Kate Leavitt is the NEOSEC representative from the Seacoast Science Center and is serving on this year’s Ocean Literacy Summit Planning Committee. Kate has been involved with NEOSEC since 2010. Her initial involvement was as project manager for a 17-partner grant Families By the Seaside. When she completed that project, Kate wanted to continue engaging with NEOSEC and joined the Planning Committee. Kate is deepening her commitment to NEOSEC as chair-elect on the Executive Committee.
The Seacoast Science Center and NEOSEC have a common mission. The Center advocates for ocean health through educational experiences and exhibits to spark curiosity, enhance understanding, and inspire ocean conservation. In addition to live animal exhibits, engaging programs, environmental day camps, and special events, the Seacoast Science Center also operates the marine mammal rescue program with a 24-hour hotline. The Marine Mammal Rescue Team responds to reports of stranding and beaching from Essex, Massachusetts to the Maine border. This team is one of one hundred federally authorized response programs.
Kate is Director of Mission at the Seacoast Science Center. She oversees educational programs including visitor services and school and group programs, marine mammal rescue, grants, and external partnerships. Kate’s role has grown and changed over the years. “I started in 2002 as a part-time naturalist and since then my work has really evolved. The Families grant was a big part of that. It was my first substantial full-time position here at the Center.” Kate knew she wanted to work in marine science from a young age. “In 5th grade reading class, I read a wonderful story about a woman who was a marine biologist. It opened my eyes to the possibility, and I haven’t looked back!” After getting her bachelor’s degree, Kate landed her dream job conducting sea turtle field research for the National Park Service in the Gulf of Mexico. “Besides the scientific field work, I did a lot of interpretation and education at the beach. It was here that I discovered my love for marine science education.” She particularly enjoys the type of learning that happens at museums, aquariums and science centers. “We inspire students and visitors and if we do it right, ignite passion and stewardship. Facilitating hands on personal connections to nature and the ocean can have great power to excite and motivate. That is our goal.”
Kate is concerned about the rapid pace of change in our ocean. “The Gulf of Maine is the second-fastest warming body of water on the planet. Organisms can’t keep pace. The chemistry of the ocean is changing, which is frightening. The changing chemistry makes it harder to build and strengthen shells. Marine creatures need energy for this which takes away energy from other vital processes.” Despite these concerns, Kate wants students to be positive. “We try to empower our students and visitors to all the things they can do for positive change. We focus on action, not despair. It’s vital they have the information to understand what’s going on. We help them come up with conservation campaigns for their schools and brainstorm ways they can educate friends and peers.”
Kate believes there is hope for the future of our ocean and for ocean science. “Our youth are passionate and engaged. They have so many more resources than previous generations. Ocean science is now part of their curriculum and embedded in NGSS standards, which is wonderful.” In her student programs, “the ocean literacy principles are really the foundational bedrock of all of our programming. And when a concept isn’t explicitly tied in, we still sneak them in by using the ocean as the lens through which to teach those other topics. I really believe that together we can inspire conservation of our Blue Planet!”