Industrial activities in the ocean are an economic necessity. Nonetheless, such activities have the potential to cause harm to or interfere with ocean life. In an effort to protect particularly sensitive and endangered marine species, the US government via the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has put in place a program of Marine Endangered Species Observers (MESOs) as a safeguard. MESOs, and the similar Marine Mammal Observers (MMOs), accompany industrial, fishery and research vessels on work activities in order to document any interaction between the work at hand and ocean wildlife that may be in the area.
In April of 2012, I began working as both a MESO and MMO on an independent contractor basis for REMSA, a Virginia-based environmental consulting firm. This work puts me out at sea for weeks at time, working in a broad range of geographies, climates and conditions. The MESO work I have done has been principally on dredge vessels, performing channel maintenance on ports along the US Gulf of Mexico coast. In this work, the primary focus is on sea turtles – in particular, making sure they are not sucked up into the dredge. However, during transit, I also perform visual surveys of the sea, noting the presence of any marine mammals or sea turtles as we move from one location to another throughout each working day.
The work I perform as a MESO and MMO is an extension of many years of ocean research and environmental monitoring I have done in the past. Some of the activities that qualified me for work in this area were:
This is exciting work, but it can be quite rough in terms of exposure to the elements, extremely long working days, and the occasional episode of boredom during long stretches when no marine wildlife is to be seen. I see this work as a success story in US environmental policy, as the work is critical towards the well-being of sensitive species, yet in my experience fosters an excellent working relationship between contractors, industry and the government.