Alison Rieser


An Accidental Geographer

Welcome to my web site. Since 2006, I’ve been the Dai Ho Chun professor of ocean governance at the University of Hawai’i and director of the Graduate Ocean Policy Certificate Program in the College of Social Sciences. I’m also professor emerita at the University of Maine School of Law, where I taught environmental law and ocean and coastal law for over 20 years. Although I now teach in a geography department, I consider myself only an accidental geographer; my training and scholarship are in marine law and policy. I’m an environmental lawyer who focuses on the 71% of the planet that is covered by water and where most of the Earth’s species reside.

My own geography is varied. I now divide my time between Honolulu, Hawai’i and Newcastle, Maine, but I grew up on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in the town of Falmouth and the village of Woods Hole, a place famous for marine science. Woods Hole is also known as the place where you can visit an aquarium and watch the seals while you wait to catch the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. I attended the Children’s School of Science (est. 1913) and spent summers reading on the beach with my mother, Catherine, a science teacher and voracious reader, sailing with the children of our wealthier neighbors who would challenge the ferry to blow its horn. I fished for scup (Stenotomus chrysops) and fluke (Paralichthys dentatus) with my father, Peter Wilhelm Rieser, a Swiss-born cell biologist who was associated with the Marine Biological Laboratory (est. 1888) and who, in the early 1960s, established his own laboratory, the Juniper Physiological Institute at our house behind the U.S. Coast Guard base. He published Insulin, Membranes and Metabolism in 1967 and was working on a textbook at the time of his death in 1975. I am a middle child, with an older sister, Jodie Hale, a performance artist, and a younger brother, Peter Anthony, who brought turtles and tortoises into my life at an early age. I raised a daughter, Jenna Shufen, now a student at Bowdoin College, with deepsea biologist Les Watling. The influence of these people and places on my career should be evident in the following pages.


I earned a bachelor of science in human ecology from Cornell University in 1973 and a J.D. cum laude from The George Washington University School of Law in 1976. After law school and a brief stint as a lawyer for the U.S. oceans agency, I was a post-doctoral fellow in marine policy and ocean management at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (est. 1930). I established a marine policy research program at the Marine Law Institute in Portland, Maine in 1980 and began law teaching in 1986; after teaching at the Maine Law School for three years, I returned to law school myself, earning an LL.M. from Yale Law School in 1990. In 1999 I became the only law professor to be named a Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation.

kindergarten picture