Terri Kirby Hathaway is passionate about sharing her expertise in coastal and marine education, and research with others — topics of unparalleled importance to the Outer Banks.
As a marine education specialist with North Carolina Sea Grant, Hathaway enlightens and instructs college professors, teachers of all grade levels, museum educators, and even parents who home-school their kids about the importance of conserving and protecting our oceans and coasts. The goal is to create an awareness and understanding of the symbiotic and mutualistic relationships in the ocean, and the role humans play in acting as stewards.
It’s a big job — one fit for Poseidon, Greek god of the sea — and Hathaway is all in.
“To facilitate learning, you must make the topic relevant to the learner. Sometimes it takes breaking the topic down into smaller chunks of information, and relating that information to something familiar," says Hathaway, a certified environmental educator who joined North Carolina Sea Grant in 2003.
"For example, if I’m teaching about global climate change and global warming, instead of talking about the greenhouse effect, which may be confusing to some, I talk about global warming being similar to a heat-trapping blanket around the Earth. Everyone seems to understand how putting a blanket on us keeps us warm. Carbon dioxide is like a blanket, trapping all the warmth under the blanket and not letting it back out into the atmosphere."
The state and federally funded Sea Grant program is centered on scientific research, education, training, and extension projects geared toward the conservation and practical use of the coasts, oceans, and other marine areas. It facilitates funding for millions of dollars of research, outreach and education programs each year. Research and projects range from seafood science and fisheries, to water quality, aquaculture, law and policy, coastal hazards, and more. The organization provides unbiased, scientifically sound information about the state’s coastal ecosystems.
"You need to know your audience, and discover what they think is relevant and important and relate to them through that connection," she says. "I try to use as many different types of teaching methods as I can during workshops. ... A combination of lectures, field trips, if possible, and hands-on activities using various techniques makes for a decent learning environment."
The North Carolina native earned a bachelor’s degree in marine biology at University of North Carolina Wilmington in 1979. Twenty years later, she earned a master’s in science education from East Carolina University.
After earning her bachelor's degree, she worked in Tampa, Florida, and then in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where she worked on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve project at McNeese State University.
The project carried her to Galveston Island, Texas, which is comprised of a 32-mile coastline along the Gulf of Mexico, and is rich in forests, grasslands, wetlands, and bayou habitats.
"The project was doing the monitoring before and after salt was leached from salt domes for underground storage of oil reserves," Hathaway says. "Water was pumped into the underground salt domes to dissolved the salt; then that super-saline water was pumped from the salt dome and released into the Gulf of Mexico about 10 miles offshore."
From January 1981 to May 1985, Hathaway was part of a team that studied the effects of the super-saline water on animals and the physical environment — including fishes, shrimps, crabs, phytoplankton, zooplankton, benthos (animals that live on or in the bottom), sediment and water quality, and special pollutants, among other things.
Galveston is a mecca for marine biologists and researchers. The Galveston Bay system and the wetlands along its margins is the seventh largest estuary in the United States and has traditionally served as a productive nursery grounds for many aquatic species. The waters off the coast of Galveston are also the site of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, one of 14 federally designated underwater areas protected by NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries — and the only sanctuary site located in the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1985, Hathaway returned to the Tar Heel State and accepted a position as curator of education at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.
She sees her role as a scientist-to-layperson translator. Her position requires that she identify and coordinate coastal curricula for use in classrooms across the state, organizes teacher workshops, and serve as an education associate with the Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence-Southeast, serving North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
She also makes presentations at conferences for various education organizations, including Environmental Educators of N.C., the Mid-Atlantic Marine Education Association, the N.C. Science Teachers Association, the National Marine Educators Association, and the North American Association for Environmental Education. In addition, she published a marine education newsletter, “Scotch Bonnet,” three times a year.
Her hands-on approach, affable demeanor, and engaging teaching style are a hit. Her classes include a look at how marine and estuarine animals reproduce, how to tell one shell from another, and how to identify some of the common things found when scouring the beaches, among other topics.
By serving as a bridge between the often-complicated world of research and the world inhabited by non-science types, Hathaway is in good company.
History of marine science
The earliest recorded study of marine life dates back to ancient Greece and Aristotle (384–322 BC) — dubbed “the father of marine biology” — who documented his observations of marine mammals, oviparous and viviparous vertebrates. Other men followed:
• Captain James Cook (1728-1779), a British explorer, cartographer, and navigator;
• Famed naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) whose research aboard the HMS Beagle, a British warship, included important observations about the geology of the islands and coastlines he visited, including the Galapagos Islands, as well as a theory of atoll formation — coral reefs that form small islands that enclose a lagoon. It would be more than a century before Darwin’s theory was proven correct; and
• Scottish naturalist Sir Charles Wyville Thomson (1830-1882), chief scientist aboard the British ship HMS Challenger, whose three-year research expedition resulted in the identification of 4,717 new marine species, the discovery of the mid-Atlantic Ridge, an outline of the main contours of the ocean basins, and the first systematic plot of currents and temperatures in the ocean, among other findings. He is credited with revolutionizing oceanography.
