Advancing Diversity in Marine Sciences

Advancing Diversity in Marine Sciences

Written in collaboration with Amy Plantarich.

The inspiration for a new internship program at New Jersey’s Jacques Cousteau Reserve was simple: diversity in science is better for everybody. Not only is creating equal access important for advancing equality, science is stronger when everybody contributes.

In that spirit, the Reserve welcomed six undergraduates to pursue their own research last summer. Their experience was made possible through a partnership between the Jacques Cousteau Reserve and two programs from Rutgers University: the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and the Idea, Design and Entrepreneurship Academy (i.d.e.a.).

The path to a career in the sciences is long and challenging. The goal of this partnership was to create opportunities for students from racial and ethnic minorities to explore the fields of marine and coastal science, education, and resource management, connect with mentors, and identify career development opportunities.

“This internship gave me a better understanding of the field of marine and coastal science, as well as relevant career opportunities.” says Austin Crawley, one of the interns from Rutgers University.

“The research that I dove into taught me a lot regarding computer automation’s role in advanced projects and the potential for it to help even more with future innovation.” says Jake Stocki, another intern from Rutgers University. “The program as a whole has inspired me tremendously in my studies, and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity and support.”

In addition to their own research, the interns were able to take advantage of field-based projects currently underway at the Jacques Cousteau Reserve and the New Jersey Aquaculture Innovation Center (NJAIC) and take part in professional development training. 

“This was my first opportunity to work in a research environment,” says Stocki. “It not only taught me a great deal about the topic I was working on but it also gave me a great respect for the work that is done at these facilities all over the country and the world.”

On August 13th, program partners and interns celebrated their experience with presentations of the students’ research projects. This prepared them to participate in the upcoming GS-LSAMP symposium on February 25th, 2022, when more than 200 New Jersey undergraduates are expected to present research.

“This internship made me more comfortable with presenting my work in a professional setting. I was able to network with undergraduate and graduate students all interested in various topics in marine and environmental science,” says Intern Jordan Tarleton. “I was able to gain mentors who have been helping me with professional development and finding new research opportunities to be a part of.”

Staff at all the participating institutions were grateful for the opportunity to work with these students and have already begun preparations for the next cohort of interns next summer. Anyone interested in learning more about last summer’s program or the plans for next year, please contact Amy Plantarich at

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New Jersey Scientists Bite Back

New Jersey Scientists Bite Back

A female mosquito feeding on her photographer.

New Jerseyans aren’t the only ones who enjoy summer days at the beach. Mosquitos are a longstanding nuisance, annoying sunbathers and swimmers, one bite at a time. As sea levels rise, a team from the Jacques Cousteau Reserve, Rutgers University, county mosquito control agencies, and natural resource management professionals asked an important question: how will this impact local mosquito populations?

To better understand the location and size of coastal mosquito populations, the team used cutting-edge eDNA assays and drone-based sampling to survey mosquito breeding pools. Their data suggests that as sea-levels rise, the population of mosquitoes is increasing in marsh-upland areas.

Efforts to curb New Jersey’s mosquito populations extend back to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, when thousands of miles of grid ditches were dug, draining pooled water from coastal wetlands where mosquito larvae grow. Later, harmful insecticides, such as DDT, supplanted grid ditches as a means of control. Since banning DDT in 1972, coastal counties have used other insecticides and BIT (a naturally occurring bacterium found in soils) to combat mosquito populations.

These measures, however, are no match for the increasing mosquito populations that rising sea levels bring. And with New Jersey sea levels at twice the global average, the problem is likely to get worse.

Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito, is now the main nuisance species in New Jersey.


Mosquito control agencies can use the surveillance tools developed by this project to identify, target, and control mosquito “hotspots.” Agencies can pinpoint the mosquito populations and advise the local communities about how to control them. With these developments, coastal areas around the U.S. will have more powerful mosquito surveillance tools available to them which may lead to more effective, comprehensive mosquito control.

