MARCO Management Board Member Spotlight – Laura McKay, Virginia Representative

Jan 28, 2022


As part of an effort to help MARCO stakeholders and partners get to know members of the MARCO Management Board, the quarterly newsletter has added a new feature – “Spotlight on a Management Board Member.” This month’s spotlight is on the representative from Virginia, Laura McKay. Learn more about Laura in her own words from the interview for the Spotlight.

Name: Laura McKay

Title: Program Manager

Organization: Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality

Years on Management Board: 12

MARCO Role: I am a founding member of, past Chair of and the current Virginia representative on the MARCO Management Board.

MARCO Workgroups: I lead the Ocean Mapping and Data Team and the Marine Debris Work Group.


What are your daily job duties?
Mainly to ensure that the federal funds Virginia receives from NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management (about $3M/year) are spent wisely and according to funding guidelines and to provide a forum through our inter-agency Coastal Policy Team to improve and enhance coastal management policies. Other duties include managing our small staff of six people and serving on a variety of boards and groups such as MARCO, MACO, the Virginia Offshore Wind Development Authority, the Virginia Eastern Shore Conservation Alliance and a few Chesapeake Bay Program Goal Implementation Teams.

What are the most fun and the most challenging parts of your job?
What I find the most fun, and at the same time the most challenging and nerve-wracking, is helping to acquire coastal land for conservation and public access in perpetuity. Of all the work we do, acquiring land and building public access may have the greatest long-lasting impact. Other fun parts of the job are working with wonderful, dedicated people and learning so much about such a variety of coastal and ocean issues.

Why did you get involved in ocean resource management?
I have always loved the ocean. Having grown up in coastal Massachusetts and being brought to Crane’s Beach every summer day as a child (like it or not!) instilled a strong sense of wonder in me at the ocean’s vastness and the creatures that inhabit it. College courses in environmental policy and science and oceanography cemented my career interests. I was fortunate enough to receive a Sea Grant Scholarship for my graduate work which propelled me into my career – first with New York Sea Grant 1982 and then with the Virginia CZM Program in 1988.

What is the most pressing ocean resource issue in your state?
At the moment, the most pressing issue is how to fit offshore wind development into our busy ocean while protecting ocean wildlife, fisheries and other ocean uses. Other issues are also pressing such as protecting the declining numbers of certain whale and seabird species, ocean acidification, shifts in habitats and plastics in the ocean, but offshore wind is currently being developed at a very fast pace requiring immediate attention.

What is your hope for the future of ocean resource management?
My hope is that use conflicts can be resolved in a fair, just and ecologically sustainable way, that we stop the flow of plastics and derelict fishing gear into the ocean and that we reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses that are causing ocean temperatures and sea level to rise and ocean acidity to increase. That’s a lot of hopes – I know!

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