Diving for the Ocean: Jonathan Potts, Marine Ecologist

Diving for the Ocean: Jonathan Potts, Marine Ecologist

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“I guess you could say I got to DIT through a series of unfortunate events.” Jonathan Potts, underwater researcher, spent his childhood summers going to southeast Alaska where his parents, both teachers during the school year, commercial fished for salmon in the summertime. “There is nothing that will connect you to the ocean like growing up on a boat, exploring beaches, catching fish, and talking to people who depended on the ocean to live.” One day Jonathan’s father helped out a fisherman who had lost his glasses in the water. “My father got out his 70’s vintage [diving] gear and jumped in. He didn’t find the glasses, but I knew that someday I would be the man in the water looking for the glasses.” So from early on, Jonathan was hooked on the water, and in 2009 he graduated from Western Washington University with a Bachelors of Science in Marine Ecology.

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At the time he graduated, the job market was flushed with PhD Marine Biologists taking unpaid internships, so instead, Jonathan got a job with an aquatic plant management company. But he found that he was basically just applying chemicals to lakes, which was not quite the save-the-ocean job he’d always envisioned. And then his moment came around. “The best day at work I had in that company was when we hand pulled-invasive plants from public park swimming areas using scuba.” When his stint ended at the company, he knew it was time to re-train. “I didn’t know if there was a market for divers, I just knew that I was one, and DIT was the obvious choice.”

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Training at DIT was often quite different than being at university. “I liked DIT’s in-depth focus on diving theory and medicine, tempered with real world experiences, which is something I rarely got at university. DIT also taught me to be a good teammate in the workplace. In any school or workplace, your peers and coworkers are all different people with different skills, abilities and personalities but we still have to get the job done and do it well. DIT taught me a lot of patience.”

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Jonathan works for a company called Fathom Research, a contractor for NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the Navy, among other clients. Fathom has a diving branch and a Fisheries Observer branch, both for which Jonathan works. “The work we do with the Navy is pretty interesting since we work with a civilian science branch. We have done everything from installing marker buoys, burying cable to recovering lost SONAR torpedoes.” He also goes out on commercial fishing vessels to collect information and biological samples for NOAA to use in their work regulating fisheries.

Everything is different underwater

“I love the puzzle of trying to do a job underwater. Even if it’s a simple job, underwater, everything is different and almost always requires some problem solving.” It also takes a great deal of mental and physical toughness to be a commercial diver. “I love being underwater, it’s all I want to do, but everything works against you in the water. So a huge part of what I do is overcoming weather, fatigue, and any other want of comfort — all while making sure you and everyone else on the job site is being safe and still producing a high quality survey or completing a task.”

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Jonathan loves how the ocean always has something new to show him. However, as a marine ecologist, he sees the effects of human pollution on the ocean and its ecosystems. At the moment, he works at the New Bedford Harbor in Massachusetts, on a project installing offshore wind turbines in the next few years. The site is highly polluted from a decades-old electronics manufacturer. As everyday people, we are not individually responsible for the massive plants and factories that leave behind tons of toxic or non-biodegradable material. However, what we can do is realize that everything we do affects our oceans, from the amount of CO2 we produce, to the trash we make. Jonathan’s advice is to, “be conscious of how we consume, and advocate for our water by telling other people what’s at stake with our oceans. The rising sea level, ocean acidification, pollution, plastic in the water, over-fishing — the list goes on.”

When he’s not collecting samples or working on offshore wind energy, Jonathan loves to do woodwork, brew his own beer, cook, and spoil his wife. He also has a passionate love/hate relationship with fixing his own vehicles.

Written for DIT by Londi Gamezde

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