Kerrin Toner, a master’s student in the College of the Coast and Environment at Louisiana State University (LSU), has been selected as a 2020-2022 Coastal Management Fellow. She will work as part of the US Virgin Islands Coastal Zone Management Program for two years as she helps them update the St. Thomas East End Reserves Management Plan to recover and improve coastal resilience.
“I was drawn to this opportunity because not only does it give me the opportunity to work with the marine and coastal ecosystems that depend on the St. Thomas East End Reserves to function but also the local coastal communities,” said Toner. “I will learn how to do what is best for humans and nature.”
Toner, a native of Long Island, has long held a strong connection with water resources. An avid surfer, she witnessed first-hand some of the changes happening to her home coast. She is also no stranger to the Gulf of Mexico coast, having gone to school at the University of Florida (UF) and working in its Institute of Food and Agricultural Science Laboratory as a fisheries technician. Toner will also be bringing outreach, education and communication experience to her fellowship. She volunteered with Surfrider Foundation coordinating beach cleanups, worked as a marine science instructor at SeaCamp in the Florida Keys and was a UF SEVENSEAS Media Student Ocean Ambassador.
Her volunteer work with Surfrider positioned her well for the transition to graduate school. At LSU, Toner works on a Louisiana Sea Grant-funded research project looking at microplastics in the Gulf of Mexico. “I cannot overstate just what a highly capable and enthusiastic scientist Kerrin is,” said her LSU Department of Oceanography advisor Mark Benfield, “She has great people skills and it’s clear she’s also a good leader. She’s taken our research on plastics very seriously and has found unique ways to expand upon it. I’m really going to miss her in my lab and she’s going to be a tough act for future students to follow.”
Toner will be able to merge her past research experience with this new opportunity since part of her duties will include water quality assessments in the East End Reserves. And this is something she hopes to continue to do throughout her career. “Resource management practices are what puts the science that researchers work so hard on into action,” said Toner. “It’s what protects fisheries from being overfished, mangroves from being ripped out and developed on, coral reefs from becoming take zones, and so many other things that are important in maintaining the health of an ecosystem. Without resource management scientists would just be doing science for the sake of science.”
Established in 1996 to provide hands-on job experience in coastal resource management and policy, the Coastal Management Fellowship is a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and state management agencies. Toner received one of only six fully funded Coastal Management opportunities.