The Waitt Institute is based in La Jolla, California, with site managers and partners in Barbuda, Azores, Bermuda, Curaçao, Monsterrat and Vava'u, Tonga. Providing a wide variety of expertise, our team aims to restore fish populations and habitats and benefit coastal communities through partnerships with governments committed to developing and implementing comprehensive, science-based, community-driven solutions for sustainable ocean management.

Kathryn Mengerink, J.D. Ph.D. 

Executive Director

Dr. Kathryn Mengerink leads a team of ocean experts in developing and implementing blue prosperity programs, including marine spatial planning and blue economy projects. She works in partnership with governments, NGOs, and ocean experts across the globe. Kathryn brings more than 20 years of ocean expertise to her work combining marine science, law and policy to inform decision making.


Previously, she founded and led the Environmental Law Institute’s Ocean Program for ten years. Under her leadership, the Ocean Program launched a number of law and policy projects related to ecosystem-based ocean management, marine spatial planning, fisheries management and enforcement, ocean and coastal restoration, marine protection, deep seabed mining and more. During this time, Kathryn also served as a lecturer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and an advisor to its Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. 


Kathryn holds a Bachelor of Science in Zoology from Texas A&M University, Ph.D. in Marine Biology from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a J.D. with a certificate in Environmental Law from University of California, Berkeley.


Tamara Marshall, J.D.

Operations & Legal Director

Tamara focuses on legal review, finances, contracts, compliance, and operations generally to keep the organization running smoothly. She joined the Waitt team as an employee of the Avalon Capital Group in 2005.


Over the past fifteen years, she has held numerous positions within the organization across the areas of human resources, administration, operations, finance, legal, and investments. She is an experienced professional accountant with a background in entrepreneurship and small business advising. Tamara has a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting and a J.D. from Thomas Jefferson School of Law. Tamara aspires to use her law degree to make a difference in the world and to give back to the community.

Andy Estep

Science & Field Director

Andy’s work is focused on building a science program for the Waitt Institute’s project sites that supports the needs of marine spatial planning and marine protected area network monitoring while also meeting global standards and the needs of local governments and communities. Since joining the organization in 2014, he has supported marine spatial planning and implementation through a wide variety of activities such as expeditions, assessments, workshops, and geospatial analyses.


Andy has extensive experience in creating portfolios of science-based projects to support marine spatial planning and the designation and placement of marine protected areas using standardized methodologies. Andy’s scientific expertise spans marine spatial planning, ecological monitoring, fisheries landings assessments, geospatial analysis, benthic habitat mapping, and geology of coral reefs.

Shayna Brody

Media & Communications Director

Shayna oversees communications across the Waitt Institute, Waitt Foundation and Blue Prosperity Coalition to develop communication strategies related to blue economies, marine spatial planning, and ocean conservation. She also supports communications for project sites including Barbuda, Curaçao, the Maldives, and Tonga. Shayna is involved in content creation and branding across organizations.


Shayna has a broad background in science communications and visual media with expertise in branding, graphic design, social media marketing, photography, videography, and large-scale communications initiatives. She brings communications experience from the VC backed tech startup as well as for animal rescues, aquariums, and NGOs including The Wild Animal Sanctuary, Colorado Ocean Coalition, Heal the Bay, Star Eco Station, and the Denver Aquarium. Shayna has a Master of Advanced Studies in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a Bachelor of Science in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology from University of Colorado at Boulder.

Laura Frank

Assistant Director

As the Assistant Director, Laura works closely with the Executive Director to coordinate operations and program initiatives. Laura works across teams and with partners to support several aspects of the Waitt Institute’s work both internally and on site, including expedition coordination, project management, reporting, and development of strategic documents.


Laura was previously a researcher in the Genetics, Aquaculture, and Physiology group at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and a California Sea Grant State Fellow at the Unified Port of San Diego where she supported several environmental conservation, blue economy, and mitigation banking projects. Laura holds a Bachelor of Science in Marketing Communication: Advertising and Public Relations from Emerson College and a Master of Science in Marine Science from the University of San Diego where she focused on applied physiology research for aquaculture.

