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Former Student Making Waves In Conservation With Moody Gardens    

March 13, 2024

Jake Emmert '12, '15
Jake Emmert '12, '15

By Taylor Bounds, Division of Marketing and Communications

Former student Jake Emmert '12, '15 sat down with bldg. 311 to talk about conservation, community, education and his role in the return of the Moody Gardens' conference Dive into The Gulf: An Exposition. The event united scuba divers, scientists, conservationists, artists, educators and more in Galveston to bring their work to the public.

Emmert received both his bachelor's degree in marine biology and master's degree in marine resource management from Texas A&M University at Galveston. He currently serves as the vice chair and conservation seat for the advisory council to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, as well as Director-at-Large of the Association of Dive Program Administrators, the community of zoo and aquarium dive programs across the United States.

You helped bring this conference back to the island. What was your role?

With a lot of help from our event coordinator Heather Albright and our Moody Gardens teams’ support, we built this event from the ground up. We invited speakers, sponsors and vendors, set up each experience, provided behind-the-scenes tours, and worked with our staff and volunteers to make each day a success. We even sourced lionfish from a spearfishing tournament in Florida for our fundraising dinner on Saturday. While lionfish are highly invasive and damaging for the Gulf ecosystem, they're tasty on a dinner plate.

The weekend served as a window into the many communities involved in the research, conservation and restoration efforts happening each year on and below our waters in the Gulf. The event has such value for the community because it gives attendees a direct connection to engage and to talk with these experts. Maybe most importantly, by engaging with the community's youth, we start to build the next generation of stewards for our oceans.

With over 350 attendees across the weekend's six events, the exposition also raised money to help the Moody Gardens Conservation Fund continue to fulfill its mission of utilizing nature in the advancement of rehabilitation, conservation, recreation, and research.

What is the significance of the conservation fund?

The conservation fund is dedicated to protecting and preserving animals and their habitats. It supports partnerships with state and federal agencies, academic institutions and nonprofits both with Moody Gardens as a whole as well as the Moody Gardens Dive Program, which allows us to support causes like managing the health of coral reefs and unlocking the value of cave systems in the Yucatan found to help regulate our planet's climate. Locally, we work with partners in Galveston on projects like oyster shell recycling among others. On a larger scale, we support sustainability efforts globally and have species survival funds to help animals in danger of extinction.

What do you do at Moody Gardens when you're not planning a giant conference?

As our diving safety officer, my primary focus is to support our animal care team by providing the tools and techniques to safely care for our animals. I am also involved in supporting our zoo and aquarium community across the United States through the Association and Dive Program Administrators. We also operate in the field, and are proud to support agencies like the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary by sending qualified divers on research cruises where we are able to help with both scientific as well as working diving tasks.

Moody Gardens’ most recent project is serving to coordinate and conduct technical diving for Deep Water Horizon’s restoration efforts in the mesophotic zone. Our task is to pioneer and advance coral propagation techniques starting at 50 meters (165 feet) below the water’s surface and no deeper than 100 meters (330 feet). We are fortunate to work with members of the diving, undersea medicine and marine response and salvage communities to have infrastructure in place to conduct these efforts safely. These are all activities in the Gulf of Mexico (our backyard) and we look forward to continuing these collaborations and their activities in the field.

Why did you decide to attend Texas A&M?

My mother and father shaped my love for the ocean at a young age. I was fortunate to have family trips to the beach or river each year, and when looking ahead to where to attend college, the passion for the ocean and water led me to look at schools along the Texas coast. Being an Aggie is now a family tradition, starting with my grandfather, Bascomb Winborn ’44. I was fortunate to continue my journey of ocean exploration through the university’s dive program and took advantage of every opportunity, some of them included going to sea with organizations such as Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Artificial Reef Program, NOAA's Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and of course classes and organizations within the university. And I'm not the only one with a degree from Texas A&M University at Galveston at Moody Gardens – many of my coworkers are former students, too.

So, you could say you really dove into the programs at Texas A&M?

Absolutely! The professional relationships I made as a student helped propel me find and attain a job I enjoy waking up for each day. There are fewer than 200 dive safety officer positions in the United States, and my experience at A&M gave me the knowledge, skills, and abilities I needed to be successful in the very competitive job market. It is not common to be able to lead a dive program right out of school, and with the support of Moody Gardens, we now have a nationally recognized dive program.

Presently, the mentorship that A&M facilitated continues and has been invaluable to my professional development. I still enjoy the opportunity to engage with my mentors from school, and this is seen and felt when diving and working with my peers on the Moody Garden dive team that are former students, as well as being able to collaborate with university researchers who taught me the value of our oceans during my time in school. The opportunities available to students truly open doors, and partnerships with outside organizations like Moody Gardens or NOAA are rare and serve to help students and graduates to distinguish themselves in their career development.

Do you have a favorite part of what you do now?

With all of the challenges our planet faces, I am proud to be part of the many who find meaning in restoring our oceans' health. Connecting with nature found below our planet’s aquatic surface can be challenging, and institutions like Moody Gardens and events like Dive into the Gulf have the unique ability to connect so many communities to the value of our planet’s marine resources in strong ways. When the ocean is seen and felt as beautiful, inspirational and valuable, this emotion becomes larger than ourselves. I'm proud to be part of an organization that helps to connect our planet's aquatic and terrestrial resources and make them accessible to everyone. 


Media contact:
Taylor Bounds

Texas A&M University at Galveston is the marine and maritime branch campus of Texas A&M University which educates nearly 2,300 undergraduate and graduate students in science, business, engineering, liberal arts and transportation. It is driving the development of the blue economy in the Gulf Coast Region and is a critical contributor to Texas A&M's rare land-, sea-, space-grant mission with nearly $10 million in research expenditures.

Texas A&M-Galveston is also home to the Texas A&M Maritime Academy, one of six state maritime academies and the only one in the southern United States, which trains over 400 cadets annually for maritime service and employment around the world.

Texas A&M-Galveston is located in Galveston, Texas on the Gulf Coast where it is surrounded by industry, environment and programs essential to fulfilling its special-purpose mission. Aggies are known for their deep commitment to the success of each other and their strong desire to serve.