First day surfing (by which I mean wiping out), Cape Lookout, North Carolina USA. Teri O’Meara, surf wahine/ scientist, for Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind
Where were you born, and where do you live now?
I was born in Chicago, IL but I live in Knoxville, TN
Where are your favorite waters?
California Baja Sur
Would you please share a favourite water memory or two?
The first time I learned to surf, my friend Claude took me out during a hurricane and told me the 3 basic rules of surfing in his unique Harkers’ Island accent:
- Paddle, dammit, paddle
Then left me to figure the rest out on my own. After continually getting caught in the washing machine, I eventually stood up. It was probably for a millisecond, but I was hooked. It was the best way to be introduced to the sport.
Taking salt marsh sediment samples in Sage Lot Pond (Massachusetts, USA) for biogeochemical analysis. Teri O Meara sampling sediment, for Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind
How do you incorporate nature in your life, and the way you make a living?
Previously, I have always incorporated nature in my work through fieldwork, not just for my own projects, but also as a volunteer helping with other people’s projects. I’ve had some great adventures as a volunteer including shark tagging, night-time wolf spider hunting, and restoring shellfish reefs and beds.
Currently, I am working on adapting computer models of terrestrial ecosystems to use in coastal habitats so I do not get to incorporate nature into my work directly. However, I live in Knoxville, TN, just 40 minutes from the Great Smoky Mountain National park. My dog and I take full advantage of the excellent hiking, canoeing and camping in eastern Tennessee.
Hey there little shark! Teri O’ MEara for Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind
Why do you do what you do?
It’s lame, but I can’t imagine doing anything else. Since I went to a small liberal arts school, I had the chance to test out a few career paths, but all the other subjects were boring.
What happens when you don’t have time for nature?
I get depressed and spend way too much time planning vacations.
Teri-tasking…getting the snow chains on for a snowboarding trip having her sandwich and eating it too. Mt Hutt, Canterbury, NZ. Photo by Craig Norrie. Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind
Could you please share a time or experience where you felt lost in the crowd, like a tiny, insignificant drop?
I went out for dawn patrol alone because I couldn’t get any of my friends out of bed. It was supposed to be decent hurricane swell, but I couldn’t see through the heavy fog that settled in overnight. I couldn’t resist and decided to paddle out anyway. I could hear the voices of other surfers nearby, but I couldn’t see anyone. I was surrounded by people and totally alone. Eventually, I got caught inside a rogue wave and held under in the wash. I didn’t breathe again until I was on shore. It probably wasn’t that long, but it felt like forever.
How did you turn that around, and how did you get back to feeling like you were a whole Ocean in a Drop?
I walked home from the beach and decided to drown my sorrows in pancakes and maple syrup. My roommates (and a few couch crashers) started to wake up and contribute to breakfast. When all was said and done, we sat down and enjoyed an enormous family-style breakfast feast together and I told them how my morning went. They didn’t make me feel dumb for paddling out, but they did tell me to get back on the horse and we paddled out in a group that afternoon.
Life on the edge: where salt and freshwater meet. Here, Teri O’Meara is getting a sediment core sample to be analysed for nutrient levels in the lab. This is a way to assess the impact of human activity on nature, and how the natural world is handling civilization. Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind.
Is there anything bothering you about the whole eco/green/conservation thing at the moment?
When people get really angry and preachy. I think it is really hard to effectively reach out to people through shouting and shaming. There are plenty of great examples of how to engage and educate without making people feel dumb.
*I’m doing a standing ovation here. – Candace
What do you find is working? And what change do you hope to see in this lifetime?
Knowing your audience. Different people have different values. What scientists and the general public deem important can seem very different even if they are essentially the same thing. For example, I care about ecosystem services and ecosystem function. The public I engage with are primarily concerned with waterways being fishable/swimmable. They mean the same thing. Healthy ecosystems that function properly will provide services like improved water quality-i.e. fishable/swimmable waterways. However, using jargon alienates people and decreases the strength of the message.
I would like to see people realise that we are not separate entities from nature. What happens to the environment happens to us too.
Teri O’Meara cave-diving in the Poor Knights Reserve. New Zealand. Photo by Craig Norrie. Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind
Is there anything you would love to tell the you from ten years ago?
Don’t be afraid to take a break! I went straight from undergrad to a PhD program and then to a postdoc (and now to my 2nd postdoc). I never took any time off or worked outside of academia in-between. As much as I love what I do, taking breaks would have been really good for establishing a healthy work-life balance.
Any suggestions for the next drop?
Somewhere in the Atlantic 🙂
Where can we find out more about the work you do?
*I was so lucky to meet Teri through work/ my PhD candidature at Leigh Marine Lab in New Zealand. This is where she did her first post-doc, inspiring a whole bunch of us as she carried out experiments on nutrient analyses in estuaries, and studied how the flora and fauna in this ecosystem are connected. xo Candace Loy
Norman and I coding from home. Obviously, he’s not happy about it. – Teri O’Meara, for Ocean in a Drop California x Blue Mind.