Spotlight on NEOSEC Ocean Literacy Summit Planners – Nina Quaratella and the North American Marine Environment Protection Association

Nina Quaratella is the Education and Outreach Manager at the North American Marine Environment Protection Association. Along with her day job, she is serving on the NEOSEC Planning Committee for this year’s Ocean Literacy Summit.  “I got involved in the NEOSEC Summit Planning committee right when I began working for NAMEPA. NAMEPA has had a presence within NEOSEC for several years but wanted to get more involved. Also, as a young professional I did not have experience planning a Summit. I am using this opportunity to gain experience in what goes into planning an event like this. It takes a lot of work, collaboration, motivation, and organization!”

NAMEPA embodies the NEOSEC mission to leverage and strengthen the region’s extraordinary ocean science and educational assets to advance understanding of the vital connections between people and the ocean. Nina describes her role as the NEOSEC contact for NAMEPA: “As Education and Outreach Manager, it is naturally my role to work alongside other conservation groups and educators for NAMEPA. The bulk of NAMEPA staff work more closely with shipping companies and those in the marine industry, and my role is connecting NAMEPA’s educational materials and programs to scientists, conservationists, and formal and non-formal educators.”

Nina says, “I fell into education because I like people and writing.” She has her science chops too with a B.S. in Environmental Science and a double minor in Biology and Geospatial Technologies. After getting her degree, Nina served two AmeriCorps’ service terms followed by four seasonal jobs in environmental education and habitat restoration, with a marine science focus. All experiences were valuable, but she explains “After a lot of moving around, I was ready for a permanent position. My supervisor at [fellow NEOSEC Member] NBNERR was supportive and I started applying.” Nina describes joining NAMEPA as an odd story. The cascading events are a fine example of what to do when life hands you lemons – make lemonade! After a strong preliminary interview, Nina went on a final interview in her native Rhode Island. The interview did not go well at all. Dejected, she went to her family home in Westerly and hoped to raise her spirits playing volleyball that night. She blew out her knee. Temporarily confined to a wheelchair, she couldn’t return immediately to her seasonal field educator job at NBNERR’s Prudence Island. Unstoppable, she went to see her cousin in a surf competition that just happened to be hosted by NAMEPA. Seeing her wheel through the beach, the co-founder and executive director Carleen Lyden Walker rushed over and handed her a bag with NAMEPA information. Nina read it over, called NAMEPA, and Carleen is now her supervisor. Nina concludes, “Everything happens for a reason.”

Nina is coming up on her 1st year anniversary with NAMEPA. In addition to her responsibilities coordinating education programs, Nina has assumed responsibility running community cleanups, coordinating the NAMEPA college and high school chapter program, and managing the annual art contest. Nina says, “We have the kids creatively express themselves. The theme is ‘Better Shipping for a Better Future’. We use the winning art work in our calendar.” Nina is enthusiastic about educating people that do not ordinarily get exposed to marine science. “We have partnerships with Boys & Girls Clubs. We find ways to put resources in new places such as Title 1 schools.” She engages her participants. “I try to end a program with a ‘What can you do?’ activity. I try to connect students to the ocean to inspire the next generation of ocean stewards. I just taught a session and the students were already so well informed about ocean issues.”

Nina is proud of the many free educational downloads available at the NAMEPA website: https://namepa.net/education/materials/preview/ You can download educator guides, activities books, flyers, and more on such topics as “8 Ways to Use Less Plastic,” “An Educator’ s Guide to Marine Debris” in English and Spanish, “Exploring the Marine Environment – Activities & Games for Kids of All Ages,” and “Marine Industry Learning Guide.”  Nina sees download requests from around the world!

In addition to educating students and the public, NAMEPA brings marine industry into the conversation about sustainable practices.  Most of NAMEPA’s members are shipping companies. NAMEPA hosts large events where there is a marine presence such as a recent event in Houston and an upcoming event in New York City. These are attended by conservation groups, educators, and the industry. Nina hasn’t seen enough appreciation of the role that marine industry plays. She points out, “Much of what we use has spent part of its life on a ship.” Forging strong relationships with the marine industry is important to address marine-related concerns. Nina states, “The industry is receptive to sustainability messages. Some have to make changes [due to regulations], but a lot want to protect the ocean. They rely on it.”

Nina’s biggest concern is that many people think the ocean is too far gone, that we can’t do anything. “I don’t think that is true at all! Their small changes can make a difference. I don’t want hopelessness.” Thank you Nina for your positive can-do attitude and contributions to planning the 2018 Ocean Literacy Summit!

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