Joann Otto first came to San Juan Island as a student at the Friday Harbor Laboratories in the 1970s and immediately fell in love with the islands. She met her future postdoctoral advisor at the Labs and started doing research in cell biology there each summer. She continued her research each summer during the 25 years she was on the faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences at Purdue University. In 2004, she accepted the position of Professor and Chair of the Biology Department at Western Washington University. After her retirement in June 2016, she intends to spend far more time in the San Juans.
Joann purchased property on San Juan Island in the early 1990s and built a cabin there. During the mid-1990s, she learned about the San Juan Preservation Trust from her close friends Paul and Ruth Illg, and she became a member of the Trust. She was involved in the Bellingham effort by the SJPT to raise funds for the preservation of Vendovi Island.
Joann is a strong believer in preserving ecologically important land so that habitat for diverse organisms is protected. She also believes in providing members of the public with access to sites that allow them to gain an understanding of how ecosystems function and to enjoy activities such as bird watching and hiking.