Lisa Auermuller, assistant manager at the Jacques Cousteau Reserve, believes these tools are highly transferable. “By having an idea of what future conditions may be,” she says, “mosquito control professionals can plan future management strategies.”

The Reserve’s Education Program developed companion learning modules that local schools can use to engage students in learning about issues of climate change in their communities. These modules provide educational activities that promote the understanding of the impact of climate change on their local ecosystems and the health and safety of coastal communities.

“The lesson brings locally relevant climate change issues together with real-world applications,” says Katilin Gannon, the Reserve’s education coordinator. She hopes these hands-on activities will generate curiosity and empower students to continue learning and advocating for change in their local and global communities.


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Know Your Tides

Know Your Tides

Check out the Know Your Tides campaign trailer here.

Along the coasts of New Jersey, residents and visitors are getting the message—you have more fun and stay safer when you Know Your Tides.

A partnership of the Jacques Cousteau Reserve and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, this social media campaign aims to raise awareness of tidal flooding risk by encouraging people to learn more about their local tides. The campaign launched in June, with funding from NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management and will run until September. 

“​​The diversity of our coast makes it complicated to communicate about flood risk in New Jersey,” says Vanessa Tropiano, coastal training program coordinator for the Reserve. “We hope the campaign will overcome that challenge through messages that integrate local experiences and culture across diverse coastal communities.”

The campaign team is using a mix of videos, infographics, and local photography to build awareness of sea level rise, tidal flooding, and locally relevant resources that people can use to prepare for future floods. These are shared on the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts of campaign partners, which include dozens of informal education centers in coastal regions of the state (#TideSmart, #KnowYourTidesNJ).

The team created infographics to communicate key concepts related to sea level rise and tidal flooding.

“Partnering with informal education centers allows us to reach new audiences,” says Tropiano. “A pre-campaign survey of education center staff and their public audiences was used to inform the campaign, and afterward we’ll do a post-survey to gauge campaign effectiveness”

The team leveraged its new MyCoast New Jersey to create a home for the campaign, creating a potential model for other MyCoast states interested in running a similar campaign. Want to learn more? Contact Vanessa Tropiano for more information.

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Talk NERRdy: Lisa Auermuller

Talk NERRdy: Lisa Auermuller

Talk NERRdy to Me is a monthly column about leaders and luminaries from across our 29 Reserves. This month, NERRA’s correspondent-at-large Nik Charov checked in with Lisa Auermuller, assistant manager at New Jersey’s Jacques Cousteau Reserve and past president of the NERRA board. They talked about “coordinating coordinators,” revealed how families are at the heart of our work and resilience, and all but promised “cheeseburgers in paradise” at the 2021 annual meeting.

Nik: So, JCNERR assistant manager—does that mean you work the weekend shift? Didn’t you used to be CTP Coordinator, but you got demoted?

Lisa: No, we have a real CTP coordinator now! But yes, I’m assistant manager. Assistant TO the regional manager, haha. 

Nik: How did you get to the southern New Jersey region [specifically Exit 58 off the Garden State Parkway]?

Lisa: This job took me here 19 years ago. I had no ties to the area before.

Nik: No one should.

Lisa: It’s actually really wonderful here. And you all might get to experience that live at the 2021 annual meeting!

Nik: Knock on wood. What do you have planned for us there, Cruise Social Director Lisa?

Lisa: We’ve already scoped out the firepit! That was important to our planning: having a firepit for the sing-a-long. There’s also a whole bottom floor at the hotel which serves as a rec room with bar games like large jenga, pool tables, shuffleboard…

Nik: A rec room? I’m in! But how did you ever find the Jacques Cousteau NERR?

Lisa: I grew up in upstate New York at the upper edge of the Hudson River’s tidal range, but I spent a week vacation every summer on Cape Cod and then the Outer Banks. I spent my youth associating the ocean with relaxation and fun. I really grew to adore it. And I decided in 7th grade that I wanted to be a marine biologist. So that was my career path from 7th grade on. My parents took me to Woods Hole—I got the Woods Hole sweatshirt and wore it until it was fringe! 

