Hello, and welcome back to Gracie Meets…! There are two types of people in this world: the kind that like exploring the unknown and those who are afraid of it. Today, I invited Mr. Brandon Howard, a marine biologist, to tell us what it’s really like to explore the unknown creatures of the sea! Take a listen, there’s tons of great information!
Cover Art: Kyleigh Kinsey. Instagram: @ato._.noodle
Intro Music 00:00
Gracie Solomon 00:13
Hello, and welcome back to Gracie Meets… Did you know that 95% of the Earth’s ocean creatures have yet to be discovered? That’s a lot. New sea species are being discovered every day. So I invited marine biologist, Mr. Brandon Howard, to tell us about it on the show today. Tell the listeners about yourself and your job as a marine biologist.
Brandon Howard 00:36
So my name is Brandon Howard. I’m from the south central Mississippi area. And I grew up here and I worked for the National Marine Fishery Service as a fishery biologist. And so my career started out and about 2001 when I graduated college, and then I got a job up in the northeast doing freshwater wetlands work for a private company. And after 911 happened, the project went under. So I started applying for jobs around the country. And just through good fortune, I ended up getting a job with the state of Florida, for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, doing coastal work down there, and doing permitting, and work with coral reefs and things of that nature. And then that job, I always wanted to work in federal service. So I got a job with the US Army Corps of Engineers in 2004. I work for them as a freshwater weapons biologist with a lot of interactions with the marine environment. So I had some work offshore down in West Palm Beach, Florida. That’s where I was located for my career down there with those afore mentioned agency, so after a couple years with Army Corps of Engineers, I had the opportunity to work with NOAA, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Marine Fishery Service so I had the opportunity and I took that so that’s where I’ve been for the last 15 years. I had 10 years down in West Palm Beach, Florida, and then moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2016. So I’ve been working out of our office here in Baton Rouge, co-located with Louisiana State University for the past the past three years. So the, just a little bit about the job. It’s, we’re responsible for the Manage management of federally managed fish managed fishery species. So things like red fish, red snapper, groupers, things like that we manage those species for harvest. So when commercial fishermen go out, the agency monitors those species and, we provide the limits of catch and, and we do that every year. Just as a little bit of background. too, so about NOAA. So NOAA is under the Department of Commerce. So when you think about the federal government, you have the different the different departments. So, underneath NOAA, there are about seven agencies underneath NOAA. And one of those is the National Marine Fishery Service. So NOAA employees about 11,000 people. The Fishery Service employs about 4,200 people. And then the Fishery Service is broken down into regions. So I region that I live in, in the southeast is called the southeast regional office. It’s located in St. Petersburg, Florida. And we employ about two to 300 people. And then the actual Division I work in the habitat conservation division, and we employ about 30 people around the southeast in our area jurisdiction starts at the Virginia, North Carolina border and goes all the way around to the Mexico border throughout the Gulf. So we have offices, so if anyone’s interested in positions, we have offices in Galveston, Texas, have offices in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when it Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, or their regional offices in St. Petersburg, Florida. And moving around the coast, we have someone in Key West. And we also didn’t mention we are responsible for fisheries management in the Caribbean. So the US Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John’s as well as Puerto Rico. We have folks on all those islands moving up the east coast of Florida. We have an office in West Palm Beach, one in Miami, and then one in Charleston, South Carolina. And then in Beaufort, North Carolina. So that’s our presence around. Again, we’re responsible for my group specifically is responsible for managing habitat when it comes to the fish that we like to eat. We like to, we like to catch and spend time recreating around, we manage the habitat in a broad sense to try and make those opportunities available to everybody. So that’s kind of in a nutshell, you know what the job is, and I’m sure we’ll get into more specifics a little bit later.
Gracie Solomon 05:04
So what do you think makes your job more unique than like, a lawyer, or a doctor, or veterinarian?
Brandon Howard 05:13
So, for me, I think it comes, comes down to personal interests, you know, and whatever your personal interests are. You know, I’ve always been interested in marine science and about the natural world, and wildlife in particular. And, you know, I’ve always had a calling, I guess you’d say, try and conserve those species for future generations and, and had to have something deep inside me, I guess you would say don’t want to be involved in that sort of thing. So one thing about I think my job that makes it unique is some of the most brilliant scientists in the world I feel like work for my agency. And I get to interact with them all the time, and I get to see the latest research that comes out on the things that I’m interested in. And you know, another cool about working for the federal government that you don’t have the opportunity and a lot of other fields of work is you, we have offices all over the country, and all over the world. So if you get into the federal job and you want to move somewhere else to study something new or, or experience something different, there’s opportunities to do that. So I think that’s the uniqueness of the job that I really like.
Gracie Solomon 06:26
What kind of schooling or like training Did you need to pursue this kind of line of work?
