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Texas A&M-Galveston Ph.D. Student Named NOAA Flower Garden Banks 2020 Volunteer of the Year    

September 15, 2020

Calderon demonstrating the large size of the cut-off leg of a gas production platform during a monitoring dive. (FGBNMS/MacMillan).
Calderon demonstrating the large size of the cut-off leg of a gas production platform during a monitoring dive. (FGBNMS/MacMillan).

By Andréa Bolt, Communications Specialist, Division of Marketing & Communications

When he’s not working toward his Ph.D. in Marine Biology, Fernando Calderón ‘21 is volunteering his time at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and was recently awarded the prestigious 2020 Volunteer of the Year award by NOAA for his service to the environment.

Calderon has been volunteering for two years now and he says as an ecologist, it’s crucial he’s able to see and become as familiar with underwater environments as much as possible. 

He said it makes him proud to further NOAA’s nationwide conservation efforts through National Marine Sanctuaries like the Flower Garden Banks, the Gulf of Mexico’s only sanctuary site. 

“For me it was impossible not to volunteer when I heard that the dive program at TAMUG shares reciprocity with NOAA and that my SCUBA certifications and experience fulfilled all the requirements to be a volunteer at NOAA,” Calderon said. “Besides, volunteering with NOAA has been the perfect opportunity to dive and help with the conservation efforts of one of the most impressive coral reefs of the United States.” 

Calderon on a dive.
Calderon marking a specimen on a dive.

Calderon says the passion of all the other volunteers and the sanctuary staff makes the experience that much better and even more rewarding. 

“As a volunteer NOAA diver, Fernando has participated in water quality and biological monitoring cruises to maintain instrumentation and collect coral reef data. He has also provided invaluable deck support to ensure the safety of the dive team. He is always keen to learn more, and is willing and enthusiastic to help, often at very short notice,” reads the NOAA posting recognizing Calderon

His doctoral research is primarily focused on marine sponges and underwater caves. Calderon works with Dr. Tom Iliffe in Iliffe's Marine Biospeleology Lab. Iliffe says Calderon is a passionate and invested student, actively publishing five scientific papers while conducting six research expeditions to Yucatan and Belize.

“I work in underwater caves for my research projects, but even when the environments are so different —caves vs. open-water reef—the diving skills needed to conduct the research and the installation of monitoring instruments are very similar,” he explained. 

This recognition also places Calderon in the running for National Marine Sanctuaries Volunteer of the Year, in competition with volunteers from the other 14 sites in the National Marine Sanctuary System.


Media contact:
Andréa Bolt
Communications Specialist

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.