Jesse Sayles




My research is guided by the fundamental, “big” sustainability question: how do we improve human wellbeing while preserving earth system functions? While the earth system is an integrated whole, my personal interests lead me to work on costal watershed and marine systems from which we derive myriad benefits, but also place under substantial anthropogenic pressure. I work at the research nexus of human dimensions of global change, restoration and landscape ecologies, environmental governance, resilience, and sustainability science. I use a mixed methods approach, combining surveys, interviews, policy documents, and spatial biophysical data, which I analyze and integrating using quantitative social network analysis (SNA), geographic information science/systems (GIS), and qualitative analysis.

My doctoral dissertation focuses on analyzing, diagnosing, and overcoming problems resulting from the misalignment of governance boundaries with the natural resources systems they seek to govern (i.e., social-ecological scale mismatch). I am using salmon and shellfish habitat restoration in the Whidbey Basin, northeast Puget Sound, WA as a case study. Some of my previous work has included 1) working with the Wemindji Cree Canadian First Nations community on creating co-managed marine and terrestrial protected areas, and 2) with the Hudson River Estuary Program in New York developing a small dam and culvert assessment program to help citizen groups develop watershed recovery plans.


I grew up near Boston, MA where I worked as a sea kayak instructor and guide. I don’t know if guiding stemmed from, or help solidify my passion for coastal ecosystems, but I went on to do a B.Sc. in biodiversity and conservation at McGill University’s School of Environment, where I focused in marine systems. Highlights included field work in the Bay of Fundy, Barbados, and James Bay. After graduation, I worked with New York State’s Hudson River Estuary Program, an experience that fuels my desire to link academic and applied work. After 14 months with the Estuary Program, I returned to the academy and did an M.Sc. (Concordia University, Geography) with the Wemindji Protected Areas Project. Through this work, I further explored the human-environment sciences, developing strong interests in linking human wellbeing and environmental change, which led me to pursue a doctoral degree at ASU (Geography). Mixed in with all of this were travels to Central America (Pacific and Caribbean coasts) and the Mediterranean, as well as research jobs varying from GIS analysis to wetland sediment coring. And of course, I continued for many years working part-time as a sea and white water kayak instructor.


2009 – 2015
Teaching assistant, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University.
Society and Environment
Introduction to Physical Geography (– full lab instruction duties –)
Geography of World Crises
Geography of the Middle East and North Africa

2009 – 2014
Instructor for graduate student GIS workshop series (lectures and labs), Indian Ocean World Centre, McGill University.

Teaching assistant, Department of Geography, McGill University.
Earth’s Changing Surface (introduction to geomorphology)

2006 – 2008
Teaching assistant, Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, Concordia University
GIS for Environmental Impact Assessment (– graduate level course, full lab instruction duties –)
Advanced GIS
Geographic Information Systems
The Natural Environment: Air and Water


Sayles, J.S. (In press). I have a case study box about my master’s research appearing in the 2015 Canadian Coastal Assessment of Climate Change. Full citation forthcoming.

Sayles, J.S. (In press). No wilderness to plunder: Process thinking reveals Cree land-use via the goose-scape. The Canadian Geographer.

Benessaiah, K. and J. Sayles. 2014. Drug trafficking’s effects on coastal ecosystems. Science. 343 (6178): 1431.

Sayles, J.S. 2012. A review of Practicing Geography: Careers for Enhancing Society and the Environment. The Professional Geographer. 64(4): 626-627.

Sayles, J.S. and M. E. Mulrennan. 2010. Securing a future: Cree hunters’ resistance and flexibility to environmental changes, Wemindji, James Bay. Ecology and Society. 15(4): 22. [online] URL:

Sayles, J.S. and D.I. Green. 2005. Bilateral action for right whales. Science. 310 (5754): 1616-1617.

Please see my full CV for technical writing, posters, and presentations

Curriculum Vitae