Brandon Howard 06:35
So at a minimum, you need a four-year degree. So you know, around here, you know, I went to the University of Southern Mississippi and had a bachelor science degree. And you know, even backing up before then I think you have opportunities in high school to pursue advanced classes or if you have chances to take biology classes, or any sort of internships, or anything you can get involved in, in this subject matter will prepare you and make you more competitive for jobs once you get out of school. So, you know, a bachelor of science is certainly the, the minimum. But these days we hire folks all the time and I’ll tell you that almost everyone has a master’s degree that is coming in the door these days and applying for jobs. So, you know, you can about I’d say about you know, six years of post-high school education and if you’re in the south, you know, a little plug for my alma mater if you’re, if you’re in the southeast and looking around at colleges, I’ll tell you that University of Southern Mississippi has a has a very good program for biologists you know, and they have a research lab down Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where you can go down for the summer and take really cool classes and you go out on research cruises and catch fish and identify which catch do trawls, All sorts of things like that. So, I mean, I can’t say enough good things. And if you’re if you’re interested in other colleges around the southeast University of Miami has a great program. Texas A&M has a great program and University of South Alabama, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, if you want to move up that way, and go to college, so you definitely need the background. And I’ll also say once you get into college, if you have the opportunity to do internships with NOAA Fisheries, or if you’re interested in other federal jobs, Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, US Forest Service, all those wildlife based land management agencies, look around and try to get you an internship reach out to the folks, the folks around your area where you want to be and where you where you’re going to school and, and do a six month internship because those go a really long ways when you’re competing for jobs.
Gracie Solomon 08:58
Interesting. What does an average workday for you look like?
Brandon Howard 09:04
Oh man, that’s, that’s changed so much over the years. And I think that’s one of the things that keeps it interesting. So early in my career, when I worked up in the northeast, I did a lot of outside work as far as assessing wetlands. So freshwater wetlands was the basis of my work, even though my education was in marine biology, you know, we went out in the fields, determined where wetlands starting in, there’s a certain set of federal rules that are in the Clean Water Act that tell you, you know, what a wetland is and what it isn’t. And that has a lot of implications for people who are doing developments or anything else. So spent a lot of time outside. I literally walked from Washington DC to New York, along a long right-of-way, looking at wetlands over a year and a half period. So early in my career, there’s a lot of fieldwork when I moved down to South Florida. I did a lot of scuba diving in the Caribbean and in West Palm Beach area, looking at coral reef, so we did a lot of assessments of the health of coral reefs and identifying the fish and animals that lived there. And we looked at those reefs and determined that someone there was an impact to the reef, what we could do to get those corals back on the reef and reattach them if there was a there was a ship grounding or an injury. So early on lots of lots of field work. We did some small time research stuff on seagrasses, one of the most productive environments and the marine system where lots of fish and, and things the early life stages use. So there’s some research there. And so as you progress in your career, and this is kind of a not really a joke, but the something someone always says as you as you progress in your career as a scientist and as a biologist, you tend to spend a lot more time at your desk doing policy type things, so these days, I worked a lot on restoration projects. So What we do is in South Louisiana, Louisiana coastline is disappearing and alarming rate from sea level rise on the grounds actually thinking so there’s some subsidence is what that’s called, you know, a lot of a lot of oil and gas cut canals and things found there. And that makes things worse. So a lot of my work these days is scouting out areas to do restoration. So there’s a lot of pots of money that come in to the federal government, some of them recently from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. So that money comes in and my agency, along with some others, but us principally in the marine environment, we look for places to do restoration projects, and we create Marsh so we’ll create, you know, $40 to $50 million projects translated into, you know, about 1000 acres of Marsh restoration along the coast and we’ll pump mud in from offshore so I spend a lot of time in around that conversation. We partner with the state of Louisiana in that situation. So I meet with elected officials, project engineers, looking at complex plans to do those things going out in the field and collecting data to inform what we’re going to what kind of restoration we can do in a site. So these days, I do a lot of that. I also, oftentimes, am involved in endangered species. So the NOAA Fisheries and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, split responsibility for the Endangered Species Act of 1972. So we’re responsible for all the marine species, sea turtles, all the salmon. I know that’s not specific to the southeast, but if you get up north from here on the east coast and on the west coast, it’s a really big deal. So all those all those endangered listed species were responsible for making sure that those things are still around in the future. So there’s a lot of my work that not as much anymore but you should really be involved in that type of thing.
Gracie Solomon 13:01
This has been a very interesting interview. Thank you so much for giving me a chance to interview you.
Brandon Howard 13:07
Gracie Solomon 13:09
Mr. Brandon gave some great facts and information on the world of marine biology. 95% of the oceans inhabitants are not yet discovered. No normal person could discover a new species. Then again, show me a normal teenager. Thanks for listening.
Gracie Solomon 13:31
Thanks for tuning in. If you like Gracie Meets… subscribe so you can listen every time a new episode is dropped. And follow Gracie Meets on Instagram at Gracie dot meets (@gracie.meets). I bet you’re dying to hear next week’s episode with a funeral arranger!