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Switching Hemispheres—Pete Dal Ferro and Melissa Foley Take Jobs in New Zealand

It’s a bittersweet feeling losing good employees to other jobs, especially employees so valuable to the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center (PCMSC) in Santa Cruz, California. 

This article is part of the August-October 2017 issue of the Sound Waves newsletter.

In June, Pete Dal Ferro, a USGS engineering technician, and spouse Melissa Foley, a USGS ecologist, made the long jump across the Pacific to New Zealand. Both landed positions at the Auckland Council, a government body that relies on specialists to help guide Auckland in becoming a sustainable city.

Pete Dal Ferro and Melissa Foley sample onboard the research vessel Karluk at the mouth of the Elwha River, northern Washington
Pete Dal Ferro and Melissa Foley sample onboard the research vessel Karluk at the mouth of the Elwha River in northern Washington. After recovering a tripod (on deck), Dal Ferro and Foley await a GPS reading before they deploy gear to measure seawater properties. Credit: Peter Harkins, USGS
Pete Dal Ferro and Melissa Foley in Beziers, France, after a canal boating trip on the Canal du Midi.
Pete Dal Ferro and Melissa Foley in Beziers, France, after a canal boating trip on the Canal du Midi. Credit: Andrew McKee, USGS

True to their intense work ethic, Dal Ferro and Foley didn’t even pause to note the time change. Dal Ferro arrived in New Zealand at 6 a.m. after a 12-hour flight and attended a meeting at the office that very day. By day two, he was knee deep in mud in the field. Foley had arrived a week earlier and started immediately as well. By her third week, she was at a marine science conference on the South Island as a scientist for the Auckland Council.

Dal Ferro grew up in Oakland, California, and graduated in 1998 with a marine biology degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), just a few miles from the USGS office. Subsequently, he spent a decade at UCSC as the Assistant Diving Safety Officer and Boating Program Manager. It was there that he first met Foley, who needed to learn how to operate a small inflatable boat along the Big Sur coast for her dissertation research. He trained and assisted her that first year, since that section of California’s coast is particularly dangerous for small vessels. He realized pretty quickly she was the first graduate student he had worked with who was tougher than he was!

The variety of projects Dal Ferro supported for UCSC also involved USGS researchers, which made him an obvious fit for the USGS; he joined the Marine Facility at PCMSC in 2009. He stepped into many roles there: designing, fabricating, and deploying scientific instruments; working as the lead coring technician and top technical scuba diver; and working as one of three boat drivers for the center—a skill that won him accolades from his colleagues. He had previous small- and large-vessel experience, after eight summers working aboard National Science Foundation icebreakers in the Southern Ocean. Also aboard those vessels was Jenny White, who later worked closely with Dal Ferro in Santa Cruz and is now the USGS Marine Facility Chief. White’s laudatory parting words illustrate the loss of Dal Ferro to the center.

“We are extremely fortunate to have enjoyed so many years of his expert boat handling, adept teaching ability, brute strength, enthusiastic cleaning, proficient mechanical skills, and sarcastic humor. He has spent countless hours on, in, and under water in support of USGS science. Several of your projects have benefited from his uncanny ingenuity and exceptionally creative problem solving. His presence here has raised the bar on several levels. Many of us learned when we were small to always leave things better than we found them, and Pete has certainly done so here.”

Dal Ferro also digs for fun at Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula of New Zealand
Dal Ferro also digs for fun at Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula of New Zealand. Credit: Melissa Foley, USGS

Del Ferro now works as a Senior Environmental Specialist at the Auckland Council, where he’ll lead research programs that include a network of buoys providing real-time water-quality data from Hauraki Gulf. He will also be involved in overall environmental monitoring of the land, air, freshwater, and saltwater.

Foley, too, received many kind words of support upon her departure, which was prompted by a government-wide hiring freeze that occurred before her position could be renewed. After her Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from UCSC, and spending a post-doc at Stanford University with the Center for Ocean Solutions, she served as PCMSC’s only ecologist for four years. She worked primarily to understand how dam removals affect coastal habitats—from sediment and water circulation to bugs and fish—and supported other projects as well.

“I'm completely inspired by the insightful, careful, persistent, and passionate approach you take in doing science,” wrote USGS geologist Amy East, who leads some of the center’s dam-removal studies. Oceanographer Nancy Prouty added: “From helping to collect coral cores on the Big Island to brainstorming with us about microbial biomarkers in authigenic carbonates, it’s been a true pleasure working with you. You've brought an amazing skill set and work ethic to our group.”

Foley reciprocates, feeling fortunate to have worked “with great people at USGS” and knowing they helped her become a more well-rounded, interdisciplinary scientist.

Foley’s departure from California also meant ending her 11-years as a volunteer with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where she worked with the Student Oceanography Club and helped with the Young Women in Science program. “The kids are amazing and give me hope for the future,” said Foley.

She is now a Senior Scientist in the research and monitoring unit at Auckland Council. Her research in seawater quality and intertidal and subtidal reef health contributes directly to decision making at Auckland Council and feeds into an environmental assessment for the entire country. “The thing I am most excited about in my new job is the potential to bring about change in Auckland and New Zealand with science.” Foley’s work will touch on many disciplines; her team covers the environment from the tops of the watersheds to 12 nautical miles from shore, as well as social and economic aspects of Auckland’s environments.

The couple notes similarities in the two organizations (both use the same travel agency!), but the main difference is that they love the short link to decision makers charting Auckland’s path to sustainability: Dal Ferro rides the elevator with Auckland’s mayor, and Foley had scientific discussions with those in the running for Prime Minister. New Zealand’s support of environmental science has made their move worth it, not to mention the fantastic view of the city and ocean from the 24th floor of their downtown building!

Everyone at the Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center wishes them a successful and happy chapter in the Southern Hemisphere, as they work to create a healthier environment for New Zealand.


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