To most Americans, the beaches of Normandy elicit images of D-Day – multi-national invasions, huge vessels dropping off troops, and row upon row of white crosses in a final resting place. For Parisians, the beaches, especially around Deauville and Trouville, mean carefree getaways on the shore. For Amandine Hall, executive co-director of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, it meant the beginning of her love affair with the sea. “My parents had a house in Normandy,” she relates. “We spent weekends and vacations there.” Even after more than 18 years away, there’s a wistfulness that graces her voice when she describes it. “The sea goes back so far. There’s a huge tide in the (English) Channel. I grew up wading in ponds.”

She spent many an untroubled day, fishing for – and eating – shrimp, crabs, and cockles. “I always loved shellfish,” she explains. Like her counterparts, the children that grow up living or vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, Amandine’s blood became diluted with seawater and a life away from a large body of water became unthinkable.

Parent clams for spawning each get a label from their source. Jeanna Shepard

So her college major was an easy choice – oceanography and marine biology. “My favorite class was on macro algae,” she remembers. “I loved it so much I just knew I wanted to work with the ocean. Just touching it and smelling it made me feel like I was home.” After graduating from the prestigious Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris (currently the largest scientific and medical complex in France), she acquired a master’s degree in shellfish culture from the University of Wales in 2001.

Then she came to the Island. An ad on an international aquaculture site caught her attention and she applied for a summer hatchery assistant position on Martha’s Vineyard.

“It was probably the first time I searched for staff on the internet,” recalls Rick Karney, then director of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group. “It was really international. I had a number of PhDs from India apply. And this was for a summer job!”

As part of her thesis, Amandine had done genetics work with oysters and Rick was already thinking about reintegrating a commercial oyster population on the Island. She had also, as part of her master’s thesis, spent research time at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Rick had worked there before coming to the Island, so he had plenty of contacts for references. After numerous emails and a few phone interviews, it became an easy choice. But, it was a summer position. There were a lot of logistical obstacles to overcome for a very short tenure. “I told her,” says Rick, “if she could get the funding, we could extend it to year-round.”

Getting here was not easy. Amandine needed a work visa and that required time. Rick needed her right away and, according to Amandine, the American embassy in Paris was not forthcoming. “It’s very hard to get someone to help you when you’re dealing with Immigration. I needed an extra week, and Rick said it’s okay, we can wait till next year.”

Amandine is now in her 18th year of working at the hatchery on Lagoon Pond. Jeanna Shepard

Rick recalls, “She flipped out. She said, ‘Just wait for me! I’m coming!’”

“I went to the Embassy,” she continues, “and said I need to get in and they wouldn’t let me in. The man asked, ‘Where’s your appointment slip?’ I didn’t have one.” So, she stood in line and cried. “He kind of looked at me, rolled his eyes and said, ‘Fine.’ I got my visa.”

That was, Amandine claims, one of the few times she used crying to get what she wanted. “It doesn’t help anyone after a certain age,” she says, “At 23, I guess it was still useful.”

She landed on Martha’s Vineyard with one suitcase in hand, and only a week late.

Amandine Hall and Emma Green-Beach are co-directors of the MV Shellfish Group. Jeanna Shepard

Then came culture shock. “I think the worst part,” she recalls, “is that I didn’t know how to shop for groceries. It’s surprising how conditioned we are to packaging.” Nothing looked familiar. Her roommate was an Italian carpenter. Since Amandine didn’t have a car, he took her to shop when he went. “I just followed him with my cart and whenever he grabbed something, I would grab the same thing.”

“To this day,” she says with a chuckle, “I still eat Italian sausages all the time.”

Amandine’s position stretched from a summer job, to a one-year commitment, then to two years. “We managed to find the money fairly quickly,” Rick, who has become a good friend, explains, “so it became a non-issue.”

Amandine is now in her 18th year with Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group. Rick Karney has become director emeritus. Amandine shares the executive co-directorship with Emma Green-Beach. She’s since met and married a school teacher, Louis Hall, and is mother to a five-year-old boy and five-month-old twins (a boy and girl). Her friends here have stopped teasing her about the bit of British accent she picked up in Wales, and her family in France call her “the American” because of the slight accent she’s acquired here.

"Now when I look through the microscope at the seed clams," Amandine admits,"I still think they're the cutest thing ever." Jeanna Shepard

She now spends her days at the hatchery surrounded by tanks, tubes, sieves, and rushing water. During the summer, she oversees a staff of five who nurture clams, oysters, and scallops in various stages of infancy until they are big enough to live on their own in various Island ponds. Along with Emma, she visits schools and other Island organizations to educate the public about the bi-valve mollusks in their care and the importance of clean and balanced aqua systems. Through the hatchery windows, she enjoys a view of Lagoon Pond and the ocean beyond. It’s a good life.

“Our work still makes us tick,” she says, speaking for herself and Rick Karney. “It still excites us after all these years.

“Now,” she adds, “when I look through the microscope at the seed clams, I still think they’re the cutest thing ever.”

Joyce Wagner is a freelance writer and historical novelist enjoying dual citizenship with Martha’s Vineyard and Gulfport, Fla.