Jobs at DOC: Laura Boren, Science Advisor

Department of Conservation —  31/10/2014

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Laura Boren, Science Advisor, Marine Species and Threats based in Wellington.

At work

Laura walking the St Arnaud Range.

St Arnaud Range

Some things I do in my job include:

I provide science advice on marine mammal issues. In the last two years in my current role I have had a lot of involvement in the Māui dolphin Threat Management Plan.

After all the hard work, we achieved a good result including additional protection from set netting within the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary.

Now I am helping with the implementation of a research advisory group and the development of a five year research plan. I’m also part of the team working on establishing a Threat Management Plan for New Zealand sea lions.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

Helping to provide robust science advice on complex marine mammal issues. Marine mammals attract a lot of attention and work in that space involves a wide range of passionate stakeholders and interest groups.

For animals living in the marine environment, there is often no one easy answer to help protect them. This work can be exciting because of the breadth of interest groups and the opportunities to employ novel techniques to achieve a conservation gain. It has also opened the doors for good collaborative work between DOC and others to achieve more in the long term.

Laura holding a seal.

At the bum-end of a seal, Cape Fowlwind in winter!

The best bit about my job is:

So many complex issues means there’s never a dull day! The awesome people across DOC I have had the pleasure of working with in my previous roles, and the fact that I work with an awesome team of brilliant people with who all have a dark and bizarre sense of humour!

I got into conservation because it was what I loved and believed in, I’m still here because of the people I get to work with.

The most memorable DOC moment I’ve had so far is:

I spent two weeks working with the penguins and fur seals at the oiled wildlife response facility at the RENA oil spill. It was exhausting work doing 12 hour days, and some tough decisions had to be made for some animals. I got to work with some amazing people and be a part of something really positive for the wildlife. It was great to see all of the dedicated volunteers and the community getting behind everyone. It was full of happy, sad, lovely, inspiring, challenging and rewarding experiences and so probably rates as one of my most special DOC moments ever.

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is:

This is really hard for me because, in my previous role of National Marine Mammal Coordinator, I had the pleasure of working with so many fabulous, talented and passionate people. I could never name just one, and it’s even hard to pick a group, because so many people have inspired me in different ways.

I have always been impressed with the passion and dedication of the people within DOC willing to go above and beyond the call of duty, because they love what they do. I could think of inspiring stories of so many folks that it would be a novel, so I’ll just say “refer to the best bit about my job is…”.

Laura conducting a post mortem on a seal lion with a penguin in the background.

Sea lion post mortem on Enderby Island

On a personal note…

Laura kayaking in a harbour.

When my kayak was new, bright and shiny

The song that always cheers me up is:

Jambo Bwana – I sang this as I summited Mt Kenya. The Narwhal Song – always use this to get unwanted song lyrics out of your head

My happy place is:

Sitting on the hill above the Ohau Point fur seal colony north of Kaikoura; hanging out with the kids at Rainbow House in Gede, Kenya; or playing in Nelson Lakes National Park.

My best ever holiday was:

Kenya. I went with the idea to do something completely different than my normal immersion in the environment and things marine. Instead I volunteered at a school for disabled children and a children’s home. I wound up making a commitment to sponsor one of the orphans, Kache, to go to private school, and also raised money to help both the Rainbow House Children’s Home and the Gede Special School look after their children.

I went back to Kenya a second time to take the donations and make the purchases of food, firewood for cooking, and medicine. I can’t wait to go back again in 2016.

In my spare time I:

Dance, kayak, make jewellery, cook new Swahili recipes, try to squeeze in some more running training, and planning my next trip back to Eastern Africa.

My secret indulgence is:

It’s not so secret—coffee, red wine, chocolate and blue cheese.

Laura with the children of Rainbow House in Gede, Kenya.

One of my happy places, with the children of Rainbow House in Gede, Kenya

Laura spotting for humpback whales in the Cook Strait.

Whale spotting in the Cook Strait

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is:

Well, just about anything from Black Books. Or on a serious note, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is:

My parents gave me lots of good advice in life. This isn’t quite advice, but it’s a moment in my life I will never forget.

When I came to NZ to study in 1996 from the States, they brought me out here and we travelled around the North Island for a month before I started university.

This was to be my first time living away from home and, in a country half way around the world from my family, needless to say when it got closer to them leaving and going back to Colorado I was petrified.

The night they were dropping me off at my new accommodation, we checked them into their motel first. My dad poured me a glass of wine and said, “You can come home with us on Wednesday if you like.”

In that moment, of offering me that choice, I made my decision to stay in New Zealand and never looked back.

As much as it was a turning point and gave me the incentive to do something new, it also taught me the value and power of choice.

In work and life I am motivated by:

Thankfulness for what I have, family, health, happiness.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

Appreciate what you have, respect it, look after it, otherwise it could end up like the Snortlepig and the Truffula trees, and you can’t buy it back once it’s gone.

Laura observing seals from the Ohau Point viewing hide.

Ohau Point, Kaikoura in the lobster pot viewing hide

Question of the week…

What’s the best gift you’ve ever given?

Taking forty-seven Kenyan kids to the beach for an afternoon. They may live 10 kilometres away, but they get to go, maybe two-three times a year. Helping them with swimming and building what I think are some good life skills (water safety!) as well as seeing how happy they were, that was magic.

3 responses to Jobs at DOC: Laura Boren, Science Advisor


    thanks for the reply


    Does the threat of Ebola worry you with your trips to East Africa?

      Laura Boren 04/11/2014 at 8:58 am

      Quite simply, no. There’s a lot of scare tactics out there about Ebola. My trips were prior to the outbreaks and on the opposite side of a very large continent. Also, I figure you have to employ a little common sense in your travels. There are a lot of things that can kill you out there. I would rather use common sense and make safe decisions while still enjoying the things I love doing than stopping living altogether. Life’s too short for that.