Michael Sutton

Senior Project Director

Michael Sutton is a social entrepreneur and internationally respected leader in wildlife conservation. He currently works with several family philanthropists in California to develop and implement their conservation projects, including Gary Bechtel, Carl & Barbara Page and Ken Hofmann. Sutton is a member of the team working to create Hofmann’s legacy project, the $100 million Pacific Flyway Center in the Suisun Marsh. Sutton serves as Board Chair of COMPASS—a science communication organization. He is a founding Board member and Chair of Ocean Champions, the first political action committee for the oceans, and a member of the summer faculty at the Vermont Law School where he teaches ocean and coastal law. The second edition of his book, Ocean & Coastal Law and Policy, was published by the American Bar Association in 2015.

Sutton served on the California Fish & Game Commission for eight years, two years as President, and was instrumental in creating the nation’s largest network of marine protected areas along the California coast. He also served on the state’s Wildlife Conservation Board and as Vice President, Pacific Flyway for the National Audubon Society. He was a member of Audubon’s National Leadership Team and oversaw Audubon’s conservation programs in California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.

Previously, Sutton served for eight years as Vice President of the Monterey Bay Aquarium where he founded the Center for the Future of the Oceans. Sutton and his team organized the successful campaign to ban the trade in shark fins in California and negotiated the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health. He also helped found Stanford’s Center for Ocean Solutions, a partnership with the Aquarium and Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute that won a $25 million grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Before that, Sutton led the Marine Fisheries Program at the Packard Foundation where he fostered development of the Sustainable Seafood movement. He launched the World Wildlife Fund’s Endangered Seas Campaign, the organization’s first global ocean conservation effort. Sutton forged a groundbreaking business-environment partnership with Unilever and founded the Marine Stewardship Council, the world’s first ecolabel for seafood from sustainable fisheries. He is former Board Chair of the Wild Salmon Center, conserving wild salmon across the North Pacific. Sutton also is member of the Advisory Boards of Island Conservation, the Ocean Foundation, the Vermont Law School’s Environmental Law Program, LightHawk (volunteer pilots who fly light aircraft for conservation) and the Santa Lucia Conservancy land trust.

Sutton spent more than a decade in government service, where he served as a special agent with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and as a park ranger with the National Park Service in Yosemite, Yellowstone, Death Valley, Biscayne, and Virgin Islands National Parks.

Sutton received a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from Utah State University and studied coral reef fish ecology on the Great Barrier Reef through the University of Sydney, Australia. He earned a law degree in international and natural resources law from George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC In 2013, he was recognized as a Distinguished Alumnus by Utah State University.

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