MEET OUR TEAM
Passionately committed to protecting Kure Atoll today for the generations to come
Executive Director: Cynthia Vanderlip
Cynthia Vanderlip is the founder and Executive Director of Kure Atoll Conservancy (KAC). In 2002, she began supervising the habitat restoration and biological monitoring at Kure Atoll for Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife. Her goal as KAC Executive Director is to educate the public about Kure Atoll, and help provide the resources necessary to protect and preserve it.
Finance: Michael Holland
Michael Holland has spent the past 25 years exploring multimedia production. Proprietor of Compound Media in Palo Alto, California, Michael assisted Cynthia in the production of the video DVD – “Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument Ecological Protection Protocols: A Training Guide for Packing and Field Operations” (2007), funded and published by the State of Hawaii, US Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA. He oversaw the development of the Kure Atoll Conservancy website and manages web operations.
Secretary: Eric Vanderwerf
Eric VanderWerf is a wildlife biologist based in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he currently operates Pacific Rim Conservation with his wife Lindsay Young. He completed a Ph.D. at the University of Hawaii in 1999 and has participated in a variety of ornithological research and management projects in the Pacific region over the past 20 years during stints with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife. He visited Kure 3 times during the 1990s to help devise seabird survey methods and would love to return someday.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Barry Christenson's interest in wildlife management manifested in two degrees: a Bachelor’s of Science from Humboldt State University and a Master’s from the University of Maine. He worked from the East Coast to Midway as a refuge manager with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but considers his three years on the atoll (2005-2008) as the “pinnacle” of his long career. Since retiring, Barry has stayed involved in Hawaii wildlife issues by serving on the board of the Kure Conservancy, the Friends of Midway Atoll, and volunteering with Hakalau Forest NWR. At home in Minnesota, he is active with two other nonprofit groups.
Lizabeth Kashinsky has worked for the NOAA Fisheries Hawaiian monk seal research Program since 1997. Over the years she has participated in numerous research activities in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Lizabeth felt an immediate connection to Kure on a short trip there in the late `90s, never imagining that she would lead a monk seal field camp there a few years later. Lizabeth’s passion for the conservation of Hawaii’s native biota began while working as a student intern for The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii in 1994. She is forever grateful to those who opened her eyes to the world of Hawaii’s native plants, animals, and ecosystems, which she is committed to help protect.
David Liittschwager is a freelance photographer who, after working with Richard Avedon in New York in the eighties, left advertising to focus on portraiture and natural history. Now a regular contributor to National Geographic, Liittschwager has produced a number of books. Among his many honors is a World Press Photo Award in 2008 for his article “Marine Microfauna” in National Geographic.
Christina Ryder is currently a Wildlife Biologist based in Arlington, Virginia with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Christina fell in love with Kure during her field camp adventures in 2006 and again in 2007. Prior to her work in Washington D.C. with the USFWS, she worked in Hawaii for over six years on conservation and natural resource management issues. While there she worked on a diversity of projects working for the State of Hawaii, Ducks Unlimited, the Pacific Coast Joint Venture, and as a private contractor. Her experiences involved conducting field work and scientific research into wetland ecology and water birds. Christina has written several grants, securing funding to restore and preserve the unique ecosystems on Kure Atoll.
Matthew Saunter is a field camp leader at Kure Atoll Wildlife Sanctuary for the State of Hawaii, Department of Land and Natural Resources. He began work at Kure in 2010 and has migrated there annually ever since to work. He has been instrumental in transforming poor seabird habitat infested with Verbesina and other weeds to quality nesting habitat covered with native plants. After receiving his BS in Natural Resources and Environmental Management from the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii he found employment with native plant specialists, the Oahu Invasive Species Committee, and cultural resource managers.
Alex Wegmann, PhD: A 20-year veteran of managing and advising conservation projects in the Pacific, Alex Wegmann became The Nature Conservancy’s Palmyra Program Director in 2016 and then the Director of Science for the Palmyra Program in 2019. Prior to joining the Conservancy, Alex worked for Island Conservation for more than 10 years. Alex’s tenure with IC started as an advisor to the Palmyra Atoll rat eradication project and ended as the organization’s U.S. Pacific Islands and Micronesia Program Manager. Alex holds a B.A. in anthropology from Linfield College and a Ph.D. in botany from the University of Hawai‘i where his graduate research focused on terrestrial ecosystem response to invasive rats. Alex has experience in conservation projects across the pacific, including the Northwestern Hawai‘ian Islands, the Line Islands, Micronesia, Fiji, and Japan. His experience with Pacific Island ecosystems made him a valuable resource to many government and nongovernmental conservation organizations, including: The US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Department of Defense, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, Coastal Conservation, Pacific Rim Conservation, The Nature Conservancy, and Island Conservation. In his current role, Alex leads a compelling, $5M conservation science initiative leveraging Palmyra Atoll’s unique ecological characteristics to address global conservation challenges.
Martha Brown is a senior editor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a freelance writer and editor. She began working at Midway Atoll in 1988 and has returned many times to assist with research and restoration efforts and to lead natural history tours. She has also worked on bird banding, seabird research and island restoration projects in Alaska, California, Palmyra Atoll, and Central America. The photo was taken on Midway Atoll.
Bill Gilmartin retired from federal government service in 1996 after nearly 30 years of research on many marine mammal species, including 16 years managing the research and recovery program for the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. He is still a member of the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Team and, as Director of Research for the Hawaii Wildlife Fund, he conducts research and recovery projects for Hawaii’s endangered hawksbill turtle, organizes community shoreline marine debris cleanup events on Hawaii Island’s southeast Ka`u coast, and manages an anchialine pool restoration project. He has also worked with the State to get nearly 2 miles (1400 acres) of the Ka`u coast at Waiohinu, a natural resource and culturally rich area, protected in State “forest reserve” status.
Michelle Hester is a founder and president of the international non-governmental organization Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge. Her experiences range from studying marine birds and island ecology from California, Hawaii, Caribbean and the Antarctic. She serves on the Board of Environmental Protection in the Caribbean and is an advisor for Kure Atoll Conservancy. On Kure Atoll, Hester has investigated migration patterns and plastic ingestion of Black-footed Albatross. In addition to seabird studies, she is assisting Kure Atoll Conservancy in invasive plant eradication to restore the ecosystem and protect biodiversity.