Sarah K. Meltzoff

Assoc. Professor

(305) 421-4085
Locator Code:


Associate Professor, Department of Marine Ecosystem and Society - Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

Associate Professor, Department of Marine Affairs and Policy Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) Secondary Appointment, Anthropology Department, University of Miami




1972B.A. Connecticut College
1977 Anthropology Columbia University
1982Ph.D. Anthropology Columbia University

Honors & Acknowledgements


1986-87 McKnight Foundation Fellowship
1978-80 Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship
1978-80 ICLARM Fellowship
1978 Fulbright-Hays Fellowship (awarded; unable to accept funding)
1976-77 President's Fellowship, Columbia University
1972-73 Thomas J. Watson Traveling Fellowship


Research Statement

Listening to Sea Lions: Currents of Change from Galapagos to Patagonia (AltaMira Press. 2013) is Sarah Keene Meltzoff 's major fieldwork on human/environmental interactions along the Latino Pacific. In magnum opus, she explores coastal cultures and the universal themes found throughout the world's developing coastlines. The book helps students or marine resource managers and fieldworkers to recognize these patterns--a critical first step in carrying out fisheries research and management.

AltaMira, as a top environmental press, published Dr. Meltzoff's unique ethnographic work. It is the result of nearly twenty years of Latino Pacific fieldwork and demonstrates the importance of multi-sited ethnography.

Meltzoff's work revolves around fisheries interactions within the ecological context of constant political, economic, environmental and social climates of change. She examines fisheries decision-making and management through boom and bust cycles in fisheries--spanning the last radical El Niño event in 1997-98--as people navigated diverse marine outcomes.

" Dealing with daily impermanence is coastal peoples' acknowledged way of life. They watch their waters undergoing sea changes beyond their control, and accept that the ocean yields riches and just as readily as strips them away.
In this light, as an ethnographer my mantra has become constant climates of change: political, economic, social and environmental. Through fieldwork in multiple sites up the Pacific coast, I observe how variations in common forces forge different outcomes. Environmental climate change, for one, is on the trajectory to produce more extreme El Niño events--short for El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Coastal people interact with such environmental events set within the context of short-term, shifting political and economic climates. Combined, theseoverlapping changes condition critical contested access to marine resources."

Developing the political ecology approach, Meltzoff reveals overlapping themes of competition among industrial and artisanal fishermen; interactions with coastal developers; evasion of top-down management and motivation for smuggling; creation of alliances whether for lobbying for management areas or against management regulations; and ultimately explains political rivalry over control of marine resources.

Meltzoff blends empathic ethnography with ideas for successfully engaging fishermen in their own management. In Listening to Sea Lions, Meltzoff aims for community grassroots development in fisheries and coastal development. She advocates incorporating fishermen into the management process, with biologists and fishermen co-designing visual in-the-water management tools. The goal is coastal people feeling ownership for safe-guarding the ecosystem, understanding that their livelihood is not jeopardized.

Meltzoff co-founded IOI-- Isabela, Galapagos' Intercultural Outreach Initiative. She is Chair of the IOI Board. IOI assists the municipality in its grassroots efforts for environmental education and locally owned tourism.

IOI runs the flagship UGalapagos semester study abroad program for University of Miami. Meltzoff via IOI has designed this anthropological emersion experience, each student living with a host family, becoming part of the community and participating in community-based projects. Both Spring and Fall semester, UGalapagos students compete to spend the semester on Isabela in the far west of the archipelago. Five professors, in tag-team rotation, each teach a field course offering firsthand experience in this unique ecosystem with its growing human population.

Dr. Meltzoff is part of a national anthropology effort to build awareness and measures for social well-being. She is investigating people's own definitions of well-being, given the wealth of environmental and social dimensions of well-being where people do not view themselves as poor. Faced with uncertain and difficult circumstances, people who are classified as “poor” by leading economic indicators create strategies for happiness based on autochthonous values. The aim is to measure “folk” strategies that contribute to more sustainable global economic and social pathways. The objective is to shift the current markers of success used by governments--e.g. literacy and income--to those that reflect people's actual sense of well-being.

Meltzoff's fieldwork spans the Pacific to the Solomon Islands. She is currently rekindling her early work among the porpoise and tuna hunters of South Malaita.