James Morris

Marine Ecologist, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

James Morris

As an ecologist in the NCCOS Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research in Beaufort, North Carolina, I conduct primary research on invasive species, aquaculture, and other issues that affect coastal ecosystems.

What do you like most about working at NOS?

I like many things about working at NOS, including the thrill of scientific discovery, my many friends and mentors, and the ability to work on issues of high importance to coastal managers throughout the United States. One of these issues, invasive lionfish – which concerns coastal managers of the U.S. Southeast, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico – is providing lots of interesting questions and research opportunities. For example, I have learned that lionfish spawn year-round and multiple times per month, can reach sexual maturity within one year, and are generalist carnivores. Findings like these are helping us understand how the lionfish invasion happened, what we can do to mitigate its impacts, and how to prevent similar problems in the future.

What is the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part of my job is keeping up with the demand for information. As the lead principal investigator on several NOAA projects, it's my job to keep information flowing from the “science bench” to coastal managers. We work very hard to communicate effectively and work with managers to apply the results of our science to improve coastal ecosystems.

What is your educational background?

I completed a bachelor’s and master’s of science in biology at East Carolina University, and a PhD in biology at North Carolina State University.

What inspired your interest in the ocean and coasts?

I was spawned and reared in the small fishing villages of Atlantic and Sea Level in eastern North Carolina. My father and grandfathers were commercial fishermen who harvested shrimp, scallop, clams, oysters, crabs, and many species of fish in the estuaries and coastal ocean. When I was a boy, the waterfront, eastern banks, and large sounds were my playground. I have always been fascinated to learn how marine organisms “make their livings” in the sea.

How did you end up working at NOAA?

I began working at NOAA as a fellow of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, which administers a broad range of internships, scholarships, fellowships, and research experiences. Then I worked as a contractor for a few years before successfully competing for a permanent position.

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

There are many routes to a job in marine science, and no one route will guarantee you a job that you love. To take advantage of good opportunities, you have to be aware (stay up to speed on trends), ready (get as much experience as possible), and eager (stay motivated as you work toward your goals). Creating an extensive network of people who know you and can vouch for your skills is also key. Be as collaborative as possible, and never turn down an opportunity to meet someone new. Volunteer, do internships, and make every effort to show your potential employers why they should invest in you.

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