As I was finishing up my graduate degree, I started looking for ‘marine science education jobs in NY/NJ area.’ I literally put those words into a Google search. The then-president of New Jersey’s Marine Education Association Janice McDonnell, who used to be the assistant manager of the Reserve, kept coming up. I figured she was the person I should email saying ‘I’m looking for jobs, do you have any suggestions?’ She invited me to come for an interview, and the rest is history. I was the first full-time person to be physically at the Reserve building in Tuckerton. I’ve really grown up with the Reserve.

Nik: Did you start in the Coastal Training Program?

Lisa: I started as the CTP program was officially established. I was part of that first cohort of people who were hired to develop the CTP program nationally. There are still a handful of us who are around and haven’t retired. (Just this year we’ve seen a bunch of retirements with Steve Miller, John Bragg, Emilie Hauser…) But my original title was Watershed Coordinator, and I still don’t really know what that meant… I don’t know what it means to coordinate a whole watershed! I think it means you do everything.

Nik: As an assistant manager does everything! You handle outreach and education and CTP at JCNERR now?

Lisa: I have a staff now that hold leadership roles within those programs, and I provide oversight and big-picture thinking. 

Nik: So now you’re a Coordinator Coordinator, instead of a Watershed Coordinator?

Lisa: I love that! Make me a business card.

Nik: So is everything coordinated? 

Lisa: Obviously it’s been a challenging year with COVID, but that hasn’t stopped us. Our programs have been creative and have gone virtual where they can. Our research and monitoring continue. In a way, it’s connected us even more as a staff. It has that silver lining to it. 

Nik: How do you coordinate these coastal professionals across geographies, even now? For the multi-component Reserves out there, what’s your advice?

Lisa: Make sure people know your door’s open. Recognize that different locations do have different needs and challenges: it’s not cookie cutter. Really make time for cross-sector collaboration, especially when your different programs aren’t physically sharing the same space.

Nik: You are a bit of a Jimmy Buffett fan. Does that go back to childhood and finding so much inspiration on the shore?

Lisa: [laughs] I didn’t grow up listening to Jimmy Buffett’s music. But I do think if you really listen to the words and the sentiments behind them, we can all relate as people who appreciate the coast and the value it brings us emotionally and environmentally. 

Nik: The Parrothead philosophy might be that these are beautiful places that make us feel good, and we should want to protect them?

Lisa: Yes! I think that vibe just resonated with me. And the margaritas don’t hurt.

Nik: They never do, do they? 

Lisa: If you’ve never been to a concert, it’s quite the coming together of all walks of life. Ages, thoughts, and values in one big blender. That’s one of the things I like the best about it.

Nik: Sounds like our annual meeting, without the process agendas.

Lisa: There actually is a process agenda for tailgating. Not even joking. 

Nik: Please send.

Lisa with her large family.

Lisa: You know, one year I planned a Jimmy Buffett road trip, and four members of NERRA’s Executive Committee at the time came. We started in Florida and worked up to Biloxi.

Nik: Was it just driving around, listening to music, and stopping to watch the sunset?

Lisa: We stopped to do other things too! We had to experience the local flavor of each place, you know. [laughs]

Nik: Would you recommend that as a team-building exercise?

Lisa: There’s something to be said for spending that kind of time together. I don’t think it could hurt. 

Nik: You’ve been involved with the NERRA Executive Committee for some ten years now. Looking back on your time as NERRA vice president and president, what do you think were your big achievements?

Lisa: I had a goal that I was very passionate about and wanted to make a defining part of my administration, and that was helping people beyond just the board understand NERRA and feel like a part of it. I do feel like NERRA for a long time was very mysterious to people: not purposefully, but I think it was. 

Nik: All that Capitol Hill lobbying, big acronyms, big numbers…

Lisa: I think a lot of people looked at it as ‘oh, that’s the managers doing another manager meeting.’ It was super important to me to have one of my defining roles as president be breaking down some of that mystery around what NERRA is, and helping people feel like they could tap into what NERRA has to offer.

Nik: Important transparency question: Was [NERRA board president-elect] Keith Laakkonen’s election clean and fair?

Lisa: Very clean and fair. I believe it was completely above board.

Nik: How worried are you that the Laakkonenn administration will undo all your work? He’s one of the least comprehensible people in the entire System.

Lisa: I feel like we’ve opened the NERRA curtain, and now it would be hard to close again. And I’m not worried about that happening with Keith at all. He’s very approachable! Not to mention that similar to myself, Keith has brought a sector person, GTMNERR research coordinator Nikki Dix, in to serve on the Executive Committee, which is a very purposeful decision to make sure diverse perspectives are heard.

Nik: We do have ‘research’ in the name. It’s one of the few words that people understand.

Lisa: Right?! I also realized pretty early on that NERRA was at a tipping point of growth. As we get bigger, there will eventually be more demands than NERRA can meet. And I certainly haven’t cracked how that should be solved, but I’ve raised the conversation so we can really start thinking about how we want to continue the growth, or make some tough choices about what we are and aren’t going to do.

Lisa with her large ‘work family’ at the Reserve.

Nik: The future is coming. There’s an end in sight to this pandemic (at least I hope so), but we also know there’s recovery after a disaster. That’s something you know very well, after Hurricane Sandy hit your Reserve eight years ago. What should we expect in terms of recovering from 2020 and building our resilience?

Lisa: Often the first thing that comes to people’s minds is the physical part of recovering: the actual structural part, rebuilding. But the thing we’ve gotten better at talking about, but not good enough, is the emotional end, the people side of recovery. The physical recovery part can be easier than the emotional part, especially because sometimes people have a hard time admitting they even need help. So that’s my first advice: think about it in those terms, where each of those sides is really important to full recovery. And of course, work together. 

Nik: We chose to talk to you this month because we asked ourselves, in this dark month: who’s hopeful? Who’s optimistic? And we said: Lisa! What is it about you that gets you through?

Lisa: I grew up as one of five kids, and my mom’s one of thirteen. So I grew up in a very large family. In that situation you have two choices: blend into the background, or embrace what’s so great about having all these deep-rooted connections with others. And I believe I pull and draw from the family connection in the work I do. 

I almost never think of my job as just a job. I find that many of our NERRS colleagues bring that perspective where this job becomes part of who they are. It’s showing up to be part of something bigger than what each of us do individually. I think that’s where the hope comes from. 

We all need hope to make it through the next day, year, decade. I might be one of the hopeful people in our system, but I think there’s a lot of hopeful people you could Talk NERRdy too. 

Nik: And so we shall!

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Volunteers Give & Gain at Jacques Cousteau

Volunteers Give & Gain at Jacques Cousteau

Photo and story courtesy Pat Filardi, a volunteer at New Jersey’s Jacques Cousteau Reserve.

I’ve been a volunteer for the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Rutgers Marine Field Station here on the Jersey Shore for twelve years.

As a field volunteer I’ve been involved in many facets of scientific research. My first field work was tracking flounder on the Navesink River in the winter, which was very cold but very enjoyable. I’ve been involved in the ongoing collection of larval fish sampling, the taking of bottom samples to evaluate benthic life, trawling sessions in the Reserve—and my favorite—tracking the herring run in the Pineland rivers and streams. Most recently I’ve been kayaking with Ken Able in the Mullica watershed as he researched for his latest book Beneath the Surface. I not only enjoy the work, but also the people and all I have learned from them.

Being involved with these projects has been truly eye opening. I always find it incredible that after all the scientific study there is still so much to be discovered. Meeting so many great people who are willing to share their knowledge was beyond all expectation. To see the abundance and variety of life in our vast marshes is enlightening. It takes many people on all levels to collect and catalog all this information over many decades.

