Lexie Bell, Executive Director, plans and directs the program’s work, and collaborates with the Estuary Program’s many partners to expand our collective success in the watershed. Lexie first began working in Morro Bay as a graduate student at the UC Santa Barbara Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. Her graduate work analyzed the economic impact of visitors’ perceptions of environmental quality in Morro Bay. In addition to her Master’s degree, Lexie graduated from the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Science and Biology. Previously, Lexie worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Education, the Nature Conservancy, and the Central Caribbean Marine Institute. A native of Florida, Lexie now lives with her family in Los Osos and enjoys our beautiful Central Coast beaches at every opportunity.


Ann Kitajima serves as the Estuary Program’s Assistant Director. Her responsibilities include grant writing and grant management, strategic planning, and administrative functions. Formerly the Monitoring Program Manager for the organization, she continues to provide support in monitoring planning and protocol development.




Cynthia Milhem is the Office Manager for the Estuary Program. She serves as our bookkeeper, receptionist, administrative assistant, and general paper-chaser for the rest of the staff. She is the voice on the phone and face at the front desk during daily operating hours and lends a second set of hands to other staff members when and where needed. She works in tandem with and under the direction of the Executive and Assistant Directors, as well as the Board of Directors, to ensure that the administrative conditions for awarded Grants are met and required files are in order.


Carolyn Doehring, Restoration Projects Manager, develops and oversees watershed and estuarine restoration projects and conservation efforts. Prior to joining the Estuary Program, Carolyn was an Environmental Scientist with the San Francisco Estuary Institute supporting research of river and estuarine environments. Before that, she worked as the Restoration Director for the Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust and oversaw implementation of stream restoration projects. She has also worked on a variety of aquatic ecology and water quality monitoring studies with The Nature Conservancy, National Park Service, and USGS. Carolyn received a master’s in Environmental Planning at UC Berkeley focusing on watershed science. Her research evaluated stream restoration projects to inform restoration practices and planning in Oregon’s Klamath Basin. She also holds a B.S. in Biology and Environmental Studies from Aquinas College, MI.

Karissa Willits is our Monitoring Coordinator. Karissa coordinates implementation of monitoring projects, communicates information on health of the bay, and serves as a liaison and trainer to our many Volunteer Monitoring Program volunteers. Karissa received a Marine Biology degree from U.C. Santa Cruz. Since graduating, she has worked on a variety of monitoring and restoration projects across the California coast, including two terms as an AmeriCorps Watershed Steward Project member with the San Luis Obispo Steelhead Initiative.


Shane Bennett is our Monitoring Coordinator. Shane is a graduate of Cal Poly, with a B.S. in Environmental Management and Protection, and concentration in Watershed Management and Hydrology. His experiences include working for the County of San Luis Obispo’s Water Resources Division and Cal Poly Facilities Management. Shane enjoys all outdoor adventures, and is proud to live and work on California’s central coast.



Matt McKechnie is our Monitoring Field Technician. Matt recently graduated from CalPoly with a B.S. in Environmental Management and Protection, a concentration in Marine Science, and minor in Indigenous Studies in Natural Resources and the Environment. When Matt isn’t working for the Estuary Program, he also works with the California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program as a fisheries observer out of Morro Bay and Port San Luis.


Rachel Pass serves as the Morro Bay National Estuary Program’s Communications and Outreach Coordinator. She works with community members, partners, and other stakeholders to raise awareness of the Estuary Program’s mission, and to encourage participation in restoration and preservation efforts. Rachel brings a background in writing, publishing, and teaching to her role. She enjoys almost any outdoor activity, and can often be found watching wildlife on the bay or hiking along the coast.


Sara Markham, our Design & Communications Specialist, creates outreach, education, and promotional materials for the Estuary Program. She also assists in brand development, website upkeep and design, and event planning, working in tandem with the Communications & Outreach Coordinator on the Estuary Program’s many happenings. Sara received her BFA in Art & Design with a focus on graphic design from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.


Anders Johnson Staff Portrait

Anders Johnson is our Communications & Outreach Intern for Clean Boating. Anders grew up in Morro Bay and is an avid surfer and kayak fisherman. After receiving his B.S. in Biology with an emphasis in Ecology, he traveled abroad and worked on small farms. He has since returned to Morro Bay and is working on his M.S. in Resilient and Sustainable Communities. At the Estuary Program, Anders talks with boaters in the bay about the resources available to them to help keep our waters clean.



Morro Bay National Estuary Program brings together citizens, local governments, non-profits, agencies, and landowners to protect and restore the Morro Bay estuary.

Protecting and Restoring the Morro Bay Estuary.