Ute Zischka

Program & Social Sciences Director

Ute oversees the Waitt Institute’s programs in the Caribbean and the Federated States of Micronesia where she works with governments, NGOs and researchers to safeguard ocean resources and grow blue economies. Ute also serves as the Social Sciences Director, helping to design and manage research related to socioeconomics, human attitudes and behavior, and sustainable finance.


Ute brings experience in conservation, international development and program evaluation to the Waitt Institute. Prior to joining the Institute in 2016, she worked for the research and evaluation firm Opinion Dynamics conducting surveys, interviews and quantitative analyses to inform policymaking. Ute also spent five years at the University of Queensland managing research to advance healthy oceans, food security, clean energy and sustainable water. Ute holds an undergraduate degree in Communications and Politics from Maximilians University Munich, a Certificate in Quantitative Policy Analysis, and a master’s in Environmental Policy from UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy. 

Vanessa Dick

Program & Legal Director

Vanessa is the Program Director for Blue Azores, the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme, and the Vava’u Ocean Initiative. She also serves as the Legal Director across all of the Waitt Institute’s project sites helping to manage legal assessments and partnering with governments to draft and implement legal frameworks to achieve sustainable ocean management.

Prior to joining the Waitt Institute, Vanessa worked at multiple non-profit organizations in Washington D.C. specializing in conservation, poverty alleviation and climate change issues. For more than eight years, she worked with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as the U.S. Deputy Director for Government Relations focusing on international forest management and a one-year assignment at WWF Peru. She holds an undergraduate degree in Anthropology from the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, a Juris Doctor degree from University of Cincinnati College of Law, and a Master of Laws from Lewis and Clark Law School in Environmental Law, Natural Resources Law, and Energy Law.

Robin Ramdeen

Program Manager


Originally from the Caribbean, Robin serves as the Site Manager for Barbuda and Montserrat, as well as the Program Manager for the Maldives. Her focus is on managing government relationships and encouraging the involvement of local partners to advance marine spatial planning and sustainable fisheries activities.


Prior to joining the Waitt Institute, Robin worked as an MPA management assistant for Sandy Island Oyster Bed MPA in Carriacou, Grenada. She also worked as a research assistant for Dr. Daniel Pauly and the Sea Around Us project where she played a lead role in documenting illegal, unreported and unregulated fisheries catches in the Caribbean islands. Robin holds a master’s degree in Coastal and Marine Resource Management from the University of the West Indies in Barbados.

Michael Dessner

Director of Special Projects

Michael manages Waitt Institute scientific expedition work conducted aboard M/y Plan b and other special projects including advising the communications team. He has participated in Waitt Expeditions in the North and South Pacific, North Atlantic, Caribbean and the Arctic, including work mapping the Titanic and the search for Amelia Earhart. 

Michael grew up in Iowa, served in the US Army, attended the University of Iowa, and worked on the ocean for 15 years in Alaska and Florida prior to joining the Waitt Institute in 2006. He is a diver, sonar analyst, submersible pilot, writer, and photographer. 

Canon Purdy

Media & Communications Manager

Canon manages written media and press relations for the Waitt Institute, Waitt Foundation and Blue Prosperity Coalition, developing conservation storylines and education materials for stakeholders and the public. She also manages site communications for Bermuda, Montserrat, and the Federated States of Micronesia, working closely with site directors and partners to develop communication strategies and tools to connect communities with project goals and global initiatives.


With experience in international education and marketing, Canon has a strong understanding of communication methods for diverse audiences and the importance of creating solutions for both environmental and human communities. She also brings experience in aquaculture development through the lens of sustainable seafood certifications. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from UC Davis and a Master of Advanced Studies in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Tiffany Ngo

Communications Manager

Tiffany manages digital communications across the Waitt Institute, Waitt Foundation and Blue Prosperity Coalition. This involves creating and sharing content on all social media channels and websites to engage and inform audiences about the organizations’ work and initiatives in sustainable ocean management.


She previously worked as a consultant helping government agencies communicate about clean water and sustainable infrastructure projects. Tiffany has also worked for the Environmental Law Institute and the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority where she supported research and program implementation for various environmental issues. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from UC Santa Barbara in Environmental Studies with a minor in Spatial Science.

