I really like the blend of conservation and community engagement. In our case, the sanctuary is the steward for nearly 100 nationally significant shipwrecks in northern Lake Huron. These are world-class historical, archaeological, and recreational sites. We see a dual role for the sanctuary in protecting these unique places, and also leveraging them to make a real difference in our area’s coastal economy. More than 95,000 people came through our NOAA visitor center last year, and nearly 9,000 of them enjoyed a trip on a privately operated glass-bottom boat based in Alpena. That’s a good example of using the power of shipwrecks, maritime heritage, and conservation to create the conditions for good things to happen.
I’m fortunate to have my job, which puts everything else in perspective. As the sanctuary has grown in popularity and become relevant to a much wider group of stakeholders, the biggest challenge is continuing to meet current expectations while also growing our education, research, and resource protection programs.
I have a B.A. in psychology from the University of Rhode Island and an M.A. in maritime studies from East Carolina University. I also nearly finished an M.A. in history at Trinity College, and am still ducking my advisor.
It’s been a series of small steps, I guess. I grew up in New England and spent a lot of time near the water, and later did some commercial fishing. While working on a master’s in history I learned about underwater archaeology, which started me on the path toward cultural resource management. Later, I discovered that there are all kinds of ways to make shipwrecks and maritime heritage relevant and meaningful. I’m motivated by the fact that we haven’t got it all figured out yet.
It’s a group effort. Setting specific issues aside, I think it’s good to remind people that the decisions we make now will impact the health, productivity, and happiness of future generations. That statement is both obvious and a little daunting. History is a great guide. Generations before us dealt with any number of cultural upheavals and economic or environmental challenges, which, when looked at in retrospect, took longer to solve and did more harm than necessary because we couldn’t collectively confront an issue and agree to make hard choices. In terms of Great Lakes conservation, people should know that there’s a lot of good science out there to digest.
While working as a state underwater archaeologist for Wisconsin, I was offered a job at the sanctuary as a "program and operations coordinator." I took that to mean that eventually, I would get to do really cool stuff.
The coolest experience I’ve had at NOAA is being able to plug into a variety of fieldwork. It’s tremendously exciting to dive with a purpose in places like Cordell Bank NMS, Flower Gardens Banks NMS, Florida Keys NMS, Monitor NMS, and, of course, Thunder Bay NMS.
That “realm” is so big now that the opportunities are almost limitless, which invites a much broader way of thinking about how to plug into it. I lean toward reminding young people to figure out first “What makes you, you?” Or at least keep asking yourself that question at healthy intervals. There are all kinds of ways to succeed personally and professionally within the “blue economy” and ocean conservation. Do you think like a developer, an architect, an engineer or a builder, for example? They all want to get something built, and are essential to that end, but have different skills and probably derive satisfaction from different aspects of the process. The same is true in ocean conservation. There are lots of ways to plug in, which means you can be true to yourself and still contribute.