Mel Morris named NFEC Environmentalist of the Year

Mel Morris (center) works with students, educating them about the local environment. (Credit: Courtesy)
Mel Morris (center) works with students, educating them about the local environment. (Credit: Courtesy)

He started the Open Space Stewardship Program and the Day in the Life program at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton.

He devotes his time to working with local teachers and students to educate about the outside world surrounding them.

He’s Melvyn “Mel” Morris, North Fork Environmental Council’s Richard Noncarrow Environmentalist of the Year.

Mr. Morris, a Mattituck resident, has been the manager of special projects in the Office of Educational Programs at BNL for the past 14 years. As part of his role with the lab, he educated more than 2,000 students in the last year alone.

He was recognized at a reception in his honor Thursday evening at the Mattituck Park District’s Veterans Park Community Room.

“It’s important to get kids out early enough to get them away from handheld devices and outside to see the real environment, not the virtual environment,” he said. “It gets them excited about what’s out there.”

One such way is through the Open Space Stewardship Program, a partnership with local schools where students collect a variety of data about their surroundings. Each June, about 400 students from that program are invited to display their work at BNL.

His other main project is Day in the Life, a program for teachers and students to study alongside environmental experts at local rivers, including the Peconic Estuary, Carmans River and the Nissequogue River. Teachers are encouraged to save the research, he said, so that students can see firsthand how the rivers and environment changes over time.

The program partners with the Central Pine Barrens Commission, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and other groups to host about 1,800 students over three days.

“A Day In the Life of the Peconic Estuary not only covered the entire East End but students across all disciplines,” said Bill Toedter, NFEC president. “It was not only people interested in biology and science; there was writers, artists, photographers — all types of people participate in the process which is critical because these problems took years and years to happen and will take years and years to fix.”

Mr. Toedter said Mr. Morris was honored because of his dedication to “bringing teachers, schools and school-aged children to local and regional areas to raise awareness and look at the process of identifying environmental issues.”

Environmental education has always played a large role in Mr. Morris’ life dating back to his first teaching jobs in the late 1960s. Prior to starting his job at BNL, he was a high school teacher where he taught biology, marine science and earth science.

Mr. Morris said nature is something he always has and always will love.

“I never cease to wonder or be amazed by the diversity of life that exists out in our local environment and be in awe of just the beauty of all of it,” said Mr. Morris. “So I think when you’re out in the environment you just gain a different respect for it than just reading about it or looking at pictures of it, especially the East End. It’s just magnificent so much of the environment is still untouched.”

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