Robbie Lamb’s international work with sustainable fisheries has earned him a Fulbright grant.

Robbie Lamb
Robbie Lamb

Robbie Lamb’s love of marine biology started with his mother’s pre-dawn knocks on his door when he was a child. She woke him so the two could drive from their Portland home to see the Oregon coast’s well-known tide pools. He hated getting up early, but once there, Robbie managed to shake off his drowsiness. The pools inspired him. “I think that’s what really planted the seed for marine biology,” says the senior in the University Honors College.

Robbie’s mom didn’t stop there. She urged her reluctant son to spend his junior year of high school as an exchange student in Ecuador. He loved it. Ecuador had so much a teenager like him wanted — diverse ecosystems, more endemic species than almost any country in the world and a rich, varied culture. “It was one of the most formative experiences I had,” he says.

At OSU, Lamb has strengthened the marriage of those two passions – science and culture. He’s a biology major pursuing an International Degree and marine biology option. He’s spent countless hours in the lab and the field, and he’s written his own grant proposals to get funding for research in the United States, Ecuador and the Bahamas.

But perhaps Lamb’s crowning achievement came in the mail on April 2 — a letter approving a Fulbright grant to continue his studies in Ecuador. In September, Lamb will use the grant to help build a marine reserve in the country’s Esmeraldas region — with fishermen’s input. “I’m very ready to go work with them,” Lamb says. “A big part of developing sustainable fisheries there will be establishing my own relationships with fishermen.”

It won’t be the first time Lamb has melded scientific and cultural work. As a congressional Gilman Scholar, he studied in Ecuador his sophomore year and interned with the Ecuadorian marine conservation group Equilibrio Azul, surveying sea turtle nesting sites and the shark catches fishermen hauled in daily. Counting sharks was a particularly sensitive job in Ecuador at the time. Shark fishing was illegal, and the fishermen were initially suspicious of him.

Gaining their trust was difficult, and where Lamb used to see only a conservationist’s argument, he began to understand the fishermen’s side of the story. “I saw them for the people that they really are. They’re just trying to feed their families,” Lamb says. The experience crystallized his career path. “That experience was very pivotal in directing my interest toward sustainable fisheries,” he says.

Lamb’s travels didn’t end in Ecuador. During his junior year, he took advantage of two of OSU’s undergraduate funding opportunities: the Undergraduate Research, Innovation, Scholarship & Creativity grant and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute program.

The grants took him to the Bahamas, where he worked as a research assistant for zoology professor Mark Hixon and even performed his own study on the effects of Bahamian marine reserves on fish communities. “What’s great about Robbie is that he is so enthusiastic, so willing to work and so dedicated to learning about ocean conservation and management,” says Hixon.

Now, with funding from Oregon Sea Grant, Lamb is working with zoology professor Bruce Menge, studying the same tide pools he visited as a child. He’s looking forward to returning to Ecuador and eventually wants to earn a Ph.D. “I’m definitely interested in teaching. It’s probably the best way to give back to the next generation,” Lamb says.

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