M. Sanjayan: The face of conservation

Ph.D. '97, biology

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A prominent ecologist and Emmy-nominated television personality, M. Sanjayan is CEO of the nonprofit Conservation International—the first new CEO of the organization in 30 years.

A charismatic, knowledgeable media presence, he has hosted and cohosted documentaries for PBS, BBC, Discovery, and Showtime. He was cohost for Big Blue Live, and as host of Earth: A New Wild, he traveled all over the world, contemplating watersheds, studying snails, shadowing sharks, living with Sami reindeer herders, and cozying up to panda bears. His peer-reviewed scientific work has been published in journals including Science, Nature, and Conservation Biology.

At Conservation International, he pioneered the use of media to increase understanding of the planet’s most precious resources, with projects such as Nature Is Speaking and Valen’s Reef. He also hosts Climate Lab, an innovative series on global climate change produced by the University of California; the program has 12 million views and counting.

The Sri Lankan–born Sanjayan attributes much of his confidence and analytical thinking to his years on campus. "While I was at UC Santa Cruz I didn't think much about conservation," he said. "I mostly thought about taking on difficult questions."

He sees his roles as a conservationist and a broadcaster as deeply intertwined, giving him the ability to address complex topics in ways that a lay audience can understand.

"It has to have this personal relevance to what impacts people's lives today," he said.