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Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management


MEET: Elisa Chae

Legislative Specialist, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Managment (OCRM)

I handle OCRM's responses to questions from NOAA and Congress about the office's programs. I also track and analyze legislation and help draft office views on legislation. One of the office's priorities is the reauthorization of the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, and I have been helping with that effort. I also prepare materials (testimony, answers to anticipated questions, background info, etc.) for Congressional hearings.

Elisa Chae and colleagues


What do you like most about working at NOS?

Keeping up with the many projects and activities the office is involved in. It is probably the hardest part of my job, but also one of the best parts. OCRM works with state and local governments through a number of programs—the Coastal Zone Management Program, the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, the NOAA Coral Program, the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program, and the National System of Marine Protected Areas. There is always something going on, and there’s plenty to learn, from how a state or local government handles a particular resource, to conflicts of use issues, and federal consistency issues.

Before coming to NOAA, I worked in city government at the New York City Council, which had fewer staff and a faster pace. NOAA is a lot bigger, and, of course, there is some “red tape” which can be difficult at times, but on the flip side, I enjoy working on national issues and being a part of a larger effort to combine science and policy to help communities and resources.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Keeping up with the many projects and activities the office is involved in. OCRM’s mission is to help states to manage their marine and coastal resources for the health, safety, and economic welfare of communities. OCRM works with 30 coastal and Great Lakes states and five U.S. territories. That’s over 95,000 miles of ocean and Great Lakes shoreline, about 153 million people, or over half of the total national population, plus all the commerce and business that the coasts are hubs for and the conflicts that come from having different competing uses for the same resource. So, there’s a lot of activity to keep track of, especially with national issues such as climate change and energy.

What is your educational background?

Cornell University, major in the Science of Earth Systems, minor in Ocean Science.  Brooklyn Law School, licensed to practice in New York.

What inspired your interest in the ocean and coasts?

My dad. He loves the outdoors and growing up we traveled a lot and the oceans were my favorite. He taught my siblings and me a lot about science, and we grew up with an understanding that there needs to be a balance between protecting and using natural resources.

How did you end up working at NOAA?

When I graduated college, practically all of my classmates all went on to get graduate degrees, to become professors, work at labs, and do research. I thoroughly enjoyed my classes but wasn’t sure the PhD track was for me. I wanted to do something more “applied” with my degree, but got very little guidance about what that might translate to job-wise. I was attracted to NOAA because of my interest in ocean science and because it seemed like a place where science and policy intersected in interesting ways.

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

There is a great need for coastal and ocean managers, and I think this need will only increase as populations grow and available resources become scarce or distributions shift. There is also a need for a higher level of understanding of natural resources among the general public. I would tell young people who are interested in a career in the “ocean realm” to seek out opportunities to learn more about the coasts and oceans. One summer in high school, I had a great time living and working on a sailboat as a volunteer educator and deckhand. I learned how to sail and taught kids and adults about the Hudson River, what an estuary was, and why they were important to people. 

I would also tell young people interested in an oceans career to talk with as many people as possible and learn what possibilities are out there. There are jobs that they probably never would have thought existed. Certainly, when I was younger I did not plan to pursue a job as a Legislative Specialist for a federal agency. I wasn’t even aware such a thing existed. More young people should be made aware that careers in the “ocean realm” are not limited to pure research and science, but include a wide range of different job types that they might be interested in.