This college student is using her science degree to help clean up the Baltimore harbor

Alexandra Grayson is using her degree in environmental science to help clean up and transform the Baltimore harbor with the hope that future generations can also enjoy the waterway's ecosystem.

Video Transcript


ALEXANDRA GRAYSON: Environmental justice scholar Robert Bullard described the environment as the places where we live, work, and play. The Baltimore Harbor is a place where everyone in Baltimore has been. We want future generations to be able to enjoy Baltimore's Inner Harbor the same way that we have.

I'm Alexandra Grayson. I'm an interdisciplinary climate scholar and activist. I'm a third-generation Baltimorean. For college, I ended up going to Howard University, studying Environmental Science with minors in Economics and Biology.

When I think about environmental justices in Baltimore, I really think about just how segregated the community is. The city has really affluent areas, like Roland Park, and they're drastically different environmental issues that pop-up between those communities and others. In Curtis Bay, there's the incinerator. People there suffer from asthma at disproportionate rates.

And I got really involved with environmental work in high school. I started working with a group called Baltimore Beyond Plastic that advocated for citywide, school district wide, and statewide styrofoam ban that all ended up being successful. Maryland is the first state to ban styrofoam. That early success with a policy effort, it was encouraging and helped me have faith in what government can do.


The summer before I got to Howard, I worked at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology.

ERIC SCHOTT: Try that. So, we'll pull these guys out and put them under the microscope. My name's Eric Schott. I'm an Associate Research Professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. We're looking at marine animal health, especially invertebrates, like blue crabs, oysters. We're interested in understanding and mitigating the effects of pollution, especially sewage pollution in the harbor.

ALEXANDRA GRAYSON: This was the first time I was ever doing lab research. Changed my trajectory in terms of what I wanted to do moving forward. I've been drawn to research because of the ability for it to affect change.

ERIC SCHOTT: One of the things that we really need to do right now is take the science and get it to the people and get it to the policymakers. And so, I really feel like she's really going to do that.

ALEXANDRA GRAYSON: What excites me the most about climate work is that it's happening now, and it's happening fast, and there are so many smart people coming together to think through solutions to the climate crisis.


I helped out with the Floating Wetlands Project that you can see behind us right now.

CHARMAINE DAHLENBURG: And if you look around, you can see the harbor, their entire landscape is actually hardened, and there is no way for us to convert that back to a living shoreline. So, we kind of miss out on the natural ecosystem services that wetlands provide, like filtering water, providing habitat. And Alexandra did a lot of the science, the hard science, related to the DNA barcoding of the life in the harbor.

ALEXANDRA GRAYSON: We studied how much these wetlands are contributing to increasing biodiversity and increasing water quality in the harbor. These types of products definitely get me excited about the future of Baltimore and Baltimore's harbor. More projects like this need to go up because we'll be facing more extreme weather and climate threats as climate change progresses. It's really important to start this kind of stuff now and generations to come will probably thank us for it.

The main thing that ties all of the research that I've done together is that it's rooted in what can be most useful for policymakers and environmental justice communities. We've seen more often than not that policymakers listen to numbers, and facts, and research. As much as we can lean on fact in our decision and policy making, I think we'll be better off.

I would definitely encourage people to start with their local community. Organize around the issues that pertain to them. And also, I highly encourage getting involved with some kind of research and figuring out how you can best communicate what you're experiencing to different audiences.

Long term, I hope that my impact can be bringing more people from Baltimore, and people from similar cities, and people of color into environmental spaces. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, it has to be something that we truly value and don't just think of as, like, a nice add-on. Like, it's a requirement to successfully getting through the climate crisis in an equitable way.