Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?
My current work focuses on seagrass and mangrove management and conservation, which includes developing student and public education resources, scientific research, habitat restoration, and supporting other watershed and coral reef-related projects. I create educational videos and booklets, collaborate with researchers to figure out the answers to questions we need to know to protect our habitats, lead field trips, and plant mangroves in areas they have declined. I also go out into the field and snorkel or wade into the water to monitor the wildlife, and habitat conditions, and gather samples.
What sparked your initial interest in your career?
While I worked for a year as a marine educator at MarineLab, a non-profit marine education center in Key Largo, Florida, I was able to explore the amazing seagrass and mangrove habitats in the Everglades and Florida Bay. They were full of colorful sponges, beautiful sea slugs, squiggly bristle stars, stingrays and other fish, and many more creatures. This was my first glimpse into these amazing and unique ecosystems, and it inspired me to apply to learn more and work on seagrasses and mangroves in Guam as part of the National Coral Reef Fellowship Program. I think these habitats are often overlooked or understudied despite being incredibly valuable for many reasons, including wildlife habitat, fisheries support, carbon storage, and coastal erosion control. I wanted to help contribute to restoring these valuable ecosystems and ensure they can be used sustainably for future generations. Seeing degraded and bleached coral reefs also was a motivating factor since seagrasses and mangroves are vital for storing carbon and improving water quality to help support coral reefs.
Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?
It is hard to single out a particular person since so many people have helped me in building my career in different ways! My parents fostered my interest in science from an early age by taking me to science museums and supporting my participation in programs like Science Olympiad and research internships. Many of my teachers taught me science in an engaging and exciting way, and modeled how to be an effective educator. The friends I’ve made at different jobs have also supported me to build the confidence and the skills to explore the ocean and outdoors. Mentors, supervisors, and colleagues through the years have also helped open the door to different learning opportunities, served as a role model, and supported my growth and interests.
What element of your work/study do you think is the most fascinating?
As a biologist, one thing I love about the seagrasses and mangroves is the rich diversity of life that is often hidden within them, especially if one looks closely at the surfaces of the seagrass blades and mangrove roots for invertebrates (animals without spines such as slugs and crabs), and juvenile (young) animals that use these habitats as a nursery. They are like their own little worlds or microhabitats. As a natural resource manager, I also think understanding the connection between people and our environment to develop equitable solutions for sustainable use is very interesting and worthwhile.
What other jobs led you to your current career?
Before my current position, I worked and volunteered as an educator for other marine and environmental science education programs at universities, aquariums, and other non-profit organizations. Throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies, I worked in different labs focused on ecology and ecotoxicology, and taught undergraduate biology classes. I also worked on a marine education start-up during graduate school and have tried to incorporate my interest in art throughout my different jobs when applicable. I was introduced to seagrass and mangrove natural resource management through the National Coral Reef Management Fellowship program and since then have continued my work by obtaining additional federal grant funding. I personally feel like I am on a continual learning journey and enjoy trying my best to learn and provide value to my community. Similar to what I have heard from others in marine science, my career path has been winding and gone through some unexpected turns, but each job provided new perspectives and skills, and personal growth.
What are your degrees and certifications?
Bachelor of Science in Marine Science- Stony Brook University, 2014
Masters in Biology- Georgia Institute of Technology, 2018
PADI Advanced Open Water Diver, Nitrox Diver, and basic Freediver
First Aid, CPR, PADI Emergency Oxygen Provider
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy painting, playing piano and ukulele, singing, and watching and listening to other visual artists and music of all genres. I also especially love visiting botanical gardens, museums, parks, and aquariums.
What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?
Working in natural resource management often requires an understanding of science and socioeconomic factors that play a role in how we use and protect our environment. My work is very interdisciplinary and on different days I might be reading scientific reports, running meetings, leading student field trips, snorkeling and hiking, and handling budgets. Although I greatly enjoyed studying the sciences, I’m glad that I also explored other areas outside of science outside of my schooling, such as environmental law, volunteering with the park service, event planning, business, art, sociology, and conflict resolution. All these topics have informed my approaches at work and understanding of environmental issues. My advice for those hoping to work in ecological conservation and restoration would be to explore and pursue the diversity of your interests and be open to learning broadly.
How did you get involved with the Ocean Exploration Trust?
I first heard of the Ocean Exploration Trust when viewing their videos of deep sea creatures and habitats with my marine science colleagues. After gaining some experience in informal education and finding a time I could be at sea, I decided to apply for the science communication fellowship to further my communications skills, build on my knowledge of the ocean sciences, and be a part of an amazing team of ocean explorers.