I am a research ecologist with the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science
in Beaufort, North Carolina, but to my family, I’m simply a “marine biologist.” I use underwater acoustic technologies (like fisheries sonar, fish-finding echo sounders, and multibeam sonar) to remotely detect fish and observe their behaviors in estuaries and the ocean. I also get in the water as a scuba diver as often as I can when my research takes me to coral reefs in the U.S. Caribbean, Florida Keys, and the Gulf of Mexico.
I enjoy the diversity of research that we conduct in NOS. We work on complex issues in coastal ecosystem management and ocean planning, and addressing these questions requires that we work on teams. I have learned a great deal from my fellow team members and colleagues; both in terms of tools and techniques, but also about the overall approach to science, research, community outreach, and education.
Even though we might work for the same agency as coastal managers and decision makers, it can be challenging to convey the results of our science in a way that is easily interpreted or immediately intuitive to them. Making sure that we are giving managers and the public the data that they need involves a lot of back-and-forth interaction and conversation. This also means that we must strike a balance between time-sensitive needs for information and our academic training, which calls for hypothesis-driven research and controlled experiments to answer the important questions. Many times, the need for data to support decision making demands a shorter time frame than we scientists require to conduct field experiments and analyze the results of long-term data and monitoring.
I have a bachelor’s of science in biology (marine biology) from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Immediately after graduation, I moved to North Carolina with my wife, who works at NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. I’ve since attained both a master’s of science and doctorate in zoology from North Carolina State University.
Coming from Minnesota, I get this question a lot. It’s the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” – none very salty and about as far from the ocean as you can get. I assume that my interest arose because as a kid I was allowed to watch only public TV – my heroes were Jacques Cousteau and David Attenborough. I think my once distant perspective has helped shape how I communicate about ocean science to people who are not fortunate to have close contact with the ocean and coasts, like many of us in NOS do.
NC State didn’t have a marine lab at the coast when I began my thesis and dissertation research on the effects of hypoxia (depleted oxygen) on estuarine fish. The NOAA lab in Beaufort was gracious enough to let me and other graduate students use its facilities. I continued to collaborate with researchers at the lab and periodically pestered them about job opportunities. It took 12 years! They probably just got tired of me asking.
I am amazed by the breadth and diversity of backgrounds in our science staff at NOAA. Young people should consider the many ways to work in ocean sciences. Many of us are scuba divers and like working on boats and large ships, but most of the time, we are behind our desks and at our computers using other important skills. Some of us are geographers, some chemists, some physicists. Many are skilled mathematicians. If you want to work at NOAA, though, the most important “skills” you can possess are to be open to ideas and eager to work on a team.