The Working Waterfront

Herring Gut Science Center names new director

Posted 2024-04-23
Last Modified 2024-04-23

Sarah D. Oktay, PhD has joined the Herring Gut Coastal Science Center as executive director. She had served as the executive director for the Center for Coastal Studies located in Provincetown, Mass. Oktay has spent the past 30 years conducting oceanographic research, teaching, fundraising, and communicating with the public.

Herring Gut president and co-chair Philip Conkling said Oktay “brings to Herring Gut a distinguished scientific background and deep leadership experience with key New England marine organizations. I have every confidence that Sarah will broaden and deepen Herring Gut’s education and community programs going forward.”

From 2018-2021 she was director of strategic engagement for the Natural Reserves System at the University of California Davis, representing six field stations and marine labs in Northern California. Prior to that, Okay was director of institutional advancement at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado.

Sarah D. Oktay
Sarah D. Oktay

She received her B.S. in marine science and a Ph.D. in chemical oceanography from Texas A&M University Galveston. From 2003-2016 she was executive director of the University of Massachusetts-Boston Nantucket Field Station, a marine lab and field station on Nantucket Island. Her research focused on coastal processes, watershed health, pollution transport, and harbor water quality.

After 9-11, she mapped the chemical signature of the World Trade Center ash and tracked its fingerprints in the Hudson River, coincidentally discovering hospital waste residues from sewage in New York and New Jersey.

Oktay is an invited member, national board member, and 2020 president of the Society of Women Geographers, and has been on the boards of many civic and nonprofit groups. She served as president of the Organization of Biological Field Stations, a professional organization representing several hundred field stations and marine labs across the globe, from 2014-2016 and has been on that board for 13 years. She currently serves on the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council.

Oktay’s nine years of service on the Nantucket Conservation Commission has been featured in Vanity Fair, Yankee Magazine, Cape Cod Times,, CNN, the movie Rising Tides and many other news outlets. She was also a science adviser for actor Mark Ruffalo, advising on topics such as climate change, fracking, and water quality monitoring for the non-profits he founded. In 2020 she released a book of science-based poetry, Sifting Light from the Darkness and recently released the first of four books of Nantucket-focused natural history essays.

She also is part of the founding team for The Virtual Field, a project designed to bring place-based experiential science to classrooms around the world. She strongly feels that scientists should communicate with the public and provide educational services to all ages, and that place-based learning is the best route to achieve that.