Hi y'all! We'd like you to get to know the people behind Saltwater Classroom, the ones who make it all possible. We're kicking off this spotlight series with Katie Weiler, a passionate ocean innovator who serves on our Board of Directors. For those who don't know Katie personally (you oughta!), she is a dedicated leader, strong community advocate, and bonafide plastics expert! We can always count on her to aid in strategy work or help plan a killer event, although most days, she's busy working on her company, Viable Gear. It is a treat to know Katie and an honor to have her on our BOD. Please help us thank Katie for all she does and read on to learn more about her ocean connection.
Name: Katie Weiler
Location: Portland, ME
SC Role: Board of Directors
How do you spend your days? What are your passions? What is your occupation?
Most of my days are spent working on my business, Viable Gear. We are an early stage start-up in blue tech working on replacing petroleum-based plastics in the aquaculture and fishing industry with a seaweed-based bioplastic. When I'm not working I'm walking with my dog or trying to get outside and enjoy various seasonal activities!
Explain your connection to the ocean. How does it influence your life?
I grew up in midcoast Maine with the ocean as an integral part of my childhood. My parents both worked on an island in Penobscot Bay for many years and when my sister and I were little, we were lucky enough to have a sailboat that we spent weeks on each summer. Being in the saltwater, avoiding stepping on urchins, insisting that I was the captain of our small dinghy... Growing up in a town that is tied to the ocean, not only visually but economically as well, burned its way into my soul. As I grew up I understood more how the ocean impacted people's livelihoods, and from a dietary standpoint we were a family that ate a lot of seafood. As I grew up I moved away from the ocean for short stints but it always drew me back. In 2017, I get really into the issue we are facing with plastics with the ocean as a central figure in that problem, these challenges with plastic are massive problems for marine live, our food systems, carbon and the warming temperatures of the ocean. I made the change in 2022 to spend all of time targeting the plastics problem, particularly how it impacts our oceans, and I couldn't be happier to meet people working on the ocean, researching our ocean, and working to address issues we are facing. When I moved back to Maine in 2019, I felt a sense of relief and a relaxed sense most days that I really could only point to living back on the ocean.
The mission of Saltwater Classroom is to bring together young students, as well as learners of all ages, as global ocean stewards through an innovative approach to ocean education. How does this apply to your experience? What stands out to you about ocean education?
I believe there is hope to address the issues our ocean is facing, ones that humans have vastly created, but I believe that that hope lies with our younger generations and educating them about what is going on, the truth of how our actions as humans impact the ocean which is the largest life source on the planet and how we need it to survive. We need kids across the country, especially the ones who aren't located on the ocean, to grow up with this curriculum in their lives and learn how even if they aren't on the ocean, it still impacts their lives, and our world. If we can make our future generations ocean stewards then we have a chance to really turn some things around and treat our ocean and our planet better. To do that, we have to understand it, and that is what Saltwater Classroom seeks to do. I love and support the mission of Saltwater Classroom and I think all kids need to have ocean curriculum built into each year of schooling!
What are your earliest ocean memories?
I hadn't thought about this before and in doing so I think there is a presence of the ocean in so many of my early memories.... From being a young kid out on the boat or an island, exploring and building fairy houses to being coaxed to jump off something into the cold ocean that I truly never minded, it was what was in the ocean that always got in my head! Through being a teenager and turning the docks and harbors into our late night hangout spots. There used to be sea urchins everywhere... they are a huge part of my memories of the Maine ocean as a kid.. being told not to step on them or plucking the spines off dead and dried up urchins on the beach. This isn't something we get to see anymore, they are so few and far between that I don't remember the last time I saw one.
If you had to pick one thing, what is your favorite aspect of the ocean? We know, it's a broad question.
A very difficult question... I love the smell, I love what it provides to us as humans, I love how we can't live without it.
Is there a dream ocean destination on your list? Where would you travel to next?