In the Upper Keys, people have come to associate Emma Haydocy’s name with environmental protection. Serving as Florida Bay Forever’s first full-time executive director since February 2020 (after joining the organization in 2019 as support staff), she catapulted the organization to new levels of influence and impact. Now, she hopes to do the same in her new role, as Surfrider’s Florida policy manager. 

“I am so grateful for my time with (Florida Bay Forever) and learned more than can be articulated in this interview,” Haydocy told the Weekly. “Florida Bay Forever was a wonderful entry into Everglades policy and the environmental policy landscape in Florida, and truly sparked a passion to work specifically in conservation policy.”

Haydocy will now transition into full-time policy work. Despite this shift, she holds onto the lessons she’s learned from her time at the Islamorada Chamber of Commerce and then at Florida Bay Forever to inform her decisions. 

“The biggest lesson I am taking with me is simply to remain flexible and adaptive in the wake of whatever the job throws your way.”

She explained how she took on her executive role a month before the Keys shut down due to the global pandemic. Any and all programming ideas, events, plans and fundraisers were thrown out the door. Rather than give up, she and her small team pivoted – as many small organizations have done – in order to persevere. 

“It has been challenging, but that flexibility (and the creativity it spurred) is what has led to the monumental success of the organization since then,” Haydocy said. 

She takes this can-do attitude and her policy prowess into her new Surfride role. At its core, the purpose of her new role is to advance conservation of Florida’s coastal and ocean ecosystem by strategically engaging Surfrider’s members, 12 Florida chapters, and other recreational users in policy initiatives, grassroots campaigns and community-based projects, she said.

Haydocy will operate with Surfrider’s four central policy areas that drive all of the organization’s work nationwide – coasts and climate, plastic pollution, clean water and ocean protection. The leader’s immediate goal is to engage Surfrider’s amazing grassroots network of chapters and volunteers to guide our state program’s policy priorities.

“I have learned a lot since beginning my work in the Florida Keys non-profit space, first at the Islamorada Chamber of Commerce and then with Florida Bay Forever. My biggest takeaway is that we have an amazing community of nonprofit staff, board members, donors, and supporters who are so passionate about their work and the well-being of our island chain,” she said.

Haydocy hopes to continue leveraging this passion and knowledge-base to help each Florida chapter of Surfrider tackle its unique challenges. She added, “One of Surfrider’s greatest strengths is the local knowledge that comes from its chapter network, and it is so important for me to have an understanding of each chapter’s unique waterways, challenges and needs to inform policy direction and strategy moving forward.”

For us here in the Keys, Haydocy identified “steep, complex challenges” for our environment and, by proxy, all our local communities and economy. Because everything relies on and benefits from a healthy coral reef, its decline is worrisome. Add to that plastic pollution, a freshwater-starved Florida Bay and nutrient pollution in nearshore waters, and potential solutions can sometimes feel out of reach.

“It can be difficult to pinpoint one singular issue,” she said. “However, I believe that the threat multiplier that compounds all of the myriad issues facing the Florida Keys environment is climate change, which also stands to do the most harm to our built and human environment throughout our island chain.”

Want to know more? Haydocy maintains an “open-door policy” – albeit virtually, now that she is working remotely. She welcomes connection with the local community, and can be reached at [email protected] or on her social media through Facebook or Instagram. 

As her final thoughts, she implored, “Join your local Surfrider Chapter! The Surfrider Florida Keys Chapter was chartered in 2018 and (is) currently seeking executive committee members and general members. This is the best way to get involved with the organization locally and connect with me on environmental priorities moving forward.”

Without missing a beat, she added, “In addition, I want to urge everyone to become a member of Florida Bay Forever. It is because of the collaboration of environmental organizations on the local, state and federal level that we achieve lasting and substantive changes for our environment, and we must support our local grassroots.”