We had the good fortune of connecting with Dalton Hesley and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dalton, what’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make?
Deciding to make the move from my hometown in Minnesota to Miami, FL. I had recently graduated with a B.S. in Biology but still didn’t know where I wanted to go in life. After exploring graduate schools, I was accepted and committed to the University of Miami to pursue a career in marine biology- it was the most difficult and rewarding decision of my life!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I was born and raised in Minnesota, many many miles from any seashore. I grew up in a quite town about an hour outside of the city named Big Lake. The lake was only average sized, but made for some great swimming, fishing, and rock-skipping. From a very young age I had a strong interest in the outdoors and wildlife. After high school I attended college at the University of Minnesota – Duluth (UMD) on Lake Superior in Duluth, MN. While there, I had an incredible opportunity to study abroad and learn to SCUBA dive in the Bahamas for an introductory course in coral reef ecology. Spoiler alert: I liked it a lot. Two degrees and 750+ dives later, I am now a Sr. Research Associate in the coral reef research lab at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School. In addition to being a research associate, I manage our lab’s citizen science project; Rescue a Reef. Rescue a Reef (RAR) is a coral conservation program designed to build community and coastal resilience through coral reef research, restoration, and citizen science. The program was started in 2015 by Dr. Diego Lirman (Associate Professor) and is an extension of his research. Our mission is conserve and restore the future of corals reefs through public engagement! Citizen science is exactly as it sounds; everyday individuals teaming up with scientists to do scientific things. With RAR, that means hands-on, offshore expeditions to restore and recover threatened coral populations on local reefs. Citizen scientists and our UM team work side-by-side to maintain our underwater coral nurseries, collect coral colonies, and transplant them right here in Miami-Dade County. We believe that citizen science and our coral restoration expeditions are one of the most impactful ways to foster ocean stewards and environmental champions! I am living my dream job- but getting to this point has been a definite challenge. With essentially no background or experience in marine science and even less money in my pocket, I knew uprooting from my home state and moving across the country was going to be a struggle. But I was determined. So I invested in myself and my passion because I knew the end result would be worth every penny and panic attack. It was both the most difficult and rewarding decision I have ever made!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Having friends in town is always a favorite of mine because it’s an excuse to live like a tourist! As a researcher at UM’s marine campus, the Rosenstiel School, I would definitely bring them to “The Wetlab” on Friday night- Miami’s best-kept secret bar. With a view of Biscayne Bay and its own private beach, there really aren’t many other spots like it. On Saturday, we would probably head to Crandon Beach- it has the sand, palms, and view of South Beach but without the crowds! For dinner and drinks, I would suggest hitting up the Grove for the night- between Barracuda’s, Sandbar, and Monty’s, there is plenty of fun to have with locals. Sunday would be all about brunch! There are a number of gems but I think my go-to has to be Batch Gastropub in Brickell which would give us an opportunity to walk around the city afterwards. If we could spare the time and find someone to take us, the weekend would culminate with a day offshore checking out one of our local reefs! Hard to beat a lineup like that.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
This journey has been a long and challenging one that I could not have traveled if not for my family and friends. Thank you all for your continued love and support! Additionally, Diego Lirman, Ford Drury, and Stephanie Schopmeyer were mentors of mine that showed patience, encouragement, and guidance that was instrumental to my career development. Lastly, I would like to show some love to our entire Rescue a Reef team- they are the real MVPs!
Christine de Silva, Albert Manduca