Alumna Stacy Jupiter wins coveted MacArthur Fellowship

Stacy Jupiter
UCSC alumna Stacy Jupiter is director of the Melanesia Program for the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Stacy Jupiter with villagers
Jupiter works with villagers in Melanesia on conservation programs.

Stacy Jupiter, a marine scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society who earned her Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz in 2006, is among the 26 new MacArthur Fellows for 2019. The prestigious MacArthur fellowships, awarded annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for “extraordinary originality and dedication,” come with a no-strings-attached award of $625,000 over five years.

Jupiter, 43, lives in Fiji and works on conservation programs in Melanesia, which includes the countries of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, and encompasses nearly 2,000 islands. Melanesia's extraordinary biodiversity underscores the importance of conservation efforts in the region.

Jupiter's work involves integrating local cultural practices with field research to develop conservation solutions that protect both the biodiversity of coastal ecosystems and the well-being of communities dependent on them. Working in concert with local communities, Jupiter is establishing and applying new approaches to natural resource management based on traditional ecological knowledge and practices that take into account the livelihoods and food security of inhabitants.

“My work focuses on understanding the impacts of environmental change and using the outcomes to reconnect people to nature so that they will make smarter decisions that both protect the planet and improve human well-being,” Jupiter said in a statement. “The Pacific islands offer tremendous opportunities for teaching lessons to the world about environmental sustainability through reinvigorating customary knowledge and practice and building on people’s strong cultural attachment to place.”

As a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz, Jupiter worked in northern Australia studying how coastal mangroves and coral reefs were affected by land use in a major watershed in Queensland. Biology Professor Donald Potts, who was her adviser, described her as very easy going, with remarkable abilities to communicate at the right levels for different people.

“I've seen her equally comfortable sitting on the ground playing with village children and a few minutes later in formal discussions with the elders and government officials—and this was as a graduate student,” Potts said.

To build broad-based local support of conservation efforts, Jupiter creates tailored materials to communicate with different audiences, including comic books and puppet shows to teach children about marine conservation, scientific reports that inform national policy on coastal fisheries, and guides on best practices for holistic resource management in the Pacific Islands.

The primary method used by Melanesian communities to manage coral reef natural resources is periodic closures to fishing (known as tabu). Jupiter joined villagers in experimental harvests and provided clear scientific evidence of the efficacy of their approach, as well as the means for communities to make more informed decisions about when, where, and how long to close off areas of the reef.

Her research has the potential for improving the sustainability of thousands of tabu areas across the southwestern Pacific, and Jupiter is spearheading efforts to link these locally managed marine areas to larger-scale marine planning processes.

Jupiter has been affiliated with the Wildlife Conservation Society since 2008. She served as director of the Fiji Country Program from 2009 to 2014 before assuming her current role as director of the Melanesia Program.