Spotlight on NEOSEC Ocean Literacy Summit Planners – Elaine Brewer and Mass Division of Fisheries & Wildlife

Elaine Brewer is the NEOSEC representative from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and is serving on this year’s Ocean Literacy Summit Planning Committee. “I like helping. It’s fun!”

Elaine’s long experience with NEOSEC is valuable to the committee. In her previous role at another Massachusetts agency, Elaine was the NEOSEC representative and was in the midst of her year as NEOSEC chair. When she moved to her current agency, she advocated that they join NEOSEC. How does the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife tie to NEOSEC’s vision? “It sounds kind of odd. It’s an inland agency. But all watersheds lead to the ocean.” She went on to speak about NEOSEC’s involvement with citizen science. “Learning how to incorporate citizen science more in what our agency does is a huge benefit to us. In return, we can make that connection of watersheds to the ocean, expanding NEOSEC’s goal of increasing ocean literacy to more inland areas.”

The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is responsible for terrestrial and aquatic species which entails managing, protecting, and regulating harvest. Elaine is responsible for the communications highlighting species of greatest conservation need within Massachusetts, including those protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. “Massachusetts has its own Endangered Species Act, which protects species within the state on top of the federal Act. For example, leatherback sea turtles are listed as endangered on both the federal and state lists. Bald eagles, however, are not listed federally, but are listed in Massachusetts because their population numbers aren’t as high as our experts would like them to be.”

Elaine’s background isn’t in communications though, it’s in the sciences. She knew she wanted to be a marine biologist since she was three years old. “We took a family vacation to the Cape. It was the first time I saw a shark, and it was just on the beach, thrashing about. I couldn’t understand why people weren’t trying to push it back into the water, since it obviously wasn’t comfortable on land. Since then I have wanted to learn more and conserve.” Elaine admits it took awhile to determine her area of focus but a part-time job spurred her interest in science communication. “I went to grad school at night and worked at a nonprofit museum during the day, doing information education. I taught all sorts of marine science to kids of all ages during the school year. In the summer I ran a fishing camp where I taught anglers to not just fish, but to really be connected with the outside world, to experience it fully and understand their impacts on the environment.” Elaine finds joy in her work, transforming sometimes heavy scientific information into something that people can relate to and get excited about. “People sometimes write to me or visit the office to show off a project they worked on to help an area near them or start a coastal cleanup. It’s rewarding to see what I do actually makes a difference at some level.”

Elaine is concerned about the growing difficulty of educating people about the environment. “You’d think it would be easier with electronic newsletters and social media and things like YouTube. But we’re still battling with all of the other information out there. There are algorithms and statistics, and newer and newer methods of communication that we are constantly trying to keep up with. Sometimes you hit a wall and can’t think up any other creative ways to get your information out there. But then you find that crack in the wall and break through. It’s challenging and frustrating, but still worth every second put in.”

Elaine is proud that she never lost sight of what she wanted to do. “The species might have changed from oceanic to inland, but I am still focused on learning and conservation. I get to do really exciting things for my job. I’m glad I didn’t stray from that.” Elaine, thank you for your science communication role in NEOSEC and the Massachusetts Divisions of Fisheries and Wildlife!   

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