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Virginia Coast Reserve

Q&A with Jill Bieri

Jill Bieri brings extensive experience in marine science and environmental education to her new role as director of the Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve. Away from her office at Brownsville, Jill stays on the run, training for long-distance races and keeping up with two active teenaged daughters. She recently brought us up to speed on her background and why she’s excited to steer our Eastern Shore programs into the future.

What were you doing before coming to The Nature Conservancy?

Jill Bieri:

I started a nonprofit organization called Chesapeake Experience. We worked with teachers to integrate the Chesapeake Bay into their classrooms and then get groups of third through 12th graders outside for summer field experiences, mostly in kayaks. I was the director for eight years, and now there’s a great staff keeping it going strong.

Before that, I administered environmental education grants for the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office. We helped fund meaningful experiences for students and teachers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Why is it important for kids to get outside and experience nature?

Jill Bieri:

Connecting with our natural environment early in life builds healthier bodies and more creative minds. Those minds are the future stewards of our planet.

Do you have a personal connection with the Eastern Shore?

Jill Bieri:

I grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Over the last 10-15 years, I’ve spent a lot of time on the Virginia end working with partners, including the Conservancy. I’ve seen firsthand how wild and natural the barrier islands are, and the Conservancy had such foresight in the 1970s to protect them. It’s led to a lot more conservation, great new partnerships and the success we’re seeing now restoring eelgrass and oysters.

What appealed to you about leading the Virginia Coast Reserve?

Jill Bieri:

Everything I’ve been doing for the last 24 years drew me here. I’m a marine scientist by training, and my field research started with seagrass. Then I started seagrass-education programs at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, with volunteers helping grow and plant grasses.

So I was involved in the early days when scientists were really struggling to figure out how to bring back this lost habitat. Now I look at how restoration has taken off in our coastal bays, and I’m beyond excited to lead this team that’s making it happen.

What challenges does the Virginia Coast Reserve face?

Jill Bieri:

We need financial support to maintain our successful conservation programs while also forging new partnerships to move us forward. We’re also working through how climate change will affect habitat and communities here.

And I’m always thinking about ways to communicate better and engage more people in the great work we’re doing — and still need to do — on the Eastern Shore.

What gives you hope?

Jill Bieri:

My experience working with students from all backgrounds and ages has given me great confidence that the next generation — with some help and navigation — will become great stewards of our natural world.

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