My passion for the ocean has existed since I first started forming solid memories. This passion carried through my childhood all the way to Long Island University’s Southampton College, where I majored in marine science, and on still further to William & Mary’s School of Marine Science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, where I earned a master’s in marine science.
If you had asked me at age 12 what I wanted to be, it would’ve been dolphin trainer or sea turtle biologist. But as I grew and learned, it became apparent to me that the world ocean is in trouble. My career focus became how to strike the balance between economy and resource protection. My graduate research was directed towards the vitellogenic cycle of fish as a biomarker of environmental contamination and reproductive disruption.
In 2002, I tried my hand at Washington, D.C. policy-making as a National Sea Grant Office John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellow. But, salt water runs in my veins, and I soon turned in my business suits and high-heels for oilskins and flip-flops, joining North Carolina Sea Grant in August 2003 as a fisheries extension specialist in their Manteo Office.
My ongoing work includes cultivating cooperative research with the commercial and recreational fishing industries. Working together, fishermen and scientists can improve our understanding of the complex interactions between fishery resources and fishing practices. And of late, I have been trying to turn the tide on derelict fishing gear and other marine debris, which can smother and crush sensitive salt marsh habitat. Beginning in 2014, with support from NOAA’s Marine Debris Program and North Carolina Sea Grant, the North Carolina Coastal Federation began an annual sounds and shorelines cleanup. The effort is a public-private partnership between fishermen, N.C. Marine Patrol officers and the general public.
When I saw the expedition goals — making the unseen seen, from toxins in the ocean to toxins in our bodies, and raising the visibility and voices of women in science along the way, I knew I had to be a part of this endeavor.
As a female, marine scientist in what still is a male-dominated field, I am deeply devoted to empowering women in science (admittedly only one of the underrepresented minorities, but the one I have been most involved with).
This voyage also will provide a chance to revisit my early career focus on environmental toxicology and participate in scientifically documenting the extent of marine pollution in the Caribbean. More rewarding will be educating others about the potentially harmful effects of various chemical, biological and physical agents on marine ecosystems.
But most personal of all is, I just celebrated my second year as a breast cancer survivor. At the mere age of 37, I was diagnosed with stage 2 hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. One will never know the cause of their cancer, but research strongly suggests that exogenous, man-made chemicals that mimic estrogen can alter the functions of the endocrine system and cause various health defects including cancer. My story has a happy ending, or at least I’m determined to make it so. I feel blessed to have detected my cancer early, and so my mission is, like that of eXXpedition, to stamp out late detection of breast cancer.