Carley Metcalf joined the Marine Discovery Center’s staff as education coordinator this spring. She began working remotely in early April, and then started as an in-person staff member in early May.
The Louisiana native brings to MDC a background of working in a variety of environmental roles ranging from whale and seabird research, marine mammal rescues and North Atlantic Right Whale monitoring to teaching science and leading students in climate literacy, as well as heading up community beautification projects with composting techniques for high school students.
Carley will oversee MDC’s widely popular summer camp program this year and brings some of her own experiences to the center’s education program, hoping to align MDC’s programming with school curriculum.
Read more about Carley in this interview with MDC staff writer Lisa D. Mickey:
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in a little town in Louisiana outside of New Orleans called Bucktown. It’s right across the parish line. I went to school there and left when I was 18 to go to college.
Q: Where did you get your education?
A: I went to Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., where I earned a degree in 2018 in marine science with a certification in sustainability. While I was there, I participated as an Honors Research Fellow in the Honors program as an environmental education mentor for freshmen. We conducted research on fiddler crab community dynamics. During the summer months, I was also a kayak guide in a salt marsh outside Myrtle Beach, S.C. That was a great experience.
Q: What did you do after you graduated?
A: I went to Cape Cod, Mass., where I was an intern with International Fund for Animal Welfare in their Marine Mammal Rescue and Research program. I spent about a year with them. In between two sessions with them, I went to Grand Manan, New Brunswick in Canada and participated in their field season as a research assistant. While there, I participated in basking shark surveys and tagging, as well as in carbonate chemistry data collection.
Q: Did those experiences lead to full-time work?
A: I got a job with Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) as an OPS Biological Scientist with manatee research and rescue and moved to Florida in January 2020. I worked for them until the end of March 2021 on a team of three people. There are numerous labs around Florida that focus just on manatee science. My lab handled southern Volusia County, as well all of Brevard County, as far south as Vero Beach, and as far west as Lake County. We ran the manatee hotline, which addressed citizens’ concerns. We answered questions or if the animal was in peril or deceased, we would respond, either for a rescue or necropsy. Necropsies were actually what got me interested in marine mammal science. In a necropsy, you can learn so much about the animal’s life, as well as how it died. That was one of my favorite parts of the job.
Q: Were you there for the record-setting manatee die-off in 2021?
A: I got to FWC in the middle of the UME [Unusual Mortality Event] in the summer of 2020. It was busy right from the start and we were stretched very thin. There were really high manatee mortality numbers for our last two winters.
Q: So, did you start working in education?
A: Not immediately. A position became available in November 2021 to join Clearwater Aquarium’s Aerial Observing team in North Carolina. FWC covers all of Florida’s waters for North Atlantic Right Whales with their team based in St. Simons Island, Ga. Last year, Clearwater Aquarium was granted funding to have teams in the Carolinas monitor for right whales during dredging activity. My position was funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I worked with a team to monitor for right whales as they were migrating south and then, back north. Not only did we see right whales, but we also saw sperm whales, a lot of humpback whales, beaked whales and manta rays. We were in a plane flying transects 40 to 60 miles offshore. I did that for one season, finishing up this April when I took the job at MDC.
Q: You had some real-science jobs, but what was it about working with kids that resonated with you?
A: In college, I loved being in classes and collecting data, but I really loved taking what I was learning in my classes and labs and making it more digestible for people on my kayak tours. Being in the classroom brought me back to that feeling. My favorite part of science as a whole is when I get to share it with kids or adults. I think science is a really great unifier. It allows you to connect yourself to the world and to connect with your own environment.
Q: Why was the job as MDC’s education coordinator appealing?
A: I love the part of this position that allows me to interact with all different groups coming from different parts of Florida. I was not expecting to fall in love with Florida the way I did when I moved here. MDC has so many different components, such as education, citizen-science and community engagement. It’s dynamic and is such a part of the community culture here. I saw MDC as a way to engage myself with the community and with Florida as a whole.
Q: How does your background and skill set fit at MDC as head of education?
A: I like breaking down information so that anyone from any walk of life and any age group can take that information and apply it to their own life. Because I’m a good communicator, I think that could facilitate a better understanding of our mission and what we’re trying to do here at MDC. I think my ability to adapt well will be helpful when it comes to summer camps, field trips and being opportunistic in all of the different sightings and different treasures that we’ll be able to find around campus and on our adventures.
Q: What do you think the biggest challenge will be?
A: I’m pretty fair-skinned, so probably sunburn! [Laughter]
Q: Will there be any changes with camps this year under your leadership?
A: I would love for our field trips and summer camps to adhere a little closer to Florida standards for education so that when kids are learning about our content here, it can relate back to what they’re learning in the classroom with their teachers. We can help them have a broader understanding of the science they get in schools. I would love for us to promote an inner-connectedness with everything they are learning here. I hope to look at the Volusia County Schools’ curriculum and see how we can cater our field trips each season with what they are learning in school at that time.
Q: What about MDC’s educational focus, in general?
A: I’m not expecting every single kid and parent to walk away from MDC feeling that they had their lightbulb moment or that they are now a changed human or earth warrior, but I do want to present information to them and connect it to their own lives in a way that they might walk away thinking that their experience has affected them – even later on in life, realizing that we were able to offer a connection to the environment surrounding them. Whether they like it or not, our environment is confronting us very blatantly and speaking to us. If I can just get them to listen for even a moment – or hear our mission in their heads as they go home – then maybe something can change for them.
Q: How important is it for this next generation to step up and make some changes? Is it easier to get children fired up than adults?
A: I think it’s harder to get kids fired up about things like water quality and environmental health because they are very big concepts. Adults might have an easier time. However, when you explain things to kids and relate it back to things they see every day, I think they are likely to care more. And when adults see their kids caring, the hope is they will care, as well.
Q: Have you worked a lot with kids?
A: During my summer months as a college student, I was a youth leader with a place called Groundwork New Orleans. I worked with middle school to high school students in city beautification projects in New Orleans. They had their own flower and vegetable beds. We also worked on rain garden installations. As their youth leader, I scheduled them and performed the tasks along with them. Later, as a substitute teacher, I worked in all kinds of classrooms with different age groups. I also have educational content experience from another nonprofit that I worked for called Albedo Climate Solutions. It’s an organization working to promote climate literacy through online summer programs with college students. The name is a play on words for the Albedo Effect, which is the ability of surfaces to reflect sunlight. [Note: Planetary Albedo helps determine Earth’s average temperature.]
Q: Did you teach science as substitute teacher?
A: I subbed at University Park in Brevard County in a general education position and they didn’t have science classes. They did have STEM classes for older kids, which was like engineering and computer science.
Q: You have the help of some very experienced volunteers at MDC.
A: I do and our volunteers are amazing! The ones I’ve met are so experienced and they have shown me the ropes. I’ve worked with some great volunteers in other places, but the volunteer force at MDC is like nothing I have ever seen before. It’s really impressive! Interacting with volunteers and discovering how much they know and how much they care for what they’re doing is always refreshing. I’m looking forward to seeing our volunteers in full force. They are incredibly enthusiastic about our summer camps, so I think it’s going to be cool.
Q: What excites you the most about helping MDC achieve its mission in education, conservation and exploration?
A: MDC already has a healthy energy and I get to come into such a well-oiled machine to work. I’ve already been welcomed with open arms and feel comfortable with the staff. I’m excited to see what we can achieve going forward.