UF/IFAS Spotlights: Maia McGuire, fierce advocate for the sea
Born and raised in Bermuda, Maia McGuire knew how to swim before she could walk and spent every spare moment exploring the ocean’s shore with her father.
“We had a family friend who collected seashells and seeing his collection for the first time blew me away,” she said. “Seeing that impressive collection was a pivotal moment for me that made me decide I wanted to be a marine biologist.”
That collection is one of the largest privately-owned collections in the world and now on display at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute.
Maia jokingly calls her dad her enabler, as the pair regularly woke up early in the morning to visit the low tide side of the island to collect seashells and explore.
“To this day, my dad still has all of the shells organized and labeled in his backyard shed,” she said. “I started working at the public aquarium on the island – a weekend job I kept through high school and some of college. Who I am today and the different areas I have explored have all been a direct result of growing up in Bermuda.”
Maia earned a bachelor’s degree in marine biology from the Florida Institute of Technology in 1989 and later went on to earn a Ph.D. in marine biology and fisheries at the University of Miami in 1997 with a research focus on coral reproduction.
She joined Florida Sea Grant in 2001, serving as a multi-county UF/IFAS Extension agent in northeast Florida.
In 2005, she was awarded the Marine Science Educator of the Year award by the Florida Marine Science Educators Association. In 2014 she was given the Don Sweat Award by Florida Sea Grant, and in 2015 she was named Conservation Educator of the Year by the Florida Wildlife Federation – just to name a few of the accolades she has received.
Also in 2015, Maia was awarded a NOAA Marine Debris Outreach and Education grant to start the Florida Microplastic Awareness Project. This citizen science project raises awareness of the sources and threats of microplastics in the coastal environment and teaches residents how to reduce their contribution to the plastic problem. The project has grown to include 27 regional coordinators around Florida and has gained over 3,000 pledges from citizens that vow to reduce their plastic waste and is one of Maia’s greatest contributions to Florida marine education to date.
When asked what her ‘why’ is, Maia says it’s seeing the connections people make as they learn.
“Seeing the light bulb go off in people’s heads as they gain the realization that they can make a difference,” she said. “That is the motivation that keeps me going and makes it all worthwhile. This work is my passion. You can tell from talking with me or anyone what has worked with me. That’s the bottom line, I love this work.”
Now, in a new role as UF/IFAS associate program leader for coastal and marine extension and Florida Sea Grant associate director for extension and education, she dedicates 100% of her time to help facilitate Florida Sea Grant-focused UF/IFAS Extension programming that reaches regional, state and national audiences giving her the opportunity to make impacts on an even greater scale.
About this Series: The year 2020 commemorates the centennial year of the passage of the 19th Amendment, a crucial achievement in the women’s suffrage movement. This milestone reminds us of the collective spirit marshalled to enact this change. Throughout the year, UF/IFAS is highlighting female researchers, educators, staff members, students and innovators who embodied a similar trailblazing spirit during their engagement with the university. These trailblazers left an indelible mark on both the university and the state of Florida. The 19th Amendment states, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” although some women were still denied the right to vote until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of the 1960s. We hope this series inspires others to ignite their own trailblazing spirit and effect change in our world.