Meet NEET: Thaïs Fournier
Water Resource Specialist, Natural Resources Department | Town of Nantucket
Meet Thaïs, the Town of Nantucket’s Water Resource Specialist at the Natural Resources Department (NRD). A Massachusetts native of Portuguese ancestry, Thaïs has always enjoyed being around water and over the years she has found opportunities to turn her childhood obsession into her profession. It is evident that Thaïs clearly loves her job, and it is one of few town positions with an ocean view office. Given the opportunity to talk about her work, Thaïs shared insights on the significances of water quality, coastal resilience, environmental justice, and much more.
Thaïs’ first visit to Nantucket was for leisure. At the time of her initial visit she was also on the job hunt and purposefully visited the town’s NRD. As she recalled, “It was really sunny and gorgeous. I literally walked from the ferry to the [NRD’s] Jetties office, to the hatchery, and then to a restaurant... [I thought Nantucket] was quaint, cute, small, beautiful; just like this hidden oasis.” Impressed by Nantucket’s charm, Thaïs decided to apply for the Water Resource Specialist position after learning there would be an opening during that initial visit. “My interview here was in February and it was a rainy, snowy, choppy boat ride [kind of day] … I got off the boat and I was like great, I am going to be nauseous for this interview… But I am glad I saw that side too, you know, I got a full idea that this is what it’s going to look like,” if she got and accepted the position, which she did, going on three years come March 2022.
Thaïs is a trained scientist with a master’s degree in marine science from the University of San Diego. Prior to working for the town, Thaïs was an employee at the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), doing what she described as important but “monotonous” work that lacked “hands-on field experience,” as she was focused on policy work at the headquarters office in Washington, D.C. For Thaïs, taking on the responsibilities of Nantucket’s Water Resource Specialist position have been exciting and fulfilling since the start.
Thaïs is a surface water specialist that focuses on bodies of water such as lakes, ponds, streams, oceans, etc. According to Thaïs, “My primary role for this position is going out monthly and testing our harbors, ponds, and streams for basic water quality parameters, so that we are meeting water quality standards that are put out by the [EPA].” She went on to explain that, “this data helps inform our decisions for how we are going to manage our water resources.”
Thaïs demonstrated her know-how and passion for her work when she causally referenced how the position’s responsibilities were coordinated by the seasons; but it was an insightful and relatable point, because ‘weather and work’ is a topic that many year-round residents can comprehend. “In the summer time it is very field-based. We are out on the boat a lot, we are collecting water samples, we are looking at phytoplankton samples and monitoring for our harmful algal blooms that happen in the summer… In the winter time it is a lot of writing reports, data analysis, getting grants in order for future projects in the springtime,” and more.
Nantucket’s Water Resource Specialist position can be adventurously dangerous; however, Thaïs’ calmness, experience, and professionalism in the interview did not give off any sense of worry when talking about: SCUBA diving, shark sightings, or the many potential perils associated with open water. “Any time you are recreating out on a body of water… there is always a risk. For example, there have been safety issues with people scalloping in waders and an incoming tide which can pose a threat, you know… so safe water practices are huge.”
One of Thaïs’ most intriguing stories about her work is the occasional warning she receives from other boaters on shark sightings. “To be fair [when SCUBA diving] we are in the harbor so half the time you can just stand up, I think the deepest we go is probably twenty feet under the water, so it’s not that bad. But, I mean, there has been juvenile white sharks in the harbor… it’s been documented, but I haven’t seen any personally,” she explained.
Though it was never stated outright, Thaïs is an environmentalist at heart. She takes her responsibilities to protect Nantucket’s surface waters seriously, which was evidenced throughout the many topics and work-related issues discussed during her interview. She shared graphic details about the dangers of algal blooms to humans and pets and she provided clear explanations on why people should care about environmental justice and coastal resilience, especially here on Nantucket. Thaïs also talked about her position’s impacts on other sectors of the island such as tourism, real estate, recreational activities, and more.
One objective of the Meet NEET initiative is to gauge employee’s perceptions of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), as well as, gauge how interviewees envision the intersections of DEI and their work. For Thaïs, her wish for NRD and the DEI Office revolves around future collaborations on public outreach, reaching Nantucket’s diverse population to participate in and enjoy the island’s natural resources. On a more basic level, for Thaïs, “just having a DEI office is a good start” for residents and the community because it’s a “resource” for ensuring “equality” and it will allow us to “see different sides” of complex situations such as race, gender, and opportunities in the workplace.
To learn more about the many responsibilities of Nantucket’s Natural Resources Department and the work Thaïs does, she invites you to follow the department on Instagram, @NRDACK, and on Facebook. To conclude, if you bump into Thaïs at Hummock Pond, at the beach, or in the harbor collecting samples be sure to say hello or ask what she’s doing, Thaïs welcomes opportunities to talk with members of the community about her passion and profession, water.