Home / Blogs / A Career Inspired by Marsh Mucking
July 2, 2021
Jamie Alberti during the 2002 Patuxent River Sojourn
Would you put stock in a 12-year-old deciding their career path? That’s exactly what I did. At 12 years old, I put all my apples into one basket and never looked back! Thanks to a two-week summer camp trip down the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay from the Susquehanna River to Smith Island, I then and there decided to pursue a career in environmental science. The water, the land, the marshes, the sun, the rain, the people, the critters…they all spoke to me. And what I heard led me to where I am today.
I have worked with the Alliance for over 20 (cough, cough) years, starting when I was 20 years old. While studying biology with a concentration in ecology at Loyola Maryland, I was introduced to the Alliance through a friend of an acquaintance (you know it’s all about who you know!). That relationship brought me face to face with the inspirational Executive Director Fran Flanigan herself, who invited me on board starting as a volunteer/intern where I assisted with a wide variety of activities (many of which were not very glamorous) in support of Alliance staff. One truly special event that I was able to participate in as an undergrad was the Across the Generations Dialogue where top scientists who spent their careers on Chesapeake work imparted their vast knowledge and experiences to the next generation of scientists and students. Meeting legends in the field was truly inspiring. After graduation, I began to work full-time with the Alliance and was eager to soak up as many experiences as I could.
I had the opportunity to participate in all aspects of Alliance work, from administrative assistance to supporting the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Chesapeake Bay Program to restoration and education work. It was the restoration and outreach work that really piqued my interest and where I directed my focus whenever possible. I remember my first assignment as project lead…organizing a volunteer tree planting at Hart-Miller Island in the early 2000s. It was with this assignment that I got to plan the project how I envisioned it and really got a taste for project management. It was great to see how things came together, work with a group of passionate volunteers, and adjust to meet the needs of the project. I was ready for more!
A highlight of my early career was participating in submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) projects. After receiving my SCUBA certification, I helped to harvest and transplant these underwater grasses to increase grass bed coverage to support fish and other critter habitat. We conducted fish sampling surveys to gauge the effectiveness of these efforts, and I came to find that the sound of a croaker is really cool and that banded killifish are pretty awesome! Only once did I need to scold a crab for tearing a small fish in half before I was able to measure it. In the shallows near Langley Air Force Base in the Newport News area, I experienced an unforgettable sight. While diving for SAV, I looked across the shallows at clear water as far as I could see. And lo and behold, in front of me was a little seahorse, cute as could be, hanging onto a blade of underwater grass. If ever there was an incentive for doing the work I do, this was it…clean water that supports wildlife and a healthy ecosystem.
Inspired by these projects and how restoration practices can really make a difference locally, I began to think bigger picture. If small volunteer projects can have this impact, imagine the reach we could have through educating large groups! While going to night school to earn my Masters in Education, I took on projects that had more of an educational component to them. First up was working with DC public schools to help provide meaningful Bay experiences to students. Together with partners, the Alliance worked through several lessons and grew SAV in the classroom to plant in the Anacostia River. The kids were excited about the hands-on work and getting outdoors! Extending into the communities, the Alliance partnered with the District Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) to conduct a rain barrel give away and training. Each project gave us a great chance to get to know the community and share our excitement and expertise in restoration practices.
Students planting trees in Washington, DC, 2002
One of my favorite programs that I fondly look back on is the River Sojourns. There is no greater educational opportunity than getting people out on the water to experience firsthand the importance of environmental practices that lead to healthy lands and water. Provide them with fun-filled experiences alongside a great group of folks while learning about local issues and you plant the seed for continued stewardship. Meeting new folks and helping them to build a connection to the Potomac, Patuxent, and James Rivers was a very rewarding experience that I’ll always treasure. And, paddling a few rapids and blasting a few people with water guns just added to the fun!
Building on the partnerships created through the Sojourns and DC work, the Alliance again joined DOEE to administer the RiverSmart Homes Program by coordinating the installation of rain gardens, conservation landscaping, rain barrels, and replacement of impervious surface with permeable surfaces. Although I’ve worked on many satisfying projects that I truly enjoyed, coordinating the RiverSmart Homes Program has earned its place as my greatest professional accomplishment (so far!). Assisting DOEE to build the program from the ground up over the last 13 years has been a truly enriching undertaking. Taking on one project at a time, educating homeowners about stormwater issues and ways they can make a difference, expanding the program to train local contractors about green infrastructure practices, engaging new partners and audiences together, it is making a difference. RiverSmart Homes has become a signature program in the District and is so popular that there is an extensive waitlist for participation. Other jurisdiction residents ask if a program such as RiverSmart can be established in their areas. Hearing from homeowners about how they are enjoying their installed practices is so fulfilling and a main reason why I continue to do the work I do.
Over the years, I’ve worked with thousands of volunteers, homeowners, and partners. Each encounter has been an opportunity to set a ripple in motion. Drop a pebble in a lake and see how far the ripples extend. I like to think that the interactions I’ve had with the many people I’ve spoken with or worked alongside over the years with the Alliance have created a ripple of good. An individual alone can certainly make a difference…to the project they are completing…to those immediately surrounding them. But set the ripple in motion, and you initiate a snowball effect, creating excitement around restoration projects and responsible stewardship, all for the good of healthy waters and lands, which benefit people everywhere.
Jamie Alberti at 12 years old enjoying the water
As the saying goes: “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” However, there are always those challenging days when everything seems bound to go wrong (we all have those days!). On these days, I think back to 12 year old me marsh mucking, getting a running start, and leaping right into the marsh with a huge splat! (and you all know those white socks are never again to be white again!) Or crawling through the muskrat trail on hands and knees, thus changing your perspective of your surroundings. Or the composting toilet at the Arthur Sherwood Environmental Education Center on Meredith Creek which was fascinatingly amazing! Or speaking with the locals of Smith Island, who could always tell when there were groups visiting the island by the resources being used. Every kid should have the opportunity to experience these things and be able to swim in clean water and eat the crabs they catch. Every kid should be so deeply inspired by something that they make it their life’s work. I like to reflect that in small ways the work I do helps to make that happen.
Green Infrastructure Program Director
(202) 210 1946