Elliot was born in Brooklyn New York in 1947, and became interested in marine biology at a very early age. He decided to become an ichthyologist in 1952, began snorkeling in 1955, and scuba diving in 1963. After receiving his BS degree in biology from Brooklyn College and his PhD degree in tropical marine ecology from the University of Southern California in 1975, he became a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Iowa. He then worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, the Ecological Society of America, The Wilderness Society, and The Ocean Conservancy. He founded the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Bellevue, Washington, in 1996. The Institute is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization dedicated to advancing the science of marine conservation biology and securing protection for ocean ecosystems, with offices in Bellevue, Washington, Glen Ellen, California, and Washington, D. C. Elliott serves as president of the Institute.
Elliott has more than 140 publications in the scientific, policy and popular literature. He was senior author of the 1980 Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality chapter that first defined the concept of conserving biological diversity, which has since become the driving force in conservation worldwide. His book, Conserving Biological Diversity in Our National Forests (The Wilderness Society, 1986), provided the scientific basis for the Forest Service to incorporate biodiversity concerns into forest management, and was the origin of the three-level definition of biological diversity most widely used today. His Ancient Forests of the Pacific Northwest (Island Press, 1990) was a major source for Bush and Clinton Administration officials deliberating the spotted owl/ancient forest issue. His Global Marine Biological Diversity: A Strategy for Building Conservation into Decision Making (Island Press, 1993) is the most widely cited book on marine conservation. His latest book, Marine Conservation Biology: The Science of Maintaining the Sea’s Biodiversity with co-editor Larry Crowder (Island Press, 2005), is the first textbook in this new multidisciplinary field.
Elliott has field experience in 21 states of the United States and in 11 other countries, was a founding life member of the Society for Conservation Biology, and served as president of its Marine Section. He was chosen to write the biodiversity article in the World Book Encyclopedia and served on the National Research Council’s Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change. Elliott is listed in Who’s Who in Science and Engineering and Who’s Who in the World, received the Evergreen Award for his dedication to preserving the quality of life in Washington, and received the Pew Fellows Award in Marine Conservation.
When not working with his dozen or so staff members to save life in the oceans, Elliott and his wife Irene take pleasure in wildlife gardening and watching hummingbirds in their backyard, experiencing nature and people in new places, and helping their grandchildren become who they will become.
Elliott was elected to membership in the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1988.