Flying Fish

The Ins and Outs of Coastal Management
by Nicole Carlozo -- July 15th, 2013

Last week my niece asked me “what do you do?” The question was appropriate, as I had just gotten back from a week-long training at the NOAA Coastal Services Center. Of course, I know what I do…but when I opened my mouth to tell her, something along these lines came sputtering out:

“Well, I’m a…Environmental…er…Coastal…Eco….?”

I wanted to tell her that I was an Environmental Manager, but as soon as the words popped into my head, I realized that she might not understand what that meant. A number of other job titles came to mind: Coastal Manager, NOAA Fellow, Ecologist, Biologist, GIS technician, Writer…

In truth, I am all of these things. But what would an eight-year-old understand? Sadly, “Environmental Manager” isn’t something as easy to grasp as “Teacher” or “Accountant” or “Artist.”

I looked to my stepfather for help, but he just shrugged. As an Engineer, I’m sure he’d never given his job title a second thought. While I struggled to grasp the right words, my inquisitive niece lost interest and soon went back to playing games on my iPhone. And while I’m sure she never gave the conversation another thought, I couldn’t forget the chaotic aftermath – or lasting impression – that it left.

Thinking back, I should have said “I clean up the Chesapeake Bay.” Simple, to the point, and understandable. Although I am not literally out on the water every day, I am working towards that goal. But in my mind, I wanted to give her a title – a JOB that could answer the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

I use to have an answer to that question when I was 7, 10, 13…But as I entered college, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to “be.” I knew that I loved biology, ecology, and writing. I knew I had a knack for the quantitative. And I knew that I wanted to make a difference in this world. It’s not too much of a surprise that I ended up where I am. And I guess it isn’t too surprising that I have a hard time explaining my career to others – it involves so much!

For example: This week I processed water quality data, tested GIS hydrology tools, edited riparian buffer targeting tools, and participated in workshop planning climate change discussions. Last month I participated in wetland plant identification training and acted as facilitator in cross-agency restoration discussions. Last fall I researched oyster aquaculture potential in Maryland. Next year I’ll be writing marine spatial planning (MSP) recommendations, as MSP relates to water quality improvement. The list goes on and on.

So next time my niece asks me what I “do,” I’ll shrug and say “I clean up the Chesapeake Bay.” But I’ll know, deep down, that it isn’t quite as simple as that.

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