The Monterey Bay Aquarium is home to more than 35,000 animals and plants representing more than 550 species. The responsibility for the health and comfort of those species relies on a team working behind the scenes that has a distinct Cal Maritime connection.
Facilities Systems Manager Eric Quamen and Systems Operator Rick Leach, both 1984 Marine Engineering Technology graduates from the Academy, are two members of the facilities sys-tems team that keeps critical systems operating in the 200 galleries and exhibits at the world-famous attraction. That's no small feat considering that 1,800 gallons of water per minute are pumped into the Aquarium around the clock. In all, nearly one bil-lion gallons of seawater annually flows from the bay through the Aquarium and back into the ocean.
Even before the Aquarium opened in 1984, Quamen was one of three Cal Maritime graduates on staff getting everything up and running. Over the years, six Cal Maritime alumni have been part of that team, including Leach.
From the beginning, their experience at Cal Maritime helped the alumni with their important duties at the new operation.
"The hands-on experience with big machinery coupled with the engineering theory taught at the Academy was a great combination for making the fledgling Aquarium system work right away in the early days of operation," said Quamen. "We had a new system, unlike anything we'd seen before, and ani-mals were arriving while we were doing start-up. It was an exciting time."
Quamen has said that the aquarium is like a ship that never leaves the dock.
"We set up the operational watch right away," he explained. "Using 12-hour shifts and compacted work weeks, we implemented the 24/7/365 thinking right out of the box, placing the systems operator into a position of responsibility for the buildings and the animal collection within. Much like operating a ship underway, we need to run our systems with the skills and resources already in place within the build-ing. There simply isn't outside expertise available in a hurry that understands the interdependencies and quirks of what we are running here."
"I think the diligence, work ethic and teamwork required to successfully gradu-ate [from Cal Maritime] have been as valuable as the curriculum," said Leach. "There are aspects of the experience that are obviously of great value, but I think it's the intangibles that make a [Cal Maritime] grad a little more adept in the field."
Of the 1.8 million visitors per year that come through the Aquarium, very few probably consider the importance of the behind-the-scenes work, but it's been a constant from the beginning.
"Animal health depends on problems being solved very quickly. In the early days, it was hard to plan a week at a time. [These days], working in manage-ment, I plan my weeks plenty. Every day is different, though now I deal with people, funding, and lots of data-crunching," said Quamen.
"I get to work in a beautiful place, and I still brag about [Cal Maritime] a third of a century later."