top of page

2019 Recipient Maura Duffy


Maura Duffy

YLACES (Youth Learning as Citizen Environmental Scientists), an organization committed to advancing student engagement in science, announces Maura Duffy, Conservation Project Manager at National Aquarium in Baltimore, as the winner of its Fifth Annual Youth Environmental Science (YES) Medal.  Ms. Duffy has made a significant impact on environmental education in Baltimore and throughout Maryland through her work with the National Aquarium. She facilitates students’ participation in hands-on ecosystem monitoring and restoration activities both at the National Aquarium and in collaboration with external partners.


Ms. Duffy chose the National Aquarium to receive the $10,000 grant that accompanies the award from YLACES. The 2019 YES Medal Award will help the National Aquarium expand its citizen science and community-based habitat restoration programming over the coming year.  With this funding, approximately 380 students from six schools will create wildlife habitat by raising native plants in their school yards during the fall and winter, and then transplanting them to a restoration project site in the spring.  This citizen science program works with wildlife experts and more than a thousand community members to make wildlife species observations throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area primarily through an annual Masonville Cove BioBlitz and the City Nature Challenge


The Medal was presented to Ms. Duffy at the annual meeting of the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) in February 2020. 


The YES Medal is awarded annually in recognition of a significant contribution to youth learning as citizen environmental scientists. The Medal is presented with a grant to an organization of the recipient’s choosing to further the organization’s work consistent with the objectives of YLACES -- to develop citizens with scientific habits of mind, utilizing the environmental as a learning laboratory where students conduct inquiry-based research and contribute to a better collective understanding of our changing worlds.  


Maura leads the National Aquarium’s participation in the annual Masonville Cove BioBlitz and the City Nature Challenge More information is on  the National Aquarium website under Urban Biodiversity and Habitat Restoration:


Maura also supports the Aquarium's Summer Citizen Science Programming in its Waterfront Park. In this role, she engages both the general public within the inner harbor and also works with the National Aquarium’s high school work study students (Aquarium on Wheels), as Citizen Science Ambassadors, teaching them about both the importance of citizen science as well as measurements of water quality and species diversity.  In turn, these students assist Aquarium staff in educating the community at large.

Maura grew up in Catonsville, Maryland, and first discovered her passion for ecology and conservation in a high school science class. She also launched an environmental club in high school to share her passion with fellow students. While earning her bachelor's degree in environmental science and policy at the University of Maryland College Park, Maura interned for the Arundel Rivers Federation. She has worked at the National aquarium for five years. 


Maura's YES Medal Speech

Thank you, Dixon.

I am honored to be here tonight and grateful to be the recipient of this year’s Youth
Environmental Science Medal. I deeply appreciate this recognition from a wonderful
organization. YLACES, or Youth Learning as Citizen Environmental Scientists, seeks to develop
students’ scientific minds by using the environment as a learning laboratory. It is important to
engage young minds in scientific inquiry to build their skills and inspire environmental

I seek to do the same through my job at the National Aquarium. I work in the Conservation
Programs department where our goal is to reach beyond the walls of our building and actively
work with students, volunteers, and community members to participate in hands-on ecosystem
monitoring and restoration projects. Since 2010, we have put over 868,000 plants in the
ground, removed more than 841,000 pieces of marine debris and litter from our waterways,
and engaged 9,307 volunteers.

I lead our Atlantic white cedar restoration project with three schools here on the Eastern Shore.
Each fall, these schools receive Atlantic white cedar trees - which are listed as a vulnerable
species in Maryland. They care for these trees during the winter, often naming each tree in the
process, and bring their trees to a Nature Conservancy preserve where they plant the very trees
they took care of. These students have a hands-on part in creating wildlife habitat while also
helping to bring back a species in need of our help. This is one of my favorite middle school
student quotes from after they finished the program: “Our environment is something to take
good care of. I have learned the importance of helping my environment and helping my

In addition to our habitat restoration work, I lead our Get Nerdy With Nature program. Thanks
to the generous funding awarded to us from YLACES, I will be able to continue and expand this
work. The Get Nerdy With Nature program seeks to engage students and volunteers to help
document biodiversity across the Baltimore metropolitan area. This data is shared on the local,

national, and international levels with the goal of supplementing and improving more
traditional biodiversity data sets.

I lead our annual BioBlitz at Masonville Cove, which is our nation’s first Urban Wildlife Refuge
Partnership, in Baltimore City. Wildlife biologists, naturalists, volunteers, and students all come
together on this day to explore the refuge together and record wildlife observations. We are
still making new discoveries and in 2019 documented 34 new species not recorded previously
on iNaturalist at this event.

My biggest project is leading the entire Baltimore metropolitan area in the annual City Nature
Challenge. The City Nature Challenge is an international competition to see which city can get
outside to make the most observations of nature, identify the most species, and engage the
most people. We are calling on students, teachers, parks, nonprofits, and you to help us
document wildlife throughout the Baltimore metro area. By working together last year we
made 8,500 observations of 1,268 species in 4 days. We finished in the top 5 cities for our city
size and are aiming to rank even higher this year. Participate April 24 – 27, 2020.

Those who plant a tree, plant a hope. Our hopes lie in both the trees we plant to restore vital
habitats, but also in the students we work with. Our work is not without its challenges –
anything from bad weather, school buses breaking down on field trip days, and long hours
spent preparing for programs – but it is worth it in the end when you see the impact it makes
for our students. One fond memory I have is from urban refuge day when high school students,
who at first were too cool to walk the trails, were by the afternoon running through pollinator
meadows catching butterflies in insect nets with smiles on their faces.

No one achieves their successes without help from people who believe in them and encourage
their ability. Thank you to YLACES, Danielle, Dixon, and Elena. I would like to thank my parents,
who are here tonight, my family, Grace, and Patrick. Thank you to my coworkers at the
National Aquarium. And thank you especially to the women working in this field who have
mentored me from the time I was a student to today.

I hope that you take my words and the words of our keynote speakers with you tonight and
have a great MAEOE conference. Thanks!

bottom of page