Growing up in Southern California, I was fortunate to live not far from the Pacific Ocean. I spent many summer days at various beaches, but my mother would also take us on day trips to witness the yearly migration of the California gray whales. Ocean excursions like these are just what it takes to spark an interest in children and entice them towards becoming marine scientists, divers, teachers, oceanographers, or marine animal caretakers.
Dr. Alison Haupt, assistant professor at the School of Natural Sciences at California State University, Monterey Bay, confirms that young people are first attracted to these careers when they encounter dolphins, whales, or sharks, saying, “They get hooked by the idea of being around what we refer to as the ‘charismatic megafauna’—the big, attractive animals of the sea.” She says there’s a wide range of disciplines students can follow if they want to pursue a career in ocean sciences. “Really, any aspect of science can be represented in the marine world. It’s pretty all encompassing.”
Students might want to work in ecology and study how species interact with one another, or they can pursue a career in marine technology. “In Monterey we have MBARI—the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute,” Haupt continues. “They do a lot of deep water work, and use people who work on robotics and engineering in the marine field. It may not be what you think of immediately when consider marine biology careers, but that is a big one.”
Marine scientists also work for state and federal agencies such as the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Geological Survey, or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “If you’re going to build a new development in some sort of potentially ecological sensitive area you have to have someone do an environmental impact report for you first,” Haupt explains.
A career as an educator is another option. There are traditional settings such as working as a science teacher, or becoming a university professor. There are also people working in non-traditional areas leading outdoor education classes such as Camp SEA (Science, Education and Adventure) Lab in Monterey where students do mini research projects. Scientist Pamela Wade found the perfect way to combine her love of science and education when she became the assistant manager of School Programs at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. She oversees a team who teach programs offered to visiting homeschool and public school groups.
Then there are those who have found their niche working with the larger sea creatures. Kelly Sowers, Jon Nonnenmacher, and Jen Hazeres are employees at the Newport Aquarium in Kentucky. Sowers is the General Curator, and her duties include working on exhibit design, sourcing new animals for displays, and overseeing a team of thirteen biologists. The biologists are assigned primary tanks, and their responsibilities include the care and well-being of the animals. “Lately there’s been a big push on animal enrichment,” she explains. “We make sure the tank design coincides with an animal’s natural habitat, matching up tank mates or feeding them in a special way.”
Nonnenmacher has the kind of career which takes him into the tanks. He is the Lead Dive Safety Officer in charge of all dives at the aquarium. He started as a dive volunteer and after working his way up through the ranks he now oversees six divers who are employees, as well as roughly a hundred dive volunteers. “If we have a single diver or dive team that
needs to get into the water to feed an animal, examine an animal, or do any training, I am the one responsible for their safety,” he says.
Hazeres is the senior biologist, and she’s been with the aquarium for eleven years. Like Nonnenmacher, she started out at the aquarium as a diver. Her job is to take care of all of the large exhibits the divers go into. She also tends to the animals’ diets. She is in constant communication with the divers when they go into the large tanks so she can see how the animals are doing and be aware of the condition of the tanks. It is also her responsibility to mentor the younger biologists. If students have the desire to work in the field of marine science, Hazeres recommends that they find volunteer opportunities that will give them a leg up to start their career. The Newport Aquarium offers volunteer opportunities to students beginning at age fourteen.
For information on other types of marine and ocean science careers, check out the websites for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, Scripps Institution of Oceanography. or the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Copyright 2019, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.