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Talk NERRdy to Me: Kari St. Laurent

Nov 12, 2019 | Clean Water, Delaware, Talk NERRdy to Me

Apparently being a NERRd does not skip a generation: Kari with a recent addition to the NERRd family, Canna.

Talk NERRdy to Me is a column about leaders and luminaries from across our 29 reserves. This month, NERRA’s Maine correspondent, Nik Charov chatted with Kari St. Laurent, Research Coordinator at the Delaware Reserve and natural-born NERRd. (Interview edited for length and general appropriateness.)

Nik: Where ya from?

Kari: Just outside of Boston. Go Patriots!

Nik: What’s it like to be on an enormous bandwagon?

Kari: Just winning, constant winning.

Nik: How did you first get to the ocean?

Kari: Cape Cod was a rite of passage. My first-grade field trip was to visit a tidal pool. I was eight-years-old when I knew I wanted to be an ocean scientist. I wanted to figure out why the ocean was the way it was. 

Nik: Vast and terrifying?

Kari: Salty and full of invisible life.

Nik: Oh. Were your parents scientists?

Kari: Absolutely not. I’m the only scientist in my family, the only one into science; that makes Thanksgiving a real treat. No one understands me.

Nik: It’s great you’re in the NERRs community now, where science is all we understand!

Kari: I love it!

Nik: You stayed in the Northeast for school—nine years in Rhode Island?

Kari: Yes, and the Narragansett Bay NERR saved my life once. I fell into an oyster pond out there around New Year’s Day and got really cold. I took shelter [at the Reserve] and some wonderful soul who I don’t know gave me hot chocolate and I warmed up. It was wonderful on that remote island. 

Nik: You survived Prudence! And then you did a post-doc at University of Maryland?

Kari: Yep. I moved when my husband got a job with the National Weather Service.

Nik: You’re an oceanographer and he’s a meteorologist? And now you have a five-month-old daughter, Canna. Are you selectively breeding for climate science? Is that an effective adaptation strategy? 

Kari: I really hope so. I will love her no matter what she chooses, but she’s already having science thrown at her. Nature and climate will be part of daily conversations over the dinner table.

Nik: My kids love that. They’re completely depressed. Besides having a climate super-child, what are other research directions you’re going in?

Kari: I’m actively working on black and blue carbon in DNERR’s tidal wetlands area. In the air, black carbon is a pollutant, but on land, it’s really effective at binding organic pollutants. 

Nik: Like charcoal?

Kari: Yes, exactly! For lack of a better term, it’s the black pieces in your Britta filter. It makes the water more pure. 

Nik: NERRA will have to call Britta for a sponsorship!

Kari: Yeah, Britta filters of the marsh! I’ve also been working with the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Acidification Network on ocean acidification monitoring and research. DNERR is starting to look at PCB concentrations in our marsh and to look at rope mussels and fiddler crabs to detect any PCBs. I’m also immersed in the world of microplastics. 

Nik: That’s a lot of pollution work… 

Kari: It’s my comfort zone. Pollution is in every system; the next steps are how to best mitigate or understand it. We have Superfund sites in our watershed, nutrient pollution, lots of urban development. We are definitely in an area that is ripe to study a whole plethora of pollutions.

Nik: What’s the future hold for the Delaware Bay? Worse or better?

Kari: I want to say we’ve been getting better. We’re just starting to get an understanding of the complex mix of chemicals in these systems. I’m hoping to set up all the questions that someone like my daughter will have to answer.

Nik: Best part of your job?

Kari: We never do science just for the sake of science. We do it to apply and make recommendations for how to best manage an area. I feel like my job has meaning at the end of the day.

Nik: You’re a big science communicator. Favorite science word? Mine’s hypoxia.

Kari: Good one. I’m a big nerd: I like knowing the Latin and Greek meanings behind things. If I had to pick a favorite, it’s probably chemosynthesis.

Nik: Fresh or salty?

Kari: Brackish.

Nik: CORRECT! Favorite animal?

Kari: I love cats. 

Nik: Cats are not an estuarine creature. Your state agency job title is Environmental Scientist V. Is that because the previous four versions malfunctioned and attempted to murder their human overlords?

Kari: Could be. I’d never know. 

Nik: Do you train as a runner so much because you’re afraid of tsunamis?

Kari: I never thought of that as an ancillary benefit. I run because I like to think a lot; the majority of the time I’m running I’m planning new research projects. 

Nik: What’s next and exciting for your Reserve? 

Kari: We’re starting to update our management plan, so that’s all great and fun.

Nik: No one has ever answered that. That’s going to make so many people at NOAA happy.

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