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On watch with Shelley Brown, Ph.D., Sailors for the Sea

Published on August 25th, 2015

As the Education Director at Sailors for the Sea in Newport, Rhode Island, Shelley Brown, Ph.D. has turned a lifelong affinity for sailing and ocean conservation into a rewarding vocation.

“I’ve always been passionate about the ocean,” says Shelley, who lives in Newport. “I grew up right on the beach in Saunderstown, and became interested in the ocean at a very young age. I took swimming lessons, and played in tidal pools whenever I could. My parents, Chris & Kathleen Brown, owned a Pearson Triton, and I was sailing before I could walk. My dad started sailing when he moved to Rhode Island and became a professor at the University of Rhode Island, and after that he could never leave the Ocean State.

“I learned a lot from him, and he inspired me to go into the marine world. My parents tell me that I used to wear a bathing suit all the time, under a dress or other clothing, just in case there might be an opportunity for me to go swimming!”

“I received my Ph.D. in Molecular Biology at the University of Rhode Island,” says Shelley. “My research focused on how human-caused environmental conditions impact nitrogen cycling microbes in coastal environments, including Narragansett Bay.

“I was really interested in things like warming water temperatures and low oxygen, how those things impact the microbes, and what that means for our environment. During my Ph.D., I did some work as a visiting scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Atlantic Ecology Division.

“We would go out into the field to collect sediment cores, bring them back to the lab in Narragansett, and put the cores under different environmental conditions such as ranging oxygen levels. We would monitor what the microbes were doing, and my job was to identify the different microbes and determine when they were active and what was driving their activity.”

“I felt that there was a gap between the research and that information getting out to the public, so I did a lot of outreach work during my Ph.D. I wanted to get into the educational field, so I joined the team at Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. The Clearwater sails between Albany and New York City, and we’d take school groups out twice a day, about 50 kids each time, Shelley adds.

“We’d teach them about what’s living in the Hudson River, the river’s history, and navigation, and they’d help raise the sails. Pete Seeger had passed away just before I started working aboard the Clearwater, but his legacy definitely lives on. – Full report

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