When you think of a marine scientist, you probably imagine someone working from a boat, or maybe a submarine. Or at least that’s what I always imagined growing up. I didn’t know what to expect when I joined Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS), especially amid a global pandemic. I was surprised to learn that most, if not all, of my work as the Sanctuary Program Specialist would be conducted remotely from home. This did not bother me though as I would never think to pass up the opportunity to work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Despite my overwhelming excitement for being offered a Georgia Sea Grant State Fellowship with GRNMS, however, I could not imagine what my daily work would entail while working from home. “How can we protect our most valuable ocean resources from home?” I wondered. “What kind of work can be done if we aren’t in a lab or out on the water?”
Six months into my fellowship with GRNMS, I can say that there is never a shortage of work to be done, even when working from home. We’re a small, but mighty team at Gray’s Reef, as our superintendent, Stan Rogers, always says. Like most of my colleagues, I have found myself wearing a variety of hats, working with several of our in-house teams to not only conserve and protect the unique ecosystem that Gray’s Reef is but also raise awareness and promote support for all its natural wonders.
During my time with Gray’s Reef, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of tasks ranging from managing interns in various projects and developing informational material for our new website, to recruiting underserved communities for our public sanctuary advisory council and submitting a grant proposal in support of our new Ocean Discovery Center’s grand opening event. I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting with some of my colleagues to prepare acoustic telemetry equipment for our fish tagging project and ocean sound surveys.
More importantly, I’ve been able to participate in resource protection and management at Gray’s Reef by working to develop a report for our recent Connectivity Workshop, an expert workshop that was held to assess ecological connectivity among benthic habitats of the South Atlantic Bight. I’m also helping develop a report for our upcoming Condition Report, an important habitat evaluation process that only occurs every ten years for each sanctuary site. Working on these projects has allowed me to see first-hand how important planning and implementation occurs within the sanctuary system while providing me great insight into the importance of partnerships, teamwork and communication. I’ve also been trusted with the task of completing our long-term Science Plan, an informative document that addresses the current research needs within Gray’s Reef. The science plan, coupled with our condition report, has allowed me to think critically and identify gaps within our current research while also understanding the importance of long-term data that is needed to advise the management of a marine sanctuary.
Outside of my responsibilities at Gray’s Reef, I am working to complete my advanced open water SCUBA certification in hopes that I will be able to join my team in this summer’s Nancy Foster Expedition and integrate my love of science and diving with my love for Gray’s Reef. Although I have never seen the reef in person, I feel very accomplished each day and honored to know that the work I’m doing, while it may be small, is meaningful and will have a lasting impact for generations to come.