Joe Lepore

Special Projects Coordinator &

Dive Safety Officer

Joseph serves as the Waitt Institute’s Dive Safety Officer and oversees all deck operations during missions of discovery. He grew up in Ronkonkoma, New York where he joined the US Navy in 1986. He served his country with distinction and honor for twenty years before retiring as a Master Chief Petty Officer and Master Diver in 2006, after which he joined the Waitt Institute team. 


He completed the Navy’s schools for 2nd Class Diver and 1st Class Diver, as well as the schools for Salvage, Construction and Demolition Diving. During his service, he was awarded the Legion of Merit, 6 Meritorious Service Medals, 4 Navy Commendation Medals and 4 Navy Achievement Medals. In his spare time he enjoys boating, fishing and diving. He currently resides in North Carolina with his wife and two children.

Matt Paufve

Science Fellow

Matt supports scientific programs for the Waitt Institute and Blue Prosperity Coalition. He assists with planning, execution, and reporting for scientific assessments, manages geospatial data and reference libraries to support marine spatial planning, and contributes to science products across all project sites.


Matt brings experience in aquatic research in the Great Lakes region where he was involved in a diverse number of focus areas including ecosystem modeling, fisheries management, invasive species monitoring, and data archiving. He also has expertise in field and lab methods, graphic design, and aquarium systems. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Hobart College and a Master of Science in Fisheries and Natural Resources from Cornell University.

Jennifer Aadnes

Administrative Assistant

Jen provides administrative support to the Waitt Institute, Waitt Foundation and Blue Prosperity Coalition teams. In addition to general office management, she assists with grant administration for the Waitt Foundation. She is passionate about the organization’s mission to help protect 30% of the ocean by 2030.


Jen has enjoyed an extensive and diverse career in administration serving in a variety of roles, such as a fundraiser at a nonprofit counseling sector and a C-Suite Executive Assistant across multiple industries. Jen earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Services from Virginia Wesleyan University.

Josh Sherer

Chief Financial Officer

Josh joined Avalon Capital Group in 2017 as the Chief Financial Officer. He provides leadership, direction and management of the finance and accounting team at both the Waitt Foundation and the Waitt Institute. As CFO, Josh also oversees the financial forecasting and budgeting process, providing strategic recommendations to the CEO, president and members of the management team. Additional responsibilities include overseeing preparation of all financial reporting along with tax planning and compliance. 


Josh's background includes 19 years of combined public and private accounting experience.  Prior to joining Avalon Capital, he was the Chief Financial Officer for a global clothing manufacturer with operations primarily in North and Central America. Josh has a Masters of Business Administration, a license in Chartered Global Management Accounting, and his Certified Public Accountant license in Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota.


Karen Stone

Key Partner, Vava'u, Tonga

As Founder and Executive Director of VEPA (Vava'u Environmental Protection Association) and key partner for Vava'u Ocean Initiative, she focuses on working with the communities and government to create Special Management Areas and Marine Spatial Plans across Tonga. She has been living in Vava'u for 12 years.

Endirah Palm

Site Manager, Curaçao

As Site Manager for Curaçao, she focuses on providing the Waitt Institute’s ocean management toolkit to the communities and governments and on executing program strategy. 

Endirah Palm has worked in the areas of environmental protection and technology area since 1993, offering environmental consulting, project coordination and change management services to public and private clients. Endirah organized and coordinated several clean-up and awareness campaigns in cooperation with other local organizations, and worked with Curaçao’s first waste glass recycling company, Curexglass Ltd. She also consulted on several projects focused on illegal wastewater dumping in Curaçao, and represented several international manufacturers of waste processing technologies from Europe, USA and Latin America. In her role as Site Manager for Blue Halo Curacao, Endirah serves as the on-the-ground liaison for the Blue Halo Initiative, working closely with government officials and stakeholders in Curaçao.

Endirah has a college degree in Practical Study of Social Work from Princenoord College in Breda/ Netherlands, and obtained a Bachelor Certificate in Management and Organization from the University of Curaçao. Endirah is fluent in English, Dutch, Spanish, Papiamento, and speaks moderate Portuguese. She lives and works in Curaçao, and likes practicing yoga, swimming and beach activities, and walking in nature.

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La Jolla, California | |  (858) 551-4443

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