Since 2005, the NOAA Marine Debris Program, one of three divisions within the Office of Response and Restoration, has served as a centralized program within NOAA, coordinating, strengthening, and promoting marine debris activities within the agency and among its partners and the public. The NOAA Marine Debris Program undertakes national and international efforts focused on researching, reducing, and preventing debris in the marine environment.
I serve the Marine Debris Program (MDP) as a specialist in monitoring and citizen science, and lead the Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project (MDMAP). The project is a network of individuals, NGOs, academics, tribal, state, and federal agency partners who work together to monitor and study the amounts and sources of marine debris on shorelines around the country, and how they are changing over time to inform prevention and management of the issue.
Freshman year I was in a seminar called “Plants and Human Affairs” - I think I was the only student for whom it was their top choice. That class kicked-off what has become a lifelong theme of study and career that centers on the intersection of people and the environment. Early on I decided that building on social and natural connections is the key to making a positive difference for both, and to finding meaning in my work. My career has meandered from doing restoration ecology in Everglades National Park, horticulture for sustainability and wildlife habitat, pollinator ecology and citizen science in pursuit of my master’s, and social science to study the barriers to use of citizen science as a research tool. Before joining the Marine Debris Program , I was the Science Coordinator for the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, a citizen science program of the University of Washington that engages coastal community members in monitoring marine ecosystem health in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.
Two experiences were particularly influential/telling around the age of 10: 1) being nominated to attend a “women in science” day — getting to miss school to go to an event with other science-minded girls from Michigan to hear from career scientists, where I heard a botanist speak about her job and all of the incredible travels and adventures she had studying plants around the world. I came home with so much excitement. 2) Later that year, we were assigned to make a poster about what we wanted to do as a career when we grew up. I couldn’t decide between botanist and marine biologist, so I made a two-sided poster. I’ve been lucky to find a path that has let me do both.
I joined the MDP in a new role for the program that is geared toward scaling up the MDMAP. My time in the position has been an exciting challenge of figuring out the right goals and path to increase consistency and geographic coverage of monitoring. In April 2021, we launched an overhaul of the database and application that people use to enter and explore data. Hearing the positive reactions from users has been rewarding.
Citizen science is interdisciplinary. It involves the scientific process, science communication, education and community engagement as well as project and program management. Even if you won’t be doing all of these things in your professional roles, it’s really helpful to have some knowledge, experience, and appreciation of each discipline and skillset.