Moody Gardens – Organization Spotlight

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By: Andrew Morgan

Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas opened its doors to the public in 1986 with a focus on equine-assisted therapy (hippotherapy) for individuals with traumatic head injuries. Quickly, the Moody Foundation realized more potential as an ‘island tourist destination’ and
opened a water park attraction named Palm Beach in 1988. Growth continued throughout the 1990s and in 1999 the Aquarium Pyramid was opened. With this new 1.5 million gallon aquarium came the need for a dive program.

Currently, the Aquarium Pyramid at Moody Gardens showcases many diverse environments which include the North Pacific, Caribbean, South Atlantic and South Pacific Oceans.

Jake Emmert leads the Moody Gardens dive program as their Dive Safety Officer and oversees on average 2,000 dives per year, conducted by 25 staff & 70 volunteer divers. These staff and volunteers assist with routine maintenance and feedings of the living exhibitions.  They will soon be embarking into the world of live in-water presentations.

The Aquarium Pyramid will undergo a renovation in May 2017 which will allow for continued support from the dive staff and volunteers at Moody Gardens. The additions include interpretations of Oil Rigs, NOAA’s Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and mangrove exhibitions. Jake and his team are most excited about the assembly of a shipwreck that will be placed in a new display. He hopes that this will be a good opportunity to continue the use of new Surface Supplied Diving equipment that the Moody Gardens Dive
Program has recently starting utilizing.

Along with these aquarium dive operations,
Jake and his divers continue established relationships and collaborative projects which focus on artificial reef monitoring with Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s Rigs-to-Reef and Ships-to-Reef programs to newer efforts with NOAA’s Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, Harbor Branch Oceanographic  Institute of Florida Atlantic University and Texas A&M University at Galveston. These newer efforts focus on creating and maintaining environmental baselines for shallow water reef environments (NOAA), scientific technical diver support on mesophotic reefs of the greater Gulf of Mexico region (FAU) and water sampling and general data collection in the Ox Bel Ha cave system in Mexico (Texas A&M).

To support these varied collaborations, Jake has begun training new scientific divers that will be qualified to the American Academy of Underwater Sciences training standard and has just finished their first formal scientific diving course in April 2016, boosting their qualified
scientific divers from just two up to eight.

 ABOUT THE DSO
Jake Emmert graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Marine Biology and a Master’s degree in Marine Resources Management.

Jake received his first dive certification in 2002 with encouragement from his mother who was in need of a diving buddy. Upon receiving certification, he and his family took a dive trip to Cabo San Lucas. Jake describes these first diving experiences as the “…hook, line and sinker” which solidified his passion for the water.

Jake finds joy in participating in routine dive training, maintenance, and field work in the greater Gulf of Mexico Basin alike. Most importantly, he realizes how Moody Garden’s field efforts really bring things ‘full circle’ as these collaborations inform so much of what is displayed in the Aquarium.

When not diving, Jake enjoys backpacking, kayak fishing and catching live music at night.

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