Vernon Smith

National Media Coordinator, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

Vernon Smith

Meet Vernon Smith, national media coordinator for NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

What is your title and what do you do in your position?

As the national media coordinator for NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, my job is to increase visibility, public awareness, and support for national marine sanctuaries through outreach to print, broadcast, social media, and special events. I work with our leadership team, along with our headquarters and field site staffs, to develop and implement strategies and materials to engage our partners, stakeholders, and the public.

How did you end up working at NOAA?

Prior to joining NOAA, I was a newspaper reporter and editor. A friend who knew of my deep passion for the outdoors and the environment told me about the position at NOAA.

What do you like most about your job?

I love our mission and the commitment and dedication of the people I work with. And rarely are any two days the same. National marine sanctuaries include some unique and special places where people can experience the wonders of the ocean. Our job is to protect and conserve these places so future generations of Americans will continue to benefit from the ocean's bounty for years to come. That's something to be proud about.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Sometimes, it can be a bit overwhelming when you think about all the daunting challenges facing the ocean. Our climate is changing. Sea levels are rising. The ocean is becoming more acidic and warmer. And we are running out of time to turn things around!

What is your educational background?

I have a BS in journalism from the University of Kansas.

What inspired your interest in the ocean and coasts?

After college graduation, I worked at a newspaper on Florida's Gulf Coast. That's where I fell in love with the ocean. In my spare time, I spent hours relaxing with friends on the beach, fishing in Tampa Bay, and simply enjoying the serenity of the sea.

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

As my own experience indicates, there are many different paths you can take to a career in science communications. Students should have some training and experience in communications, public relations, journalism, and/or environmental science. However, this type of work isn't for everybody. Beyond a mastery of the basic skills, one should have a sense of meaning and purpose for the mission. After all, we're not making widgets; we're trying to save the ocean.

What is one of the coolest experiences you've had on the job?

The coolest experience I've had to date occurred in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off the Massachusetts coast. I was with sanctuary staffers aboard the NOAA Research Vessel Auk as we watched humpback whales feed and blow out sprays of seawater. At one point, a humpback whale calf approached our vessel, which wasn't moving. The young whale came so close that we could hear it exhale, and when it rolled over on its back, we saw the barnacles on its skin. It was the first time I saw whales in the wild, and the moment gave me chills. If I had any doubt before, I knew then why our work truly matters.

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