Name: Amy Freitag
Location: Beaufort, NC
Occupation: PhD student in marine science and conservation
Amy Freitag grew up the daughter of a nuclear physicist in Washington DC. Being around her scientist dad inspired her, and led her to have an adoration of science fairs. Throughout her childhood she changed her mind about her dream career often, but whether it was to be an endocrinologist or a restoration ecologist, it always stayed grounded in science.
Today Amy is a PhD student in marine science and conservation at Duke University. At this point in her career she considers marine biology a “midpoint stop.” She works at a marine lab and interacts with people who have riveting jobs that enlighten and motivate her. “I work with colleagues in environmental justice that have field sites in the coal towns of Appalachia, inner city Baltimore, and the strawberry fields of the San Joaquin Valley. I consider myself a political ecologist, which largely questions community access to – and power over – natural resources they depend on,” she says. “The frame of analysis is ubiquitous across cultures, ecosystems, and time. That’s what has really won my love.” She also finds the idea of incorporating academia into her future appealing, as she believes it can help her to simultaneously spread knowledge about the environment while helping communities to preserve their resources.
Amy’s PhD work is largely split between the office and the field. When she’s in the office, she’s reading, transcribing research results, or preparing for her class on sustainability. Out in the field, she’s studying the water quality of the Albermale-Pamlico sound, which is a body of water that supports much of North Carolina’s fishing industry. “Lots of my time in the summer involves going out fishing with commercial fishermen, hanging out at fish houses, and otherwise getting to know both the ins and outs of fishing and the guys who work in the industry,” she says. “It’s almost all guys. Over time, they learn to trust me and will sit down for a formal interview about water quality concerns and how changing water quality directly affects their livelihoods. This summer, I’m also collecting all sorts of samples of local fish – blue crabs, shrimp, mullet, oysters, clams, and spot – for mercury and PCB testing after a couple of local fishers came to us asking if the national data on contamination was also true for our Sound. The verdict’s still out.”
Her data and analysis contributes to more than just the environment, it assists building bridges between the ecosystem and the people who interact with it, allowing her to contribute to its preservation in a meaningful way. Away from the lab, Amy is adding some bluegrass to her blue crabs, as her online moniker proclaims. She plays the fiddle and is trying her hand at learning the banjo. At night she can be found jamming at pubs in town and at sessions in people’s houses. She hopes to continue her research in the southeast or mid-Atlantic, and to further her academic endeavors along with research in the field. “My dream job would be to work for the Smithsonian, which has both a Chesapeake Research Center and a Center for Folklife so I can continue my love of walking the line between nature and culture, and maybe even get it displayed for the public. That’s way more exciting than an academic paper to me.”
For protecting North Carolina’s waters and committing herself to crabs and their kin, Amy Freitag is a really Cool Girl! You can check out the incredible marine biology blog that Amy contributes to by clicking on www.southernfriedscience.com