Gulf of Mexico

Alabama Scientist Recognized for Work in the Gulf

Scientist Judy Haner explains what motivates and inspires her as she works to restore the Gulf

Judy Haner, marine program director for The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, was recently recognized for her work in the Gulf of Mexico by the National Audubon Society’s Women in Conservation Program.

Founded by Allison Rockefeller, a dedicated supporter of the National Audubon Society, the Women in Conservation Program represents an important opportunity for women and girls to discover the world of conservation and connect with women leaders whose work has been crucial to the environmental movement.

Charlotte Jorgensen, a former trustee for the Conservancy’s Colorado program and an active member of the National Audubon Society, nominated Judy for the Women in Conservation Program after she and her sister Vevie Dimmit, a former trustee for the Florida program, visited the Mobile Bay project on Earth Day.

“Despite all that has happened to the Gulf this past year, Judy remains upbeat and optimistic that conditions can improve if we all work together,” Charlotte said. “Viewing Mobile Bay from her perspective really helps to give us hope.” recently talked with Judy about her work in the Gulf and her experience at the annual Audubon recognition event held at The Plaza in New York City where Maya Lin, an artist, architect and environmentalist, and Sigourney Weaver, actress/environmental activist, were honored with the prestigious 2011 Rachel Carson award.

Congratulations on this amazing honor from the National Audubon Society’s Women in Conservation Program! Tell us about your experience at the New York City recognition event.

Judy Haner:

The pre-luncheon social was buzzing as the women told their stories of involvement in the Gulf of Mexico over the past year. Anne Thompson, chief environmental correspondent for NBC News, talked about the Gulf and the recent floods of the Mississippi River. She, along with Maya Lin and Sigourney Weaver challenged us in the audience to stay involved and make a difference. It was powerful to be part of an event that showcased the contribution of women in conservation.

As marine program director for The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, you wear many hats. Describe some of the different aspects of your job.

Judy Haner:

I’m very fortunate in that I work with some of the most amazing people, both staff and partners, to protect and restore Mobile Bay — and by extension the greater Gulf of Mexico. Since this watershed is part of the 33 percent of the United States that drains to the Gulf of Mexico, I also get to work across political boundaries with the Gulf of Mexico Team, contributing to both local and regional goals. Much of what we’re doing, such as oyster reef restoration, is applicable to other parts of the world, so it’s exciting collaborating with the Conservancy’s Global Marine Team to share our findings worldwide.

What is your greatest challenge as you work to help restore the Gulf of Mexico?

Judy Haner:

The greatest challenge has been securing enough funding to conduct restoration at a meaningful scale. Thus far, much of our restoration activity is not keeping pace with the rate we’re losing habitat. With enough funding, we can turn that corner and accomplish restoration at a scale that translates into long-term sustainability for Mobile Bay and the whole Gulf region.

The Gulf has suffered so much – decades of degradation and now the oil spill. What gives you hope that we can restore it back to the healthy marine environment it once was?

Judy Haner:

It is truly sad that it takes a large-scale man-made disaster like the Deepwater Horizon spill to bring focus and priority to repairing the decades of damage inflicted on the Gulf. That being said, my confidence that we can accomplish our restoration goals is driven by the faces I see every day – volunteers who give their time, organizations that provide their resources, scientists who commit their expertise and donors who support our efforts. We have the people, momentum and attention to make meaningful progress.

You have a long history of working in the Gulf of Mexico, even before joining The Nature Conservancy in 2009. What has been you most memorable experience on the Gulf?

Judy Haner:

I started working in the Gulf in the early 1990s and was involved in initial restoration efforts in the Everglades. I guess my most memorable experience was going back to south Florida after a couple of years in Alaska and seeing the amount of progress and knowing that I had contributed to it at the beginning. It was mind-blowing. We have witnessed that if you get the conditions right, Mother Nature will heal herself. How forgiving.

Do you have any advice for young people who aspire to work in the marine conservation field one day?

Judy Haner:

I would say that it only takes one positive attitude to start making a difference. Think big! Bring folks at all levels together for a common cause and know that you can make a difference. If each of us can do that, we’ll leave the world a better place.

By Christine Griffiths, communications manager, North America. Christine can be reached at or (912) 222-3297.

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