SeaDoc Society welcomes new regional director

Submitted by SeaDoc Society.

The SeaDoc Society has hired Leigh Ann Gilmer to fill its regional director position. She began on Feb. 1 and has hit the ground running.

Prior to joining SeaDoc, Gilmer served as executive director of Cascadia Art Museum in Edmonds, Washington, and development director and chief operating officer at Conservation Northwest. In addition, she’s held key roles at the Museum of Pop Culture and Seattle University, where she completed her master’s degree while working full time in fund development.

“The Salish Sea is a defining feature that makes this part of the Pacific Northwest so special,” Gilmer said. “There is an urgency to protect this ecosystem and the wildlife who call it home. It’s our joy and responsibility to steward the health of this unique place for future generations.”

SeaDoc Society was founded in the year 2000, and recently celebrated 20 years of science and education in the Salish Sea. Under the leadership of Science Director Joe Gaydos and Ex-Officio Board Member Kirsten Gilardi, SeaDoc has established itself as a science-based leader in conservation and policy in the Salish Sea.

“We couldn’t be more excited about Leigh Ann coming on board,” Gaydos said. “Her extensive experience will greatly increase our impact and help take SeaDoc to the next level.”

Gilmer brings with her a strong background in donor relations and strategic planning in the fields of conservation, art and higher education.

The Pacific Northwest has been her adopted home since 2007, when she found herself at a crossroads after a stint spent traveling. She could either take the last of her saved-up money and start her professional career in her home state of Arizona, or plan one last adventure.

“I Googled ‘Where should I live?’ and found an online quiz,” Gilmer said, laughing. “I filled it out and it said Seattle, so I bought a one-way ticket. I wanted to further my education and pursue my passion for preservation-focused nonprofits, and it turned out that the quiz was right — the Northwest was the perfect fit.”

With that, she had traded the arid desert for the rainy northwest. Not long after, she made her first trek out to the San Juan Islands — a mid-February camping excursion into Moran State Park. Having grown up in the 120-degree summers of Yuma, Ariona, her camping experience up to that point had been minimal, but those frosty nights in Moran did the opposite of deter her.

“That first solo camping experience inspired me,” she said. “My next big trip was a 465-mile backpacking thru-hike along the Oregon coast by myself for a month.”

During that long trek, she came upon a large swath of protected land aimed at conserving the Snowy Plover shorebird population — a tangible example of a conservation effort that has remained with her.

Gilmer also began annual forays out to Orcas Island for Doe Bay Fest, building her connection not only to the natural landscape of the San Juans but also to some of its artistic and cultural offerings.

“Orcas Island has a special place in my heart,” she said. “Working with SeaDoc represents an exciting opportunity to connect with those who share a passion for one of the most abundant ecosystems in the world.”

Is there a particular species in the Salish Sea that Gilmer particularly loves?

“Marbled murrelets,” she said. “They require marine and inland forest ecosystems, so they illustrate the need for collaborative conservation work. Also, they’re just really cute.”