109 South Greenway Trail, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459 | (850) 200-4171 | cba@nwfsc.edu


Alison McDowell

Executive Director • Marine Scientist


As a lifelong resident of Okaloosa and Walton counties, Alison grew up swimming, fishing and boating in the Choctawhatchee Bay.  This youthful passion, paired with a mature appreciation of local waterways gained by working in the fishing and hospitality industries, sparked Alison’s drive to return to school and pursue a path that would allow her to give back to our local environment. Through undergrad courses in fieldwork, and internships and volunteer opportunities with local environmental agencies, Alison gained an understanding and appreciation of the vital role of waterways in connecting and giving life to the landscape here in the Choctawhatchee watershed. Alison began working at Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) in 2007 after serving as a CBA volunteer citizen scientist for 2 years. Her early paid duties included coordinating municipal partnerships for compliance with stormwater permits, grant writing and creating and developing the Restoration and Education programs. She received her Master’s in Environmental Science from the University of West Florida in 2013, which eventually led her to the role as Director of CBA beginning in 2014. As Director, her goals for the organization focus on the growth and expansion of CBA’s mission and objectives, as well as the articulation of CBA’s brand, voice and culture.  In her free time, Alison never stops exploring the watershed; she can be found in the woods or in the water almost every weekend, often with friends and family.

Rachel Gwin

CBA Senior Program Manager, Restoration


Rachel has worked at the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance for 13 years now and keeps CBA’s mission of preserving local waterways as a goal in her professional and personal life. Living in the Florida Panhandle for over 20 years gave Rachel a deep appreciation for the beauty of the waterways found in Okaloosa and Walton Counties and led to her completing a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Studies from Florida State University. After graduating from FSU, she completed a year of service with AmeriCorps during their first year partnering with CBA. She loved learning all about the watershed, educating the public and inspiring the next generation of water stewards, and especially taking part in the hands-on restoration of eroding shorelines. After her year of service was complete she was hired on at CBA where she worked as a Program Specialist for 3 years working on shoreline restoration, conducting water quality monitoring, and helping with annual seagrass surveys. In 2014 she happily accepted a position as CBA’s Restoration Coordinator and was later promoted to the Senior Program Manager over the restoration program in 2021, where she has worked to expand CBA’s restoration programs and is actively involved with many regional and national working groups for restoration, living shorelines, and invasive plants. Rachel completed her GIS certification through the University of West Florida, which has helped greatly with permitting and grant reporting. She enjoys monitoring the restored habitat to see all of the species that utilize the reefs for habitat, and loves working with the community to foster their appreciation for our beautiful watershed.

Amanda Briant

Education Program Manager


Having always loved science and nature, it wasn’t surprising that Amanda decided to major in Biology at the University of North Georgia. She pursued her interests in ecology research by working at the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center in Southwest Georgia, where she spent three summers learning all about the longleaf pine ecosystem. When asked to be a part of a research project on the Eglin Reservation, she jumped at the opportunity. After a few years working in the research and natural resources field, Amanda realized how little people know about the nature in their backyards, and she started looking for opportunities in outreach and education. In 2016 she began her journey with CBA as an Environmental Education Technician. Since then she has worked her way up in the organization to become the Education Program Manager. While the longleaf pine brought Amanda to Northwest Florida, it is the beautiful diversity of habitats encompassing this area that keeps her here. Whether her feet are in the wiregrass or in the water, she is always exploring, learning and teaching.

Kayla Wingard

CBA Monitoring Program Coordinator


Kayla’s innate appreciation for wildlife and wildlands drove her to pursue a career focused on sharing that passion with others and contributing to environmental conservation. At the University of North Carolina–Wilmington she earned bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Spanish as well discovered the beauty of estuaries and surrounding wetlands. After college she was driven to make an impact through education both as a museum outreach educator and STEM education evaluator and researcher. In an effort to immerse herself in the impactful environmental data that she delivered to students, she refocused her work as an analyst at an environmental laboratory until she was presented the opportunity to become part of the CBA crew. At CBA she can usually be found conducting water quality monitoring, training volunteers, or assisting with shoreline restoration projects. When she is not at CBA, she enjoys spending time with her bird and rabbit, salsa dancing, and being in nature.  

Jenna Testa

Science Communication and Engagement Specialist


Growing up along the Emerald Coast, Jenna has always been fascinated by the local marine environment and the life it supports.  She obtained her undergraduate degree in Biology at Florida State University, with a minor in Chemistry, and focus in Marine Biology.  Always interested in animal behavior and wildlife conservation, Jenna had some unique, early-career experiences as a wildlife rehabilitator, zookeeper, marine animal stranding coordinator and marine mammal trainer.  Seeing many conservation-related issues unfolding in her community, Jenna was compelled to pursue her master's degree in Conservation Biology through Miami University in 2018.  This graduate program, called Project Dragonfly, enabled her to travel to Belize, Australia, and Africa to learn with and amongst conservationists, scientists, and local communities.  Jenna’s Masters Portfolio focused on incorporating marine conservation activities into the community of northwest Florida, which perfectly positioned her for her evolving roles at CBA, beginning with her joining the team in 2019 as Monitoring Coordinator, then moving to the Monitoring Program Manager position.  Now, with Jenna and her husband recently welcoming a baby girl, she is thrilled to move into the role of Science Communication and Engagement Specialist at CBA. She is excited to represent CBA out in our community, using her communication skills to engage with different audiences and pave new avenues for science communication and participation within the CBA mission.

