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Safe Boating Week: Spotlight on Sea Grant Extension Agent Sarah Orlando

Ohio Sea Grant Extension Educator & Clean Marina and Limnology Outreach Coordinator

Sarah Orlando is an Extension Educator based in the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Coastal Management in Sandusky. She is the coordinator for the Ohio Clean Marinas and Clean Boaters programs – voluntary, incentive-based programs to help maintain and improve coastal and Lake Erie water quality while preserving the economic activity and viability of the marine trades industry. Her primary responsibilities include conducting applied research and education programs regarding Clean Marinas, Clean Boaters, non-point source Lake Erie water quality, and other Lake Erie issues. She will be collaborating with stakeholders throughout the region to improve education about non-point source pollution and to develop a balanced approach to protecting Lake Erie water quality. Full bio

It’s Safe Boating Week, what is the one thing everyone needs to know about being safe while out on the water?

Never underestimate a body of water just because it is shallow or small. Lake Erie can go from calm and safe to choppy and dangerous very quickly, and boaters should always be prepared. Especially early in the season, when the water is still cold from the winter, you should have a life jacket on at all times. There are so many varieties of personal floatation devices; it is easy to find one that is both comfortable and effective.

What is something cool you learned while working with commercial/recreational boaters?

I learned that most boaters are inherently “protective” of our waterways, but that there is a need for education to enable them to recognize opportunities for protection. Whether performing outreach on harmful algal bloom awareness, clean boating practices, or invasive species prevention, I have very much enjoyed observing the responses of stakeholders once provided with the educational knowledge to create a clean and safe boating environment. Often it is an “aha!” moment.

What drove you to work on outreach within the boating community? 

My parents and grandparents took me boating and fishing often, and interacting with the boating community in my career is something that I gravitated to naturally.

How did you get involved with Sea Grant? When did you join Sea Grant? 

I participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates at Ohio Sea Grant’s biological field station, F.T. Stone Laboratory, as a junior in college, and was able to observe Sea Grant agents performing outreach in that setting. I didn’t know it at the time but this experience was a major factor in my decision to re-direct my career from one in an ocean setting to one involved with the Great Lakes. I interned with Texas Sea Grant during graduate school, where I was able to grasp the mission of Sea Grant and interact with agents in a variety of specialties. As I observed Sea Grant agents in their roles, I noticed that they do a little bit of everything – and I loved the impact they were making by bringing science to the community. I joined Ohio Sea Grant in December of 2011 after finishing my Master’s degree.

What is your favorite part about being a Sea Grant Extension agent?

Interacting with as many different people as we do. As an extension agent, I find myself working with young children to senior citizens, from novice boaters to Watercraft officers, and everything in between. I am always learning from these experiences and I enjoy providing science-based information to these individuals so that they may make educated decisions regarding our water resources.

What is the biggest challenge you face at your job?

Misconceptions about a topic and addressing those misconceptions effectively. Having science on our side certainly helps.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?

My grandparents had a pool, so I grew up swimming about the same time I could walk, and I could often be found with a snorkel and fins on, pretending I was on a marine expedition. I told my mom I was going to be a marine biologist in eighth grade. I was always interested in the outdoors, and when I found a career that combined my passion for the outdoors with my passion for the water, I never looked back!

What part of your job did you least expect to be doing?

I never expected to be working in the same region I grew up in! It’s exciting and rewarding to be working to continue toward a safe and healthy Lake Erie.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for someone wanting to explore a career in science?

Sea Change, by Sylvia Earle. I feel this book is the “Silent Spring” of my generation. I read it in high school and remember feeling equal parts captivated, concerned, and called to action.

And how about a personal favorite book?

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott.

Do you have an outside hobby?

Yes, if I can find the time. I love anything and everything related to water – swimming, scuba diving, water skiing, beachcombing – and you can do all of these activities on Lake Erie!

What surprised you most about working at Sea Grant?

How well connected and collaborative the organization is. You can call up a colleague across the country that will help you with a topic you’re exploring, or leave a Sea Grant meeting with a project idea in hand that genuinely integrates several states’ programs and meets a need for the stakeholders we serve.

Meet other Sea Grant Extension Agents working to help people be safe and sustainable boaters:

Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program Agent Torie Baker

Louisiana Sea Grant Extension Agent Lauren Land

Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium Peter Nyugen

New York Sea Grant Extension Agent David White

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