For as long as she can remember, Andrea Suarez has had a passion for marine life.
As a child living in Miami, Florida, much of her childhood was laced with days on the beach, exploring seaweed patches, or enjoying the occasional day trip to Sea World. She remembers a news broadcast of a bottlenose dolphin that had washed ashore. She cried to her parents, begging for them to take her to the beach, so she could help push the dolphin back into the sea.
While Suarez wasn’t able to save the dolphin that day, she will have the chance to protect sea life as a new coordinator for the Haystack Rock Awareness Program. In a newly-created position, Suarez will manage the beach wheelchair program and take the lead on all bilingual interpretation — two new endeavors for the 33-year-old program.
“When they offered me the job I couldn’t believe it,” Suarez said. “Being on the beach, helping people … You’re going to pay me money for this?”
As a student at Miami Dade College, Suarez originally went into hospitality and tourism management. “Because that’s the way you get to work on the beach in Florida,” she said.
But Suarez’s interest in marine life and science refused to wane. Her major gradually drifted away from hospitality and more into marine science, until she eventually ended up with a general associate degree with a focus in science.
“It’s a passion I’ve always come back to,” Suarez said.
Suarez moved to the North Coast about three years ago with her partner at the time, who was stationed in Astoria with the Coast Guard. They eventually split, but Suarez had already fallen in love with the beauty of the area.
She found an opportunity to volunteer with the awareness program, and eventually was promoted to be a paid, lead interpreter. A few months ago, Pooka Rice, the program’s outreach coordinator, talked to her about using her dual language skills to translate signs and educational materials into Spanish.
Overall, the goal is to make the program more inclusive to the Latino community by developing more programs and classes in Spanish over time, Suarez said.
But Suarez has already noticed the difference being bilingual can make on the beach.
“I remember one day there was a man just walking all over the marine garden. I approached him in Spanish to explain to him why that wasn’t allowed, and all of sudden he leaves and comes back with like seven other relatives,” Suarez said. “They were asking questions about the environment they otherwise probably wouldn’t have asked.”
When Suarez isn’t working, she likes to spend time — you guessed it — on the beach.
“It really is my life,” she laughed.
Other than the occasional craving for sun and decent Cuban cuisine, Suarez said she has found a home in the Pacific Northwest, with dreams to pursue marine science at the University of Washington.
For now, she’s excited to see what her background and passion for environmental science can do to help keep Haystack Rock healthy.
“It’s all about awareness. Knowledge is power. There’s been a small disconnect with that,” Suarez said, in reference to a lack of Spanish materials. “But I’m happy to do my part to fill this little gap.”