St. Petersburg resident and community leader Kim Amendola recently made history as the first woman ever appointed as the deputy regional administrator in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries (NOAA) Southeast Regional Office.
The Fisheries’ Regional Office, located in St. Pete’s Innovation District, is responsible for protecting and maintaining ocean resources and marine habitats over 20,000 nautical miles of coastline through the South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. That includes the eight coastal states of North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Amendola said she was surprised to learn she was the first female to assume a senior leadership position at the regional office. She brings a unique skill set that combines hands-on experience with a background in marine biology and mass communications to her new role.
“So, it’s an honor, and I’m humbled by it,” she said. “It’s a nice feeling.”
Growing up on Barnegat Bay in Tom’s River, New Jersey, Amendola quickly developed an affinity for swimming, sailing, fishing and crabbing. Family vacations to Marco Island introduced her to Florida’s Gulf Coast, and she attended Eckerd College, where she graduated with a degree in Biology. She later received her master’s degree in public relations from the University of South Florida.
While most of Amendola’s classes took place on the Tampa Campus, NOAA’s regional office is near USFSP’s College of Marine Science and the future location of the $80 million Interdisciplinary Center of Excellence in Environmental and Oceanographic Science (EOS). Amendola maintains close ties with Eckerd and USF, and she hopes her new administrative role will inspire female students.
“I think the important thing – and the message for females – is to take up the opportunities that come your way,” she said. “Volunteer for everything you can possibly volunteer for because you never know where it’s going to bring you.
“Be confident in yourself and know that you can do this.”
Amendola said she seized her opportunities, beginning with joining Eckerd’s Search and Rescue Team. She described that experience as one of the many instances she fearlessly entered a male-dominated space. Although she said the team possessed female leadership, and still does, students entering the program were predominantly men.
After graduating from Eckerd in 1992, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) hired Amendola as a biological scientist. The FWC’s research institute is also in the same area of the Innovation District as NOAA, USFSP’s College of Marine Science and the U.S. Coast Guard station. She spent hundreds of hours on the water conducting fieldwork for the FWC – catching fish and aging species and providing the data to fishery managers.
Amendola said she learned a lot from the area’s best commercial and recreational anglers and called the fieldwork labor-intensive but fun.
“You never knew what you were going to find,” she said. “It really made me who I am today and made me better able to understand our constituents and where they’re coming from when we’re talking with them.”
After about a decade of conducting fieldwork for the FWC, Amendola said she realized her passion for educating the public on marine science, fisheries and the science behind fishing regulations. She then received her graduate degree in public relations from USF and joined NOAA in 2005 as a communications specialist.
Amendola also dove into community outreach. She is a founding member of the St. Petersburg Science Festival and the St. Petersburg Ocean Team. Amendola also sits on the St. Petersburg Innovation District’s council and the Eckerd College Friends of the Waterfront board. She said her greatest fishery concern is helping people realize the myriad of ecological impacts and how they tie together.
“Whether it’s human impacts, natural impacts – hurricanes, storms and other things,” she said. “It’s just having people understand the big picture of everything that is affecting our natural resources, from the one fish somebody catches all the way to climate change.”
As NOAA’s deputy regional administrator, Amendola is now the second in charge of the Southeast Regional Office’s expansive purview. She said she looks forward to working with employees on a different level to achieve operational and mission needs.
Amendola said it is an honor to help Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg become known as a mecca for marine science. She relayed that she moved to the area to attend college with no idea that St. Petersburg would become her home and where she built a successful career. Additionally, she said she did not realize the wealth of resources and expertise emanating from the area and is grateful to have learned from some of the best mentors in the field – from Eckerd and USF to her state and federal career.
“So, just to be able to have married all of my passions – between marine science, the ocean and public relations – and be where I am today is like a dream come true,” said Amendola. “I honestly never would have expected that’s what would come out of me moving here to go to Eckerd.”