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Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research

NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

MEET: Jenny Vander Pluym

Research Technician, Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research

As a research technician for the Center's Applied Ecology and Restoration Research branch, I do a little bit of everything! Our research focuses on habitat mapping, ecology, and restoration, which means I assess various marine and coastal habitats by collecting data in the field using scuba, photographic, and wading techniques. Once the data is collected, I enter, analyze, and summarize the data, which is then described in reports and scientific publications detailing our research results. I work in Beaufort, North Carolina, and my main projects are in the South Atlantic.

Jennie Vander Pluym coming up from a dive in the Dry Tortugas

What do you like most about working at NOS?

I enjoy the variety of marine and coastal systems in which we work: extensive salt marshes, sea-grass beds, coral reefs, and hard-bottom communities. As a scientist tasked with providing information for management decisions, it is a real privilege to witness these ecosystems first hand with the objective of describing them. I am also amazed by the resilience of coastal communities. I had the opportunity to work in the Gulf of Mexico twice last year. Usually I am focused on the science, but both trips left me with images of the people who are struggling to recover from years of economic and natural disasters. I returned with great respect for these communities, as they work through their hardships while still offering smiles and kind words to visitors.

What is the hardest part of your job?

It is very disappointing to see the avoidable damage that people can inflict on sensitive ecosystems and wildlife because of irresponsible behavior or ignorance. People are part of the coastal landscape, and we should enjoy these resources responsibly.

What is your educational background?

I have a bachelor of science in zoology/aquatic ecology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a master's in marine biology from North Carolina State University.

What inspired your interest in the ocean and coasts?

Because I grew up about as far from the ocean as one can get and still be in the United States, my inspiration came from watching Jacques Cousteau on TV and reading National Geographic as a child. In college, I was fortunate to have an inspiring advisor who encouraged me to go out and experience the ocean before dedicating my life to its study.

How did you end up working at NOAA?

After many years of working in and around the ocean as an educator, dive master, and fish biologist, I returned to school for a master's degree. Just before I finished that degree, an old acquaintance from my years in Florida offered me a contract position as a research diver here at the Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research, part of the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. That was almost five years ago.

What advice do you have for young people wanting a career in the "ocean realm"?

Exactly what my advisor said to me: "Experience the ocean!" Work, intern, or volunteer during your summers, vacations, or breaks with different scientists and educators. It really pays to find out what your "dream job" actually entails. There are many ways to be part of the ocean realm: science, conservation, education, outreach, policy making, photography, journalism, art—so be creative. It's also good to keep in contact with people you meet along the way, because the "ocean world" is smaller than you might think!