Katia Hajduk

CBA Education and Outreach Specialist


Katia is originally from the beautiful state of Maine. From a young age, she loved the outdoors and nurtured a passion for traveling. With those twin interests, she journeyed to Saint Michael’s College of Vermont and earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies. Eager to pursue her calling in the environmental field and to explore other ecosystems, she worked for a year as an AmeriCorps member with the Northwest Florida Environmental Stewards program, and fell in love with the Choctawhatchee Bay environment. At the end of her AmeriCorps program year, Katia accepted a job with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance, where she is a vital component of the Education Team. At work, Katia focuses on educating students in Grasses in Classes, and her role as volunteer coordinator for all CBA programs. She is excited to continue to network and represent the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance at events, where she aims to get more people involved with the organization, and to educate the community about the natural environment. During her free time, Katia enjoys staying active, whether swimming, walking on the beach, or playing mini golf.

Tucker Reynolds

CBA Restoration and Monitoring Specialist


Born and raised on the Emerald Coast, Tucker has been in the water from a young age. This passion for the water drove him to get his B.S in Marine Biology from the University of West Florida. During his time there, he did an aquaculture internship on an oyster farm, which helped grow his appreciation for oysters and the restoration work they can provide. Before joining CBA, Tucker spent time interning with the Pensacola and Perdido Bays Estuary Program where he helped increase manatee awareness within North West Florida. At CBA, Tucker is in charge of Oyster Recycling and Oyster Gardening programs, and spends a lot of time on the water with our Monitoring Team. His hobbies include fishing, diving, and being outdoors.

Chris Croteau

CBA Ecology Technician


Although being a biologist has been his number one goal for as long as Chris can remember, he was originally only interested in reptiles, especially snakes. It wasn’t until an internship on the Gulf World Marine Institute’s marine wildlife rescue and rehabilitation team in his freshman year of college that Chris discovered his passion for conserving marine wildlife. Chris spent the next four years helping rescue protected sea turtles, dolphins, and other whales across the Florida Panhandle. He was also able to get involved with sea turtle nesting data collection through South Walton Turtle Watch, which opened his eyes to the positive and negative influences communities can have on their local ecosystems and species. Chris jumped at the opportunity to join the CBA team in the spring of 2023 after graduating from the University of West Florida with a Marine Biology degree and now works as a part-time Ecology Technician. His passion is stoked by seeing the cascade of positive impacts that flow into the Choctawhatchee Bay from every conservation effort. He also continues to volunteer with the Marine Institute and South Walton Turtle Watch as well as serve as a lifeguard for the City of Panama City Beach.

Taina Sanchez

CBA Education Technician


Taina spent most of her childhood growing up in this area, and having that exposure to the beach and outdoor activities sparked her love for the outdoors, especially the ocean.

Taina attended the University of Miami to take advantage of their famous Rosenstiel School and opportunities to learn in Miami's tropical ecosystem. She earned a BS in Marine Biology and Ecology with a minor in Ecosystem Science and Policy in May 2023. During her time at UM, Taina studied abroad in the Galapagos and interned at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute!

She just wrapped up an internship with the Escambia County Marine Resources Department where she worked on a coastal erosion project and helped with their GIS initiatives. Taina is excited to get to do more coastal and shoreline work with CBA. In her free time, Taina enjoys spending time with family and friends, running, going to trivia, going to the beach, reading, and watching movies. 

Amber Morera

CBA Ecology Technician


Having moved more times than she can count, including some time spent living in Northwest Florida, Amber has been exposed to a variety of the wonderful habitats located across the globe. Throughout her life she has found herself always drawn back to the ocean. She most recently lived in Ohio where she studied at The Ohio State University. There she received a B.S in Environmental Science with a specialization in Ecosystem Restoration in the winter of 2023. During her undergraduate career she worked as an Undergraduate Research Assistant focused on Aquatic Physiological Ecology and worked at Mote Marine Laboratory where she was a REU Intern on the Coral Reef Ecosystems Team. Amber’s time in research helped to shape her hopes for her career path and exposed her to possible research interests. She hopes to pursue a Master’s Degree in Marine Ecology (or Biology) in the coming years, with graduate school applications on the top of her to-do list. In her free time, you can find Amber rock climbing, thinking about rock climbing, or working out… to get better at rock climbing. She also enjoys snorkeling, singing and playing her guitar, reading, laughing with friends, and watching a good movie!

109 South Greenway Trail
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459
(850) 200-4171
Copyright © 2022 Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance - All Rights Reserved.
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