Biologist enjoys challenges of field work
Plying the waters of the Indian River Lagoon in a research vessel is a dream job for St. Johns River Water Management District biologist Lauren Hall.
Hall’s official title is Environmental Scientist III, but her responsibilities vary from day to day, whether she’s managing contracts, below the water’s surface surveying seagrass, collecting water samples from the lagoon and the St. Johns River, or in her office at the Palm Bay Service Center entering and analyzing data.
“The biggest challenge I face is time,” Hall says. “There are so many sites to gather water quality samples, but only so many hours in a day.” Hall’s decision to follow a STEM career (science, technology, engineering and math) is rooted in a childhood shaped by frequent jaunts with her grandfather, a doctor who, as she puts it, “had a love of all things in nature.”
“When I was about seven years old, my grandfather would take me on nature walks in upstate New York, about an hour north of the city,” she recalls. “During these walks, I would take notes on every bird I could identify by sight or call.”
Hall’s interests in nature shifted to marine life during a family vacation to Sea World when she was eight or nine.
“Once I went to Sea World, I thought ‘I want to do that’,” Hall says. “Now I actually swim with the dolphins, so to speak.”
The New York native earned bachelor’s degrees in marine biology and aquaculture and a master’s degree in ecology from the Florida Institute of Technology. She began her career at the district as an intern, working in the marshes of the upper St. Johns River.
“I absolutely love working outside,” Hall says. “Field work will keep you on your toes. Whenever you think you know what to expect, you’ll be surprised by what Mother Nature has to show you.”
Over the years, the lagoon has surprised her countless times, whether it was her discovery of exotic Australian jellyfish in the lagoon in 2001 or the ability of seagrass to rebound following a sun-light blocking algal bloom.
“The Indian River Lagoon is facing serious issues,” Hall says. “Algal blooms have plagued this amazing and diverse system, which renders scientists more important than ever right now. Understanding how the factors affecting these blooms interact will help scientists and managers make the best management decisions to positively impact the lagoon.”
Hall, a mother of three, says she and her husband, Ethan, are instilling in their children the same love and respect for the natural world.
“My sons and daughter are successful in science at school in part because we exposed them to so much of the outdoors at an early age,” Hall says. “I’m grateful to work for an agency that is supportive of family life, too. Juggling a career and children has never been an issue.”
What would Hall tell a young woman interested in a STEM career? “Do what you love and love what you do. Follow your passion and don’t let anyone tell you your dreams are out of reach.”