Beach Day: Peter Walsh
Seatuck’s Education Director on How Getting Involved Can Lead to a Career
In this regular feature, we chat with friends of the conservancy—people working to protect our local waterways and community—about the thing that makes Mastic Beach so special: the beach.
When Mastic Beach Conservancy wanted to start a siene net program for kids, we didn’t have to look far for a partner. Peter Walsh, Education Director for Seatuck Environmental Association, has been overseeing high-quality environmental education opportunities for Long Island residents of all ages for decades.
With degrees in both Biology and Science Education from SUNY Old Westbury, Peter began his career in environmental education with the Nassau BOCES, where he worked as an Environmental Educator and Teacher Trainer for the Jason Foundation. He then managed the Sunken Meadow Outdoor Learning Lab for Western Suffolk BOCES.
At Seatuck, Peter has founded, created or overseen a variety of educational projects including the Little Peepers Forest Preschool, The Greentree Foundation Teachers Ecology Workshop and a program which transforms schoolyards into native garden learning environments. Peter also oversees Seatuck’s conventional school, after school, summer, and public environmental education programs across Long Island. Combined, these events reach over 15,000 Long Islanders annually.
Peter lives in Islip with his wife, two daughters, a son, and an old hound dog. We spoke to Peter in September 2023:
FIRST, CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR IDEAL DAY ON THE WATER?
Any time spent on the with my family doing some swimming, and fishing is an ideal day for me. If there is a sunrise or set thrown in, all the better!
YOU’RE AT THE BEACH: DO YOU HAVE A CHAIR OR A BLANKET?
I bring both. But if I had to choose one, it would be the chair.
DESCRIBE YOUR FAVORITE SEASON ON LONG ISLAND. WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL TO YOU?
That’s hard! I don’t know that I have one! I like parts of all of them. I love the winter because I can get to places I can’t normally get to. Because it’s frozen, I can walk to places I can’t normally get to. Plus, less ticks! In the summer, I love the beach and swimming in the ocean. In the fall and the spring, I love the migration, the bees, the blooming native plants… I don’t know that I have a favorite! If I only had one I don’t think I would enjoy it as much!
YOU WORK AT SEATUCK AND LEAD OUR CHILDREN’S SEINE NET EVENT, WHICH I’VE ATTENDED WITH MY OWN CHILD. WHAT MADE YOU PURSUE WORK IN THE ENVIRONMENTAL SPACE AND FOCUS ON EDUCATION?
I love to be outdoors. I just thrive not being in an office. And I love teaching and having that moment where people connect with what you’re talking about. I realized I could combine these two things and share the love of these spaces with other people. It was almost like magic when I realized that I could do this as a job job. I was like, “Well this is amazing.”
AS I MENTIONED BEFORE, YOU DO OUR EVENT EACH YEAR. WHAT IS THE MOST UNUSUAL FISH YOU’VE SEEN IN OUR WATERWAYS?
In the shallow waters, we’ve caught a lot of really tropical fish—blue spotted coronets‚ pompanos , butterfly fish, grey snappers…beautiful and weird fish. Fish that you don’t expect to be in the waters of LI. They get caught up in the Gulf Stream, end up here and we get lucky enough to catch them.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ANYONE, ESPECIALLY YOUNG PEOPLE, LOOKING TO DO WHAT YOU DO?
First, get involved! Find the places where people are doing this kind of work—nature centers, environmental organizations, non-profits—and start applying for jobs and internships. It’s a small field but everyone kind of knows everyone, and everyone is here because we love it. We want to get more people involved and engaged so we’re constantly sharing the information of people we know who want to get started. Like “I don’t have a job for you right now, but here’s this person over there that is looking for someone.” It can really lead somewhere so getting involved , making connections, learning … it is a great place to start!
WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH PEOPLE KNEW ABOUT THE MASTIC BEACH AREA — PARTICULARLY ITS NATURE?
It’s a double edged sword, that question! Because we don’t want everyone to know how unspoiled it is here. There’s a lot of access to a natural shoreline here because a lot has been left ‘unmanipulated’. There’s not a lot of bulkheads or houses built right up to the water so you have this incredible access. This really doesn’t exist in a lot of waterfront communities. It’s also just so quiet. And a nice spot.
WHAT IS ONE WAY THAT AN INDIVIDUAL CAN CONTRIBUTE TOWARDS THE HEALTH OF THE LONG ISLAND WATERWAYS?
The easiest one is to just think about what they do with their garbage. Where is it going? How can we reduce? The other obvious thing is to move away from over-fertilized, manicured lawns and plant native plants. It creates a better environment for the wildlife. And it helps with waterline and filtering water. Less use of pesticides. That might be my number one.