The CITIZEN SCIENTIST
BY JANIE GOULD
After Susan Hamburger retired from academic life and moved to Fort Pierce a few years ago, she did what she describes as a 180-degree turn, pivoting from her background in English and history to a new avocation as a citizen-scientist who is passionate about protecting the environment.
She serves as president of the St. Lucie chapter of Florida Master Naturalists, volunteers at the Savannas State Preserve, tests water for the presence of microplastics and harmful algae, helps manage hiking and kayaking outings for St. Lucie County’s Environmental Resources Department, and much more.
“I am super busy,” she said.
She also helps protect the environment at ground level, literally, by picking up other people’s litter, gradually replacing the turf grass in her yard with native ground cover, and since 1970, recycling everything possible, “no matter where I lived or where I was traveling.”
Originally from New Jersey, Hamburger earned a bachelor’s degree in English and Master of Library Science from Rutgers University in New Jersey, and a master’s degree and doctorate in history from Florida State University. She worked as the manuscripts cataloging librarian at Pennsylvania State University until she retired in 2015. She published academic articles on topics as disparate as literary authors, the Civil War and horse racing. In fact, she wrote her doctoral dissertation at FSU on the history of the sport in Florida.
She got interested in that topic when she was growing up in New Jersey.
“I would watch the Saturday races from New York on TV every week, and we would take our vacations around the race track schedule in Florida,” she said. “I also rode horses. I was really into horses and horse racing and I knew a lot about the topic.”
In her research in Florida’s state archives, she learned that the Legislature’s opposition to horse racing eased in the 1930s, when lawmakers realized the industry could be taxed and licensed to produce additional revenue for the cash-strapped state during the Depression.
Since retiring, Hamburger completed coursework with the University of Florida’s Master Naturalist Program and has devoted herself to citizen science projects. She led the Volunteer Algae Monitoring Project in 2017 to sample water in the Indian River Lagoon. In 2018 she joined the Florida Microplastics Awareness Project to collect water samples in the lagoon. The project will be completed for a graduate student at the University of Central Florida. For the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, she collects freshwater samples at the Richard E. Becker Preserve and coastal samples at Jaycee Park every two weeks and analyzes them for the presence of harmful phytoplankton. Several times a year she joins other volunteers to weed invasive plants near the endangered Lakela’s Mint in St. Lucie and Indian River counties, and to monitor the plants’ survival and growth under the direction of a botanist from Bok Tower.
She also spends time at the Savannas Preserve State Park, a 7,000-acre preserve in southern St. Lucie and northern Martin counties. She volunteers there as treasurer of Friends of Savannas Preserve State Park, webmaster and gift shop manager.
“It’s the most pristine ecosystem of its kind on the east coast of Florida,” she said. “It’s a beautiful freshwater marsh without any of the pollution problems of Lake Okeechobee discharges.”
One special feature is a rookery island accessible only by boat.
“It protects birds from predators such as feral pigs and raccoons that can’t get to the island.”
In her spare time, the American Canoe Association’s Level 1 Certified Kayak Instructor likes to kayak with friends and offer private kayak instruction, camp with her partner, Neil Stover, in their 26-foot RV, play guitar, attend rock concerts, especially those of Bruce Springsteen, read, amuse her three cats, and swim.
And she loves helping to educate people about the environment.
“I really like getting outside and helping people.’’
Where I live: Fort Pierce
Occupation: Retired manuscripts cataloging librarian at Pennsylvania State University, and now an active volunteer in St. Lucie County
Education: Master’s degree and doctorate in American History from Florida State University, and bachelor’s degree and Master of Library Science from Rutgers University.
Family: Neil Stover, her partner of ten years, and three cats.
Something people don’t know about me: “I play the guitar. Rock and roll is my life! I have played on the same stage as Bruce Springsteen, but not at the same time.”
What are you proudest of? “That I have made it this far and still can do everything I want to do.”