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Peconic Baykeeper hires new chief

Brady J. Wilkins, the newly appointed Peconic Baykeeper,

Brady J. Wilkins, the newly appointed Peconic Baykeeper, aboard the organization's boat, the Kathy, Sept. 25, 2014. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The Peconic Baykeeper has hired a new baykeeper, Brady J. Wilkins, to surveil the waters for pollution and educate students about environmental stewardship, the group announced Wednesday.

"Getting him out on the water is the first priority," said the nonprofit's chairman, Brendan J. McCurdy.

Wilkins will skipper the Kathy, a 29-foot former fishing vessel that saw little action this summer because the previous baykeeper, Kevin McAllister, was dismissed in March. McAllister went on to help form a new Long Island conservation group, Defend H2O.

Until the boating season ends next month, Wilkins' first job will be "to get out there and see what the water looks like," McCurdy said.

"Sometimes it's very evident that there's a pollution source, like a big ole pipe," he said. "Sometimes it's not so obvious; you've got to take a look at the water and any change in the color."

The Peconic Baykeeper, a member of the international Waterkeeper Alliance, says it is dedicated to keeping Long Island waters "swimmable, fishable and drinkable" for all.

McCurdy and Wilkins said last weekend's climate change marches revealed global demand for green solutions. "It's really powerful . . . we want to ride that wave," Wilkins said.

The new baykeeper, who holds a master's in childhood education, has taught in several Suffolk school districts, including a stint teaching science at the Tuckahoe Common School District in Southampton.

"A great amount of my focus as the baykeeper will be to introduce students back into their environment," Wilkins said, noting he led pupils on whitewater rafting trips in West Virginia.

Those trips "reconnected them with nature and with their peers," Wilkins said, adding he will try to inspire pupils to urge elected officials to combat pollution.

Wilkins' teaching background and maritime credentials won him the post, McCurdy said.

The new baykeeper, 38, of Patchogue Village, holds an officer's license from the U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Marine. At 14, Wilkins said he began working for the Davis Park Ferry Co., Inc., eventually becoming a captain for the Fire Island Water Taxi.

"My entire life, I've been fortunate enough to live on the bay," said Wilkins, a native of Blue Point.

"I feel that everything I've done in the past has developed into this position," Wilkins said.

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