of people have dove before, I am really proud of my work with the Coastal Voices project. The project was designed to elevate Indigenous voices and perspectives on the recovery of sea otters post-fur trade. Sea otters have huge impacts on the shellfish they eat, the kelp that shellfish eat, and the human communities that rely on both shellfish and kelp. It’s a complex social-ecological system. Through my work I discovered that I will always love measuring kelp and counting fish, but my strengths are in convening people and finding innovative ways to tackle complex resource management issues.

Who are your role models?

My supervisor Dr. Anne Salomon is an inspiration. She mentored me in becoming an applied community ecologist. I’m also really thankful to her for inviting me to help her build the Coastal Voices project and partnership. She shares my view that we don’t just study ecological systems, we study social-ecological systems. It’s almost impossible to decouple them.

Kii’iljuus Barb Wilson, a Haida matriarch, is an amazing inspiration too. When I first met her she was 72 and starting her master’s degree at Simon Fraser, focusing on the interface between climate change, infrastructure, and Indigenous laws. She’s done everything. She’s been a cultural ambassador, filmmaker, guide, and educator. She’s worked all over the world. She’s sat on national boards and advisory groups. She’s part of the research team for Coastal Voices. And now she’s been elected to council in her Haida community. She is a change-maker and bridge-builder, staying true to her roots and core values. I’ve learned a lot through our conversations and enjoyed all the time we’ve spent together on so many levels.

What drew you to Nature United?

All of my PhD research was a collaboration with First Nations and coastal communities. I learned the value in asking, “What do you want to know? What’s the relevance to you and your seascape? How should we approach this project? How can we work together?”

That’s how Nature United works as well — starting with an invitation to work in partnership and achieve shared outcomes. The two pillars that aligned for me were that Nature United values science-based conservation and they partner with Indigenous and local communities, including fishers, farmers, and businesses. That was the real value match.

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