Sally’s love of coastal ecosystems was inspired by the summers she spent growing up on Cape Cod. She majored in Biology at Goucher College (Towson MD) and spent college summers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole on Cape Cod. She then went on to earn an MS in Microbiology and a Ph.D. in Ecology at University of Connecticut. She has been active in research as an aquatic microbial ecologist in such diverse ecosystems as sewage sludge, bog lakes, rivers, creeks and the Chesapeake Bay estuarine system.
After a post-doc fellowship at SUNY Syracuse, Sally joined the faculty at Virginia Tech where she taught for six years. Sally and her husband, Tom Caperna, moved to Arnold, MD in 1985 when Tom accepted a research scientist position at USDA in Beltsville. While raising two children, Sally taught part-time at Anne Arundel Community College and then joined the faculty full time in 1993, teaching primarily ecology and microbiology. She retired from teaching in 2015 but is still involved in research and monitoring projects at the AACC Environmental Center.
Sally was the scientific director of Operation Clearwater for 27 years, a program started 45 years ago by the Severn River Association to monitor the bacterial water quality of bathing beaches and marinas during the swimming season. She expanded this program in partnership with the Magothy River Association, the South River Federation, the West and Rhode Riverkeeper and the Advocates for Herring Bay so that bacterial water quality monitoring of all of the major tributaries in Anne Arundel County were included. When fecal bacterial levels exceeded limits for safe recreational use, she worked with communities to determine the source of contamination and to improve their water quality. She has volunteered with the Severn River Association and the Magothy River Association over the last 30 years to restore historic oyster bars and to encourage citizen science projects in water quality monitoring and monitoring of submerged aquatic vegetation. In the past few years some key MRA projects include developing a protocol for volunteer-assisted yellow perch egg and larval sampling and preparing a brochure of the Magothy River Water Trail, which has just been completed with funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust. Sally has prepared and presented the annual State of the Magothy for the past three years.
Sally served on the board of the Severn River Commission for 14 years where she was involved with research into the effect of utilizing slag from Sparrow Point for oyster substratum in the Severn and served as SRC representative on the citizen board of the Anne Arundel County General Development Plan. Currently she is a VP of the Magothy River Association and serves on the board of the Magothy River Land Trust and the Chesapeake Environmental Protection Association.