The angler, diver and surfer who grew up in Stuart and fell in love with the water celebrates his 41st anniversary this month as executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society.
“It has been a long process, a long road,” Mark Perry says. “It’s good, though, all good.”
Perry, who also celebrates his 67th birthday this month, shows no signs of stopping. An avid environmentalist and tireless advocate, he is on the cusp of completing a capital campaign that will bring a new building and exhibit hall to the society’s coastal center on Hutchinson Island. He continues to push for the funding of crucial restoration projects involving oyster reefs and seagrasses.
“I want to see these accomplishments before I pass the baton,” he says. “I’m running the relay, so I’ve got to pass the baton on to the next person to run the next leg of the relay, but I can’t tell you exactly when.”
Perry grabbed the reins of the non-profit from his father, Clifton Perry, and Sailfish Point developer James Rand, two of its founding board members.
“I rebuilt the organization,” he says. “I began writing grants to get things going. I felt like it was going to be dissolved and slip away, and I said, ‘No, it can’t.’ It was in the absolutely perfect area.”
The Indian River Lagoon is the most biodiverse estuary in the country, nurturing more than 4,300 species of flora and fauna. Recurring blue-green algae blooms have threatened the delicate habitat.
“Why are we continuing to get blue-green algae blooms, and how can we stop and prevent them?” Perry asks. “People are very, very interested in that. There’s more awareness now of Florida’s water pollution than there ever was before. I just think that’s what makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something.”
He has testified before the U.S. Senate about the issue and frequently speaks to civic groups, local officials and schools, pressing the importance of clean waterways.
“It is critical to our state,” Perry says. “We’ve got to get back to working with Mother Nature.”
What is the most difficult thing about your job?
Probably the most difficult thing is maintaining communications with all parties on all aspects of my work and the continuing education of our state and federal leadership on the issues facing Florida’s waters.
What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
Seeing progress on preventing pollution to our waters and restoring habitat in the estuary. Also, watching young visitors in our education programs and at the coastal center become inspired to be stewards of Florida’s coastal ecosystems.
What is next for the Florida Oceanographic Society?
We see 64,000 visitors a year. When we are built out, we hope to see 100,000 visitors.
What is next for you?
It’s my responsibility to be an advocate to the point where I want to fulfill our mission. Sometimes, it’s hard to know if you’ve done any good, but then, finally, you start to realize there’s some progress. I know I can’t do it all as executive director, but by educating people every day, we might be able to.