When future generations sit down to a seafood dinner, they may want to give thanks to environmental advocates such as Emily Nocito ’16, who is launching a yearlong campaign to publicize the importance of marine protected areas as a way to restore ocean fisheries.
Emily, a Stony Brook University coastal environmental sciences major minoring in ecosystems and human impact, was honored with the top environmental award, the Oceans Prize, at the Millennium Campus Conference in New York City on August 13. The conference, hosted by the United Nations, is an annual symposium for university student leaders advancing global development. The honor comes with a $5,000 cash prize donated by the Remmer Family Foundation to fund that campaign, which will include a series of monthly global webinars.
Emily, from South Orange, New Jersey, hopes to use some of her winnings to set up a website that will help to spread the message via the webinars.
“I hope to show that restocking fisheries and marine protected areas are something that we millennials care about,” Emily said. “I expect that those in power will see that and act accordingly.”
Emily’s membership with JFEW SUNY Scholars Program in International Relations and Global Affairs, which is coordinated by SUNY Global with help from the Stony Brook University Career Center, led her to the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance (OSA). That is where she met Ellen Pikitch, a professor and executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, whose body of work focuses on developing science-based approaches to expand the amount of protected ocean in a financially sustainable way. Emily will serve as a research assistant for Pikitch during the coming school year.
“I was immediately awestruck when I met her,” said Emily. “She does such amazing work.”
When Emily found out that she was receiving the award, she headed straight to the beach to celebrate. “It seemed fitting to go to the Jersey Shore, where my love of the ocean began,” she said. “I like to joke that I learned to swim before I learned to walk.”
For Emily, every moment in the ocean is unique. “The bottom is constantly changing, the animals inside are moving, the actual waves are always different,” she said.
No wonder Emily loves the ocean — her own academic path mirrors its ever-changing flow.
Her scholastic portfolio is packed with accomplishments and affiliations many students would envy, including Bard College C2C Fellow, FameLab participant, Hillel’s Women Wellness coordinator and TEDxSBU Women Speaker. Emily is also a member of honors societies such as Golden Key International, National Residence Hall Honorary, National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Sigma Beta Honor Society and Sigma Xi Research Society.
Emily’s environmental accomplishments are no less impressive and include Eco Leader, Friends of Fire Island National Seashore-SBU chapter president, Ideas Marketplace winner for her study of constructed wetlands on Long Island, and two-time Undergraduate Research at Stony Brook University presenter.
She interned at OSA, was a lab assistant for three months at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) in 2013, and was a research assistant and team leader in the Ecotoxicology Lab from November 2013 until May 2015, co-authoring a scientific paper on the effects of glyphosate on Eisenia fetida, the common earthworm.
Emily made the effect of the herbicide, Roundup, on soil microbial respiration and the earthworm’s health the subject of her URECA 2015 presentation.
All these endeavors have made her a more confident, more articulate advocate for applying the wisdom of science to solving the ocean’s environmental crises.
“FameLab taught me how to convey sometimes tricky scientific ideas in a more palatable form without dumbing them down, and how to get over my initial nerves when speaking in front of people,” she said. “C2C taught me how to market myself, and more important, my ideas,” Emily said.
Although the SoMAS lab was Emily’s first lab experience, it was the Ecotoxicology Lab where she became a leader.
“I got to help run a lab from the paperwork plan to the implementation, dealing with hiccups and snafus while working with an amazing group of undergraduates,” she said.
But her internship with OSA is what really jump-started the campaign that motivates her now. “I learned more in eight weeks than I could have ever imagined,” she said.
After her speech and presentation on August 13, Emily and her fellow honorees from other disciplines (peace, equality, health and youth) assembled into groups so that UN delegates could learn about the students’ campaigns.
Emily’s long-range plan involves consulting with local experts, such as fishermen and professors, and asking them what has changed in the past few decades and how they are dealing with fisheries in crisis, and then raising awareness.
“It could be as simple as hosting a documentary or fun movie like Finding Nemo on campus, or doing something with younger grades such as educating them about marine protected areas. Half of the battle is awareness,” Emily said.
“I really believe that 10 percent of the world’s oceans and seas can be conserved by 2020,” she said. “My biggest focus right now is bringing awareness to that goal.”
— Glenn Jochum