• Real-World Geography: Steve Vogel

    Real-World Geography: How people use geography and the geographic perspective in their everyday lives and real-world careers.

    Illustration by Mary Crooks

    By Stuart Thornton

    Monday, February 7, 2011

    As curator of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's husbandry division, Steve is in charge of animal exhibits, including sharks, octopuses, sea otters, fish, and sea stars. Some of the aquarium’s exhibits are hands-on for visitors, some have occasional divers, some are the size of a home aquarium, while others are several stories tall. One exhibit, the Outer Bay, holds more than 1 million gallons of seawater.

    EARLY WORK

    Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, Steve gravitated to marine activities. His interests “started with the ocean—sailing, boating, scuba diving, swimming—and went to the animals living in it,” he says.

    One memorable experience for Steve occurred on a trip to Florida. “When I was 14, I went snorkeling down in the [Florida] Keys with my grandparents,” he says. “Within six months of that first dive, I was scuba-certified and started teaching at a local dive shop in Baltimore.”

    Steve pursued his interest in the ocean by transferring from a Baltimore community college to the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida, where he majored in marine biology and minored in ecology.

    MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

    “I think the most exciting thing is watching the reaction of people as they see something they’ve never seen before or get exposure to an animal that they maybe have only seen on television.”

    MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

    Steve says that it is challenging trying to show new things in aquarium exhibits while also trying to put forth the best exhibits for the public. But he also admits that it is difficult to balance the different focuses of his staff.

    “They are all bright,” he says. “They are all well-educated, and they all have a different interest. Trying to get all of the 40-something people going in the same direction is truly an interesting proposition.”

    HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

    “In the broadest sense of the term, it’s a physical location.”

    GEO-CONNECTION

    Steve says the Monterey Bay Aquarium makes sure that it doesn’t have animals from different geographic areas in the same tanks. For instance, a fish from the Pacific Ocean will not be swimming around with a fish from the Atlantic Ocean. “We talk about not mixing oceans,” he says. “We work very hard to make sure that animals from a particular region don’t mix with animals from a different region.”

    The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s tanks have features that mimic what is found in the particular geographic regions where the animals come from. “We’re very conscious of the geography of our exhibits to match the geography of [the animals’] habitats, where they are living,” Steve says.

    SO, YOU WANT TO BE AN . . . AQUARIST

    “If somebody thinks that they want to get a job in this field, go find a place [such as a zoo or aquarium] and get experience as a volunteer, as an intern.”

    GET INVOLVED

    Steve says he suggests joining your local aquarium. “Also, if you are in physical condition to do so, scuba diving is a great way to connect with the ocean,” he says.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    aquarist Noun

    person who works at or with aquariums.

    aquarium Noun

    a container or tank where aquatic plants and animals are kept, or an institution that keeps such containers.

    community college Noun

    educational institution providing two-year programs, degrees, and certificates. Also called junior college.

    conscious Adjective

    aware of.

    curator Noun

    person who designs, assembles, and manages an exhibit at a museum or other cultural center.

    dive shop Noun

    facility that sells scuba and snorkeling equipment, as well as provides classes and information on diving conditions.

    ecology Noun

    branch of biology that studies the relationship between living organisms and their environment.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ecology
    geography Noun

    study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: geography
    gravitate Verb

    to move toward or be attracted to something.

    habitat Noun

    environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: habitat
    husbandry Noun

    art and science of managing animals.

    intern Noun

    person who works or volunteers at a business in order to learn and gain experience.

    key Noun

    small, low island on a coral reef, also known as a cay.

    Encyclopedic Entry: key
    marine Adjective

    having to do with the ocean.

    marine biology Noun

    study of life in the ocean.

    mimic Verb

    to copy another organism's appearance or behavior.

    sailing Noun

    sport and recreational activity involving sailboats.

    scuba noun, adjective

    (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) portable device for breathing underwater.

    snorkel Verb

    to swim underwater using a simple tube to breathe air above the surface.

    volunteer Noun

    person who performs work without being paid.

    zoo Noun

    place where animals are kept for exhibition.

    Encyclopedic Entry: zoo
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