It would take more than 2,000 years from the time of Aristotle for pioneering women to break into the male-dominated field, and take the deep dive into the ocean’s health — and they revolutionized it.
• The research of Augusta Foote Arnold (1844-1904), a marine biologist, ecologist and author, was the first female research funded by the National Science Foundation. Her 600-page tome, “The Sea-Beach at Ebb-Tide” (published in 1901) was regarded as the most comprehensive, scientifically accurate field guide to marine life. The book remained relevant for decades;
• The work of marine biologist Myrtle E. Johnson (1881-1967) was considered groundbreaking in the field. Her book, “Seashore Animals of the Pacific Coast,” published in 1927, was considered the bible of the seashore by naturalists and teachers for many years;
• Oceanographic cartographer Marie Tharp (1920-2006) was the first person to map the ocean floor, disproving the prevailing theories that the seafloor was entirely flat;
• Author, marine biologist and fierce environmentalist Rachel Carson (1907-1964) is hailed as one of the most important conservationists in history. She studied at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in 1929, and in 1932, she received her master’s degree in zoology from Johns Hopkins University. She went on to turn her research into well-received books about aquatic life. Her prize-winning study of the ocean, “The Sea Around Us,” was published in 1952, and her “The Edge of the Sea” followed in 1955. For her work, she was awarded a National Book Award, a national science writing-prize, and a Guggenheim grant. She is hailed as one of the most important conservationists in history and widely credited for creating the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency;
• Marine biologist and explorer Sylvia Earle (1935-), former chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, founded SEAlliance, part of a global initiative to restore health and productivity to the ocean;
• Katy Payne (1937), a renowned acoustic biologist, and her husband, Roger Payne of Ocean Alliance, were the first to recognize that the haunting calls of humpback whales were not random sounds, but rather complex songs that other humpbacks memorize and sing to each other, often riffing and putting their own spin on the melody; and
• A deep-sea research pioneer, Cindy Lee Van Dover (1954-) is the only female to pilot Alvin, a deep-ocean research submersible, and was pilot-in-command of 48 dives. Van Dover’s research focuses on deep-ocean exploration, the study of gene flow and connectivity of deep-sea organisms, deep-sea conservation and environmental management, and exploring new models for deep-ocean research. She also is a critically acclaimed author. Her work includes the textbook, “The Ecology of Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents” — the first authoritative and comprehensive account of this research in a book intended for students, professionals, and the general public — “Deep-Ocean Journeys,” and “The Octopus’ Garden,” a narrative on her experiences as a deep-sea scientist.
Hathaway says she has a copy of Augusta Foote Arnold's "The Sea-Beach at Ebb-Tide" on her office book shelf.
"When I checked the inside cover, where I write my name and the date purchased, I found that I bought that book in 1978, while I was at UNCW studying marine biology," she says.
Today, women in the field of marine biology and research account for a mere 30 percent of the world's marine science and ocean researchers, according to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Hathaway says she "has hope for the future," based, in part, on the extraordinary efforts of 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who recently testified on Capitol Hill. On Sept. 25, Thunberg was awarded the Right Livelihood Award — also known as the "Alternative Nobel" — orchestrated a massive climate strike that attracted a worldwide crowd of more than 4 million people, and is nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
"I’m very impressed with Greta Thunberg — and seeing her, listening to her, and watching all the youth calling attention to the threat of global climate change gives me goosebumps."
Hathaway hopes her outreach efforts will inspire young women to enter the field, or at least instill in them a desire to take personal responsibility in helping to protect marine, coastal and wetland environments.
Just as someone, somewhere along the line lit a fire inside the powerhouse Swedish teen activist, so, too Hathaway may be an unsung hero of change.
"Informal educators, like myself, have no idea whether we’re reaching our audiences after a 30-minute program," she says. "It’s hard to evaluate the success of an informal education program since it’s pretty much a one-time deal."
But she knows she did inspire one young woman — with whom she had a relatively brief interaction — to dive into the silent, undersea panorama, where dolphins, seahorses, exotic fish, squid, eels, sharks, and other marine cruise by forests of soft corals, blooming in fiery hues.
"I was at the NC Aquarium for 18 years, and during that time I did numerous education programs for the public. In 2015, I received an email from a young lady who had attended one of my shark programs back in 1990, when she was 10," Hathaway says. "After the program, her mother told me that Laura was crazy about sharks, so I took her family behind the shark tank, showed her some shark jaws, etcetera. In that 2015 email, Laura told me that she still remembered that experience at the Aquarium, and that she became a scuba diver. She was emailing me to thank me for my time and attention that day in 1990. We became friends on Facebook, and recently, Laura has been cage-diving with white sharks in South Africa."
Global warming, destruction of marine habitats, sonic surveys, and other environmental issues can be divisive topics, but the ocean is a continuous body of salt water that encompasses more than 70 percent of the Earth's surface — roughly 97 percent of the planet's water supply.
"I hear many people say that the ocean divides us," Hathaway says, "but if you think about it, the ocean is really what connects us all."