For Erin Spencer, her love for the ocean conservancy began at the age of fifteen with her first dive off the coast of the Florida Keys. It was at that time that she knew that this was a topic she wanted to learn more about. Growing up in a rural area in Maryland, Erin was an outdoorsy girl who loved to play in streams go to the beach every summer.
After her first dive she received her scuba certification and she remembers that at the height of that dive she noticed a beautiful fish. Her dive master informed her that it was an invasive species called a lionfish. Erin began to read as much as she could about invasive species and in particular the lionfish and “she found it astounding that one animal could have such an effect on the environment.”
In 2013, Erin was awarded a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant to study local responses to invasive lionfish in the Florida Keys. She has conducted a number of research-and media-based projects regarding invasive lionfish. She started “the Lionfish Project” and the goal of the project was to collect, synthesize, and share the stories of these innovative creatures and identify the specific techniques utilized by the locals in the Florida Keys and how they can regulate the lionfish populations.
Erin spent a month traveling throughout the Keys documenting stories of the locals, who were involved with the lionfish management and they were more than welcoming to her. According to Erin, the ocean is their livelihood, so it is important to them to come up with creative ways to manage the lionfish and take matters into their own hands. She focused on restaurants, dive shops, fishing operations, and the scientific community, the aim was to highlight how each group adapted to the spread of the lionfish. Her goal was to educate and tell the stories of the locals and how much of a devastating impact the lionfish was having to the environment.
Erin’s goal is to continue to work with communities and marine conservation and make it accessible to others. She would also like to mentor and empower other women in science; that is why Erin supports GenHERation. She feels that the best way that people can help in the cause is to learn what invasive species reside in your area, plant native plants, and recognize that pet releases are the most common form of invasive species. Her belief is that “knowledge is the best weapon.”
Erin is currently living in Washington D.C. and works as the Digital Outreach Coordinator for the Ocean Conservancy. She is also the Program Coordinator for the Don’t Release Me campaign through the REEF Environmental Education Foundation in Key Largo. Erin was also awarded a second Young Explorers Grant to study community-based invasive species management in Fiji and will soon be posting the results from her studies this past summer on her blog.
Contributor: Judy McDevitt