School Founder and Director: Murray Fisher

School Founder and Director: Murray Fisher

A profile of New York Harbor School co-founder and director Murray Fisher.


7 - 12+


Experiential Learning, Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography

NGS Resource Carousel Loading Logo
Loading ...


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.”

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Stuart Thornton
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
Kara West
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. They will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to them, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources