Kim Hernandez is a coastal resources planner with the Chesapeake and Coastal Service in the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Previously, her work included studying the effects of beach nourishment on sea turtle habitat as a graduate student at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. Then, as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Management Fellow, she worked on the Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Action Plan and has contributed to efforts to designate Mallows Bay-Potomac River as the first National Marine Sanctuary in the Chesapeake.
You have done a great deal in a fairly short amount of time. How did you come to work in the Chesapeake?
I had always lived in Kansas, but in 2012 I entered the Master of Environmental Management program at Duke University and focused on coastal environmental management. During my time there, I learned about the NOAA Coastal Management Fellowship in Annapolis and thought that it was a great opportunity for me. I graduated with my Master’s in May of 2014 and moved up here in August of that year and started the position.
How did you become involved with the designation process for Mallows Bay-Potomac River as a National Marine Sanctuary?
The month before the fellowship began, I was on a site visit to Maryland, so I could see where I was going to work, meet my bosses, find housing, sign paperwork and explore the area. At the meeting with my supervisor, she invited me to sit in on a call with all the partners who were going to submit the nomination for Mallows Bay. I was very intrigued. I thought this group is trying to nominate one of the first national marine sanctuaries in 15 years and I really want to be a part of it. Since then, I have helped coordinate events and write the draft management plan and draft environmental impact statement for the proposed sanctuary.
What is it about Mallows Bay that you think appeals to people?
Mallows Bay tends to attract a lot of fishermen—often on kayak or canoe. It is ideal for paddling. It is also great for bird watchers. I have never once been there and not seen a bald eagle or an osprey, or a great blue heron for that matter. For some people, the history of the area is often the number one draw. I’m much more interested in how nature has built itself around the shipwrecks; how trees are growing out of the shipwrecks, how fish use the wrecks as a safe haven. Juvenile fish are able to grow up in all the submerged aquatic vegetation beds that have grown around the shipwrecks. I think it is a very interesting place ecologically, so that is what draws me there.
I love the opportunities I get to visit Mallows Bay and talk about the nomination and designation process with different people. It’s exciting to see other people get excited and want to protect an area. That is the whole reason I got into the field of environmental management in the first place—I want to get other people excited about nature and the outdoors and wanting to protect it. I think that enjoying and experiencing those places is one of the best ways to inspire that action in people.
When you paddled at Mallows Bay, did you bring a fishing rod along?
I’ve never fished there, but I want to. I would like to catch a snakehead! I love catching invasive species and trying how they taste. I’ve heard snakehead is really good!
Do you have a favorite submerged wreck at Mallows Bay?
The Benzonia. I think it is my favorite because it is an iconic one. It’s one of the World War I shipwrecks that sticks far out of the water, and it was the first one that I saw, which is why I have a soft spot for it. I have another favorite shipwreck that I think is named Boone. This boat is closer to the shore and has a very small amount sticking out of the water. But it has a tall tree that has been able to grow on this very small portion sticking out, which I love.
Where else has your work taken you in the Chesapeake region?
I go to the lower Eastern Shore—Somerset County—to Monie Bay to help the Maryland Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve do marsh survey work. I spend a lot of time down in Monie Bay and I love it! We boat throughout all the marshes and it is incredibly beautiful. My favorite thing about Monie Bay and the saltwater marshes is that it’s very flat. To me, coming from Kansas, horizons are very comforting. If you’re looking out over a marsh, it is flat grassland, which is just like where I grew up. Completely different plants, completely different environment, but it reminds me of home.
Where are your favorite places in the Chesapeake to visit and why?
Mallows Bay and Monie Bay! I want to go camping near Monie Bay and kayak the Monie Bay Water Trails. There are markers throughout the marsh so you can’t get lost. Camping would be great because there is very little development, so the night sky should be fantastic. I like getting out in nature and away from the hustle and bustle. I love places like the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland that are less busy, less crowded, and offer abundant natural resources to explore.
Kim was honored as a Next Generation Champion of the Chesapeake at the Chesapeake Conservancy’s 2016 Champions of the Chesapeake awards ceremony, in Annapolis.