As a citizen scientist, I believe I have truly gained more than I have given. To be involved with the Reserve’s community has been both educational as well as personally fulfilling and I would recommend volunteering on some level to all. To be a part of the community made up of the JCNERR’s Education Center and Rutgers Field Station personnel have really made for a worthwhile retirement. 


Every Reserve is special. And everyone has a Reserve story to share. Why do you care about your Reserve? How has it made a difference in your life? Have a few minutes today? We want to hear your story.


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New Faces Across the NERRS

New Faces Across the NERRS

Our Reserve family has some new faces, each bringing fresh talents and energy to their respective Reserves. Please join NERRA in welcoming these new NERRds to the family!

Vanessa Dornisch, Coastal Training Program Coordinator at New Jersey’s Jacques Cousteau Reserve

Vanessa grew up spending winters in Florida and summers at the Jersey Shore. All that time in coastal areas made her fall in love with the environment and pursue a career protecting it. After attending Rowan University for her undergraduate degree and University of Florida for graduate school, Vanessa worked in coastal resilience in Florida for several years before joining the staff at the Jacques Cousteau Reserve

“I am so excited to join the Reserve System because I’m a huge advocate of interdisciplinary approaches to research, education, and protecting coastal resources,” says Vanessa. “As CTP Coordinator, I’m looking forward to working with local communities to build resilience to sea level rise and flooding.”

Rachel Best, Office Coordinator at Washington’s Padilla Bay Reserve

When you call the Padilla Bay interpretive center or stop to visit the exhibits and aquariums, you’ll find a new face behind the counter—Rachel Best has joined the Reserve as its new office coordinator and administrative assistant.

Rachel is a native Washingtonian who grew up enjoying the great outdoors. She’s a coastal activist even outside of work, volunteering on the Skagit County Marine Resources Committee and the Skagit Conservation District’s Clean Streams project. She’s also a Salish Sea Steward volunteer, and headed that group’s advisory team.


Sarah Brostrom, Coastal Training Program Coordinator at Washington’s Padilla Bay Reserve

Sarah Brostrom, joined the Padilla Bay team in May. She is coordinating the Salish Sea Stewards volunteer training program (now virtual) and is ramping up to lead the Reserve’s Coastal Training Program (CTP) as it adapts to the COVID-19 world of virtual professional development. 

Sara grew up near the Salish Sea in Lacey, Washington, exploring the shores of Budd Inlet and camping and hiking with her family in the state’s many beautiful ecosystems. For Sara, these formative experiences sparked an early interest in environmental science. After studying at the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs at University of Washington, Sara spent a year in the Washington Sea Grant Hershman Fellowship where she worked on projects related to sea level rise and was lucky enough to participate in the Coastal Training Program.

“I’m excited to bring experience in the field of education and marine policy to my role, and to explore new ways to broaden the reach of Padilla Bay’s CTP,” says Sara. “And I look forward to working with my new co-workers and to exploring the Reserve in-person!”

Sabra Comet, Coastal Training Program Coordinator at Oregon’s South Slough Reserve

Sabra (pronounced “Say-bruh”) comes to Oregon’s South Slough Reserve from NOAA’s Silver Spring office, where she worked in the Integrated Ocean Observing System and Technology, Planning and Integration for Observation programs. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology from Southern Oregon University, a Master’s in Natural Resources Conservation from Portland State University, and is a former Knauss Fellow with Oregon Sea Grant. She brings with her a wealth of professional experience related to coastal and ocean issues. 

“I’m very excited to be part of the Coastal Training Program, as it fits the mix of policy, science, and boots-on-the-ground community interaction that I love,” says Sabra. “Both the staff at the Reserve and at the NOAA level are very welcoming and passionate, and the diverse stakeholder audience will keep the job interesting far into the future.”


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ReservesJacques Cousteau, New Jersey