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National Marine Protected Area Center

National Marine Protected Area Center

Marine Protected Areas video

Meet: Valerie Grussing

Cultural Resources Coordinator, National Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Center

As the Cultural Resources Coordinator in the National MPA Center, I work with archaeologists, cultural resource managers, and tribal representatives to build the National MPA System. I help create and maintain partnerships among agencies, tribes, and states that manage marine cultural heritage resources. This includes collecting, analyzing, and distributing information about cultural heritage MPAs; raising public awareness of the value of cultural heritage resources and the MPAs that protect them; and building the capacity of cultural heritage resource managers through information and training.

Valerie Grussing marine archaeology

What do you like most about working at NOS?

NOS has the strongest cultural resource management focus within NOAA. We all share some aspect of a maritime heritage: studying and interpreting our past connections to the sea are vital components of coastal and marine resource management. In April 2012, on the weekend of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I had the privilege to conduct a workshop on "Discovering the Titanic" at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History's Sant Ocean Hall. Interacting with hundreds of museumgoers on this topic was exciting and rewarding, and reinforced to me the true power of marine cultural heritage and resources to captivate us with compelling stories. NOS recognizes both the inherent value of maritime heritage, as well as its ability to raise public interest and awareness in the diversity of ocean and coastal issues facing us today.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Marine cultural resources include historic shipwrecks, sunken naval vessels and aircraft, and submerged prehistoric remains, as well as sites that are paramount to a culture's identity and/or survival, such as traditional cultural properties and sites of cultural significance to tribal or indigenous communities. Being the only cultural resource specialist in the MPA Center is both exciting and daunting, when I am faced with coordinating partners nationwide on issues ranging from shipwreck protection to traditional subsistence concerns. Additionally, "face time" is critical for building solid relationships, and the current fiscal climate has presented a significant hurdle in this way.

What is your educational background?

I have a BA in history from North Carolina State University, where I studied historical archaeology, an MA in anthropology from the University of Iowa, where I studied prehistoric and bioarchaeology, and a PhD in coastal resources management from East Carolina University (ECU). My focus at ECU was Maritime Studies with an emphasis on the policy and management aspects of underwater archaeology.

What inspired your interest in the ocean and coasts?

I grew up in North Carolina, which has amazing beaches and a history rich with diverse narratives. Every summer, my family vacationed near Fort Fisher, which was the last Confederate seaport to fall during the Civil War, and 100 years later saw the beginning of underwater archaeology in the state. While at ECU, I worked on the Queen Anne's Revenge Shipwreck Project (Blackbeard's flagship) and I also did an internship with the Hunley Project in Charleston (conservation of a Confederate submarine). Both were awesome! I appreciate the opportunity with my job to learn about interesting stories from the expanse of our nation's coastline. The "connection to the sea" that we so often reference is tangible to me.

How did you end up working at NOAA?

I had an internship for my current position in 2005, and hoped to be able to return. The job opened up at the right time. The training and experience I received along the way have been really beneficial, both interdisciplinary and specific to cultural resources. Effective ocean and coastal resource management is moving toward an approach that integrates natural and cultural resources. For example, a shipwreck can form the basis of an ecosystem, and subsistence resources are cultural resources to many indigenous peoples.

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

Take a broad and creative approach to your education. There are endless opportunities in the "ocean realm," and most topics and issues are interrelated. Talk to people with jobs that interest you. As soon as possible, go to conferences and start building your network.