Photography by Dana Bunnell-Young
Photograph by Thomas Fisher
Birthplace: Seaford, Delaware
Current City: Cambridge, Maryland
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I told everyone that I wanted to be a marine biologist, but I really just wanted to be Jacques Cousteau. I loved the idea of exploring the oceans and sharing my experiences with the world through film and photography.
How did you get started in your field of work?
I got into environmental science in college. In my first year, I started training as a leader for my school's outdoor adventures program. I reconnected with my love for nature through rock climbing, backpacking, caving, and canoeing. Although I had started college with an undecided major, my time spent in the outdoor adventures program encouraged me to become an environmental science major. I became heavily committed to protecting the environment. As an undergraduate environmental research assistant, I participated in research that could be applied to cleaning up the local waterways. I decided that I wanted to spend my life researching the environment and teaching others about the impact that humans have on the world around us.
What inspires you to dedicate your life to environmental science?
I grew up on the Eastern Shore on the Chesapeake Bay. Much of my summers were spent kayaking, fishing, and crabbing. As a kid, I could sit by the river for hours and watch the birds and water. I know how important the waters are that I grew up loving. The Chesapeake and its rivers have major ecological, economic, and inherent value to the Mid-Atlantic region. My parents joke that I am working towards "saving the Bay." My coworkers and I are dedicated to finding solutions to the problems that the Chesapeake and other waterways are facing today. My inspiration is my childhood spent on the water. I want future generations to be able to enjoy the water like I did and still do.
What's a normal day like for you?
Currently, I am still doing my coursework for my Ph.D. I take about three classes a semester. In a normal day, I spend two to three hours in class and then spend the rest of the day reading, doing homework, meeting with my lab group, or working on my research for my thesis. After I am done with my courses, I will focus solely on my thesis research and any research that my lab group is conducting. At this time, my days will be spent mostly in the field collecting samples and running experiments or in the laboratory processing my field samples.
Do you have a hero and, if so, why is this person your hero?
I have a lot of heroes, but one that stands out to me is Rachel Carson. She was a strong woman that became a highly educated and well-respected expert in her field at a time when it was uncommon for women to become scientists. She was also an activist who spoke out when she knew that the status quo was wrong and harming people and the environment.
What's been your favorite experience in the field? Most challenging?
My favorite field experience was doing a crayfish survey in the Monocacy River, Maryland. We were studying the distribution of the invasive species, the rusty crayfish. I got to travel the majority of the river and see how the surrounding land was influencing the river and its wildlife. The most challenging aspect of fieldwork on the Eastern Shore is that people are wary of scientists working on their land. Landowners, particularly farmers, are often blamed for the problems with local waterways. It is therefore understandable that at times it is difficult to convince landowners that we are only trying to study the problem and work toward solutions and not trying to make them the sole party responsible for it.
What are your other passions?
I love horseback riding and music, particularly reggae (my brother is a reggae musician so I am biased).
What do you do in your free time?
I enjoy spending time outdoors with my husband and our dog, Chi-Chi. We especially like to hike, canoe, camp, and fish.
If you could have people do one thing to help the environment, what would it be?
I ask that people not take the environment, especially the natural waterways, for granted, and that they take the time to enjoy them more often. I feel that once people feel a connection to the environment, then they will be more willing to help protect it. If a family enjoys going to a state park or boating on a local river, then they should understand the value of reducing their use of fertilizers or using a rain barrel. We have a beautiful and amazing planet and if we fail to recognize that, then we will never be able to keep it that way.
Latest Explorer News
- Inner-space Mission to the Bottom of the Ocean
- Google+ Hangout: Your Questions About Life in Space
- The Vanishing Vakul, and the Changing Indigenous Ivatan Culture
- Mardi Gras from Louisiana’s Cajun Country
- On the Trail of the Elusive Pacific Marten
- Crocodiles and Corals: Face-to-Face With Cuba’s Coral Reef
- March 2, 2014: Swimming from Cuba to Florida, Buying Camels in Yemen and More
- Counting Tigers by Their Stripes
- Wolf Tracks Found on Mt. Hood, First Since 1947
- Tackling Overfishing on Many Fronts
Follow @NatGeoExplorers on Twitter
In Their Words
My inspiration is my childhood spent on the water. I want future generations to be able to enjoy the water like I did and still do.
Sarah talks about her inspirations before departing for Ellesmere Island.
Meet Our Conservationists
Brad Norman is piecing together the puzzle of how to monitor and protect whale sharks.
Our Explorers in Action
Meet female explorers who have pushed the limits in adventure, science, and more.