Jessica Graham named new director for the St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Program

Jan Waddy
Jessica Graham, Utah
Jessica Graham, Utah

Florida State University Panama City has named Jessica Graham as the new director for the St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Program.

“I am so honored to be selected to lead the St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Program where I will have the opportunity to put my skills to work in my very own community,” said Jessica Graham, Ph.D. “I am excited to have this opportunity to work with so many different stakeholders with a common interest in managing these Bay systems to maintain the ecological, economic, social and recreational benefits.”

Housed on the FSU Panama City campus, the St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Program is a partnership between Florida State University and Bay County. The program is being modeled after the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program, and is funded by The Nature Conservancy, Bay County, FSU Panama City, and the Florida State University Consensus Center. 

“St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays are immensely important not only from an ecological standpoint, but also to the local community and Florida’s economy,” said Temperince Morgan, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “The appointment of Jessica Graham is an important step toward lasting conservation impacts in the region and the fulfilment of an ambitious vision for our estuaries that The Nature Conservancy, its partners, and local communities have been working towards for many years.”

Dr. Graham earned her B.S. in Marine Biology from Florida Institute of Technology where she continued to earn her Ph.D in Biological Sciences with a focus on coral reef community assemblages. She coordinated components of an international coral reef monitoring program focused on cooperation among diverse stakeholders toward addressing global conservation issues. Following graduation, Graham worked as the Northwest Legacy Biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and played a leading role in the habitat restoration efforts in the Chipola River watershed. 

Since 2015, Graham has been the Program Director of the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership (SARP), a regional nonprofit organization that covers 14 southeast states focused on aquatic habitat restoration and protection. During this time, she has developed effective partnerships, provided technical guidance, planning and financial assistance as well as the coordination of four main programs focused on restoring, protecting, and enhancing freshwater and estuarine habitats in the Southeast region.

“Jessica Graham has a proven track record and will be integral to ensuring the success of the St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Program,” said Randy Hanna, dean of FSU Panama City. “Through her expertise and community partnerships, Dr. Graham’s commitment to the Bays and the restoration of the watershed can be amplified on local, state and national levels. St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays are vital resources to residents and visitors alike, and we are honored to partner with Bay County, The Nature Conservancy and the FSU Consensus Center on this important initiative.” 

The St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Program is designed to be a community and citizen-driven effort to work with stakeholders and the public to identify and solve problems facing the bays, based on objective, scientific information. St. Andrew Bay is one of the most biologically diverse bays in North America and St. Joseph Bay has the richest and most abundant concentrations of marine grasses along the Northwest Florida coast. The bays are an essential resource to area maritime and naval operations as well as tourism. 

“Bay County welcomes the hiring of Dr. Jessica Graham as an important step in the establishment of the St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Program,” said Robert Carroll, Chairman, Bay County Board of County Commissioners. “The Board of County Commissioners’ commitment of RESTORE Act funds and The Nature Conservancy’s generous donation were essential to launching this program.  With FSU Panama City as the host of the program, we know that the Estuary Program will serve as a forum for all communities of the St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays watershed to coordinate our activities to ensure healthy bays.  We are fortunate to have Dr. Graham as the Executive Director.  She has the necessary technical knowledge and is a long-time member of our community.  Dr. Graham knows how important our bays are to our environment, our economy, and our identity.”

In its first phase, the program’s policy board composed of local elected officials and agency expert representatives has been established. Graham will now select her team to lead the effort in providing for the long-term protection of St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays. The estuary’s Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan (CCMP) is scheduled for completion and adoption by member local governments in 2023.

For more information about the St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bay program, visit St. Andrews and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Program or email

For more information about The Nature Conservancy’s work to support the estuary program and Florida’s Gulf coast, visit the The Nature Conservancy website, or contact Fran Perchick at