Lori Morris:

Career path was a calling at an early age

Some people are fortunate to realize at an early age the career path they’ll choose. It’s almost as if the career has chosen them, a phenomenon often described as a calling. Lori Morris falls into this category.

Morris, an environmental scientist with the St. Johns River Water Management District, is a renowned expert on seagrasses in the Indian River Lagoon. But her passion for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) studies began with an obsession for collecting seashells as a girl.

“I loved, loved, loved going to the Museum of Natural History in New York City,” says Morris, who grew up in Pennsylvania, but has spent most of her life in the south. “By middle school, I knew I wanted to be a scientist…hopefully a marine biologist.”

Morris earned a bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of North Carolina (Wilmington) and a master’s in marine science from the College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science. She joined the district in 1992 as an entry level scientist, working her way up to a level IV scientist.

During her tenure at the district, Morris has watched the Indian River Lagoon’s seagrasses flourish during years that she described as “exciting work” and the widespread decline that has altered her role into one of participating in a widespread effort to find remedies for the estuary.

“I’m responsible for all the data on seagrass and drift algae in the Indian River Lagoon,” Morris says. “This includes managing all data collections, data entry, data analyses, reports and presentations. There are many, many challenges, but currently the Indian River Lagoon has undergone a huge regime shift from being a seagrass-based system to a phytoplankton-based one…which is not desirable!”

Despite the challenges, Morris realizes many in the scientific community depend on her exhaustive knowledge of lagoon seagrasses. She realizes the importance of her work.

“Many people throughout the state rely on my expertise and experience to keep them informed so they can make their appropriate decisions,” Morris says. “This is particularly vital for those focusing on species we don’t manage, such as manatees, dolphins and fisheries.”

Her words of advice to young women considering STEM careers: “Do it because you love it, because you’re good at it, and because you can make a difference.”