Illustration by Mary Crooks

    Growing up on a farm in Goochland County, Virginia, Murray developed a strong interest in the outdoors at a young age. “I felt a little bit of responsibility for things related to nature and the environment, because I had so many great experiences in nature and the environment and on the water as a child,” he says.

    Murray recalls watching nature programs, including Wild Kingdom and specials on Jacques Cousteau, and he also has memories of learning about the environment while exploring the farm where he grew up. “I had a big burlap sack when I was a little kid,” he says. “A neighbor and I went down to the creek behind our house, and we stuck the burlap sack under the water for about 10 seconds and pulled it up. There were hundreds of fish and 10 different species [of fish]. It blew my mind that there was such diversity and abundance in this little cow pasture creek.”

    Murray’s sister, Jane, who currently works for The Nature Conservancy, was also influenced by the family to choose a path in conservation. “We both feel like we have the opportunity to put our passion to work,” Murray says. “We have the background and experience to have developed these really deep connections, and so we both feel a real commitment to address what both of us see as an ongoing environmental crisis.”

    As he grew older, Murray pursued his passion by studying biology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. He took a year off during college to research birds in the jungles of Peru and Bolivia for the Wildlife Conservation Society. Before founding the New York Harbor School, Murray worked for the conservation groups Hudson Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance.


    “The most exciting thing is when we have a student who would not have had any opportunities or interest in a career related to working on or around water or environmental issues, and because of their high school experience at the Harbor School, they not only get turned onto the possibilities out there but they also develop a real passion for water and environmental issues.”


    “The most demanding part is that we deal with very high-need kids who as high school students present constant and large problems when we are trying to deliver a very specific and a very tough curriculum.”


    “I define geography as the way humans have been able to quantify, qualify, and describe the natural systems and landscapes that surround us.”


    The New York Harbor School teaches students about geography by showing them the landmasses, bodies of water, and microclimates of the estuary around the city. “We expose kids to [geographic features] in really real and engaging ways, so they become experts about the geography of New York Harbor,” he says. “It’s the most constant way of saying this is your place, this is where you fit into this world, this is how the rest of this place relates to the rest of the world.”


    Murray suggests school administrators have a background in teaching and organizing curricula. “If we want our kids to be learning well, then we’ve got to develop good teaching opportunities,” he says. “It turns out that getting them to do the work of restoring the harbor is a really excellent example of it.”


    Murray believes that restoring your local keystone species—species that play a critical role in maintaining the structure of an ecosystem—is an incredibly important undertaking for those interested in conserving their local waterways. Oysters are a keystone species in New York Harbor.

    “Find out what those keystone species are that will clean the water, that will create habitat, and that will provide food for other creatures,” he says, “and start large-scale restoration efforts and involve the government in them.”

    School Founder and Director: Murray Fisher

    Murray Fisher is the founder and program director of the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    abundance Noun

    large amount.

    administrator Noun

    person who organizes and manages the policies, rules, and requirements of an organization.

    biology Noun

    study of living things.

    cattle pasture Noun

    large area of grassland where cattle graze.

    conservation Noun

    management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.

    Encyclopedic Entry: conservation
    creek Noun

    flowing body of water that is smaller than a river.

    curriculum Noun

    classes or courses of study offered by a school or a specific school program.

    diversity Noun


    ecosystem Noun

    community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ecosystem
    estuary Noun

    mouth of a river where the river's current meets the sea's tide.

    Encyclopedic Entry: estuary
    farm Noun

    land cultivated for crops, livestock, or both.

    Jacques Cousteau Noun

    (1910-1997) French aquatic explorer and scientist.

    jungle Noun

    tropical ecosystem filled with trees and underbrush.

    keystone species Noun

    organism that has a major influence on the way its ecosystem works.

    Encyclopedic Entry: keystone species
    landmass Noun

    large area of land.

    landscape Noun

    the geographic features of a region.

    Encyclopedic Entry: landscape
    microclimate Noun

    small area where the climate differs within a larger climate region, such as "heat islands" in a city.

    restoration Noun

    repair of damage to an ecosystem so that it can function as a normal self-regulating system.