Williams moved to Moscow, where a charismatic friend from Yale, Eugene Simonov M.E.Sc '93 , had co-founded an NGO called the Biodiversity Conservation Center
. The BCC lacked offices — Williams remembers “a tiny rented apartment, people coming and going and cooking meals at odd times of the day, laundry hung up in hallways and bathrooms, everyone talking and smoking wildly” — but not ambition. Soon after her arrival in Moscow, Williams began editing and publishing Russian Conservation News
, a quarterly newsletter that contained reports from scientists and conservationists, which eventually attracted more than 1,000 subscribers. Sometimes, Williams recalls, she would receive articles written in baroque cursive pencil, with a grainy black-and-white photo thrown in for good measure.
"To me, Russian Conservation News
is the strongest indicator of Margaret's remarkable ability to create something out of nothing with the force of her intellect and energy,” says Fred Strebeigh, who wrote about
Williams’ and Simonov’s efforts in 2010 for Environment Yale
. “Taken as a whole, it is effectively the great book in English on Russian nature conservation since the fall of the Soviet Union.”
In 1996, Williams took Russian Conservation News
across the world to Washington, D.C., where she founded the BCC’s western sister office. Her work in D.C. soon brought her into contact with the nearby World Wildlife Fund, which had developed an interest in Williams’ longtime fixation, the Bering Sea. The Bering, and the adjacent Chukchi Sea, seemed a natural fit for the WWF — their rich Arctic waters are home to a menagerie that includes gray whales, polar bears, and enormous pollock fisheries — and the group hired Williams to assess the possibility of establishing a Bering Sea office.
As it turned out, she was creating her own job. A decade and a half later, Williams remains the Anchorage-based director of WWF’s Arctic program, where she works tirelessly to defend the Bering, Beaufort and Chukchi seas and the humans who depend on them.
That’s fortunate, because America’s Arctic waters need all the help they can get: between fishing trawlers dragging their nets across vulnerable deep-sea habitat, the persistent threat of offshore oil and gas drilling, and the climate change that is simultaneously destabilizing icy ecosystems and exposing the Arctic to industrial activity, it would be difficult to find a more precarious eco-region on the planet.