Duane De Freese, PhD., Executive Director
Duane earned his B.S. in Zoology from the University of Rhode Island (1976) and M.S. (1982), and Ph.D. (1988) in Marine Biology from the Florida Institute of Technology. He did post-doctoral research on the Indian River Lagoon at the University of Florida IFAS (1990-1991). Since that time, he has served in senior leadership roles with government, non-profit organizations, academia, and in industry. Duane currently serves as a Governor-appointed Board member of Florida’s Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force. He served nine years as a Governor-appointed member of CareerSource FL Inc. (2013-2022). He is a member of the Board of Directors for the Florida Ocean Alliance, the Association of National Estuary Programs, the Advisory Board for the Southeast and Caribbean Disaster Resilience Partnership, the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association and a Legacy Campaign Cabinet Member for the Brevard Zoo Aquarium Project. Duane has been an avid surfer for over 50 years and an “I wish I was better at it” saltwater fly fishing enthusiast.
Kathleen Hill, Deputy Director
Kathy graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in Biology. She worked in HIV/AIDS research before coming to Florida in 1995 to pursue a master’s degree in Marine Biology. She graduated from the Florida Institute of Technology in 1998. She worked in lagoon research for nine years at the Smithsonian Marine Station before joining the NEP in 2007 as the Outreach and Education Coordinator. In 2016, Kathy became the Communications Director for the program, and in 2018 became Deputy Director. Kathy works on developing and aligning the Program’s internal and external communications and public outreach strategies, managing contracts, and developing print, web, and social media publications. In her free time, Kathy is an avid gardener and enjoys photography and kayaking.
Daniel Kolodny, Chief Operating Officer
Daniel graduated from the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology and Aquaculture. Daniel worked in fisheries management with the National Marine Fisheries and the Nez Perce Tribe for several years before witnessing the drastic changes to the Indian River Lagoon, which prompted him to return to FIT in 2014, and 2015 he earned his Master of Science in Environmental Resource Management. He worked with Brevard County Natural Resources Department as a project manager for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Petroleum Restoration Program in groundwater cleanup. In 2019 he joined the IRLNEP as the Chief Operating Officer and Financial Officer and manages all their budgets, grants, and contracts. He is an avid outdoorsman and can regularly be found on the Lagoon assisting in restoration activities and fishing.
Kirsten Jo (KJ) Ayres, GIS/IT Data Scientist
KJ received her Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) from the University of West Florida. KJ then got her Master of Science in Ocean, Coastal, and Earth Sciences from the University of Texas -RGV, focusing on Coastal and Marine Biogeochemistry. KJ’s research focused on inorganic nutrient resuspension in sediments in the Lower Laguna Madre of Texas. KJ has worked for three city and county governments as a GIS professional in her short career before joining the IRLNEP. As the GIS/IT Scientist, KJ oversees the website and database management and analyzes funded project data. KJ is also an adjunct Geosciences Professor at Salt Lake Community College. When KJ is not working, she is either playing video games, spending time with her two rescued dogs, or traveling to as many national parks as she can.
Erin Bergman, Administrative Coordinator
Erin is a recent transplant to Florida from the Midwest. Erin earned an Associate of Arts Degree in Dental Hygiene from Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas. She transitioned to administrative work by working as the Office Manager for St.Pius X High school and later as a Senior Administrative Specialist for The School of Science and Health at Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Missouri, and has never looked back. Erin is in charge of organizing minutes, agendas, and powerpoints for the IRL Council Management board. When not supporting and keeping the IRLNEP staff organized, you will find her painting and/or salvaging furniture when she is not spending time with her family.
Jessy Wayles, Northern IRL Community Engagement Coordinator
Jessy earned her Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences from the University of Central Florida. After graduation, she accepted a position with the Marine Discovery Center coordinating their Shuck & Share Oyster Recycling Program, shoreline restoration projects, and citizen science programs. Throughout her time with MDC she made many excellent connections in the lagoon community, and she looks forward to expanding her knowledge within this new position. In her spare time, Jessy plays roller derby with the Thunder City Derby Sirens, crochets stuffed animals for craft shows, and swims in Florida’s beautiful springs as a mermaid.
Heather Stapleton, Central IRL Community Engagement Coordinator
Originally from Indiana, Heather Stapleton proudly calls Indian River County home. She graduated from Indiana University with majors in Environmental Studies, Political Science, and French. Upon graduation, Heather served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Benin, West Africa, for three years. Most recently, Heather was the Executive Director of Vero Heritage, Inc, a private nonprofit that operates the Indian River Citrus Museum. Previously, Heather was the Education Director at the Environmental Learning Center for 16 years. She is actively involved with the local community and is passionate about history, culture, and the environment. When Heather is not working, she will likely perform on stage at a community theater or sing with local choirs.
Caleta Scott, Southern IRL Community Engagement Coordinator
After receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from the University of Florida in 2000, Caleta enjoyed a thriving private sector operations management career in Atlanta, GA, before moving to her birthplace of Fort Pierce in 2015. Her previous local government roles with the City of Fort Pierce and the Florida Department of Health in St. Lucie County have given her valuable experience in community engagement, strategic planning, and public health. Caleta is enthusiastic about wellness and has been a yoga instructor since 2020. You may find her at Fort Pierce’s Frederick Douglass Beach, along the Indian River at Old Fort Park, or walking the Seaway Bridge.
The Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program
1235 Main Street, Sebastian, FL 32958