I grew up in the Philippines, where most people live along the coast and many derive their livelihoods from the sea. Given the importance of healthy nearshore marine environments in the Philippines, many coastal communities there have established local marine protected areas (MPAs). Though well intentioned, these natural areas targeted for protection are vulnerable to human activities on adjacent land. Urbanization, deforestation and farming contribute to coastal runoff of sediments, nutrients and pollution. More effective coastal MPAs may require ways to mitigate land-based activities. I came to the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) with a background in terrestrial environmental management, looking for ways to design more effective MPAs, ones that consider more holistic approaches to integrating marine and coastal management. I was drawn to UCSC’s because of its reputation in interdisciplinary coastal conservation, science and policy.