Environmental Researcher or Adrenaline Junkie: Sailing Through Changing Research Directions

About the author: Sandy Raimondo is a research ecologist with the Office of Research and Development in Gulf Breeze, FL. She joined EPA in 2003 and models potential effects of toxicants on organisms and populations.

Sandy and dog on boatA few months ago I joined a crew on a sailboat that competes in the local yacht club races. I’ve never been a huge water person, much more of a mountaineer than a sailor, but since I live on the Gulf coast I decided to harness the side of nature that’s in my backyard rather than dwell on what wasn’t. Since moving here I’ve given sea kayaking a whirl and tried to learn how to surf, but sailing definitely suits me better – I don’t eat sand nearly as much as I did trying to surf, and my body thanks me for it. But it’s also the invigoration that goes along with a boat keeled on its side, cutting through the water, powered by something that you can’t see. Or maybe it’s the Jimmy Buffet.

Anyway, sometimes I think environmental research is a lot like sailing. Not in the sense that it’s a breeze, or that you sit in your little vessel and let something else push you a long, although sometimes you actually do get to move downwind and head straight toward your goal. But much more often you have to tack back and forth against the wind, constantly changing directions to get to your eventual finish. But since the finish is a buoy, it’s not really concretely fastened. These days, new environmental challenges blow in before we can address the ones that popped up last year. Its one of those things that might be frustrating if all you want to do is sail downwind. But if you like the adrenaline rush of hanging off the side of the boat to keep yourself level while your direction and speed are determined by which way the wind is blowing, then environmental research is a good place to be.