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Department of Marine Biology
logoDavid Owen
Marine Biologist Has Soft Spot for Turtles
By Woody Duke

Marine biology professor David Owens knew from a young age that he wasfascinated with wildlife and turtles in particular. As a Boy Scout he connected with nature and further nurtured his love of the outdoors.

After completing his undergraduate studies at William Jewell College in Missouri, Owens joined the Peace Corps and soon found himself on the Pacific island of Fiji. Owens says on this remote location he conducted most of his work alone which allowed him time to read and reflect on what he was doing. "I was given a fantastic book about sea turtles by the great scientist Archie Carr," Owens says.

Owens notes that long ago turtles were considered a species of fish before being reclassifed as reptiles. Owens says studying this book was a major inspiration for him to advance his higher education once he got out of the Peace Corps. He would go on to earn his Ph.D. at the University of Arizona.

Before delving into the marine biology field, Owens lived in Illinois where he enjoyed snorkeling. He says there was a coal strip mine near his home which created ponds from the excavations. Owens calls the ponds "creepy" but his natural curiosity and love for aquatic environments led him to swim in the ponds regardless. This was another experience that influenced his pursuit of the marine biology field.

Owens' current projects focus on protecting sea turtles. When asked about the future of sea turtles, Owens says, "They certainly do need more attention but they have been around, in some form, for more than 100 million years. Man has only been here for a fraction of that time, so I would still bet on the turtles, or at least some of them, to be around a long time into the future."

He says the outlook is bright for the sea turtles if we can remember the importance of natural resources conservation.

Owens has been working to get funding for a concept in K-12 education which seeks to have science graduate students assisting in local public school classrooms. Graduate students would work several hours each week in school science classes sharing their interest and enthusiasm for science and in turn they would receive a fellowship to help them with graduate school costs.

The National Science Foundation turned down the initial proposal for the project but Owens plans to try again this summer. He says this concept of placing graduate students in classrooms with younger students looks to the future of education and can hopefully, he says, instill the value of education into the minds of a new generation of both graduate students and school children. Owens himself began to explore aquatic and marine ecosystems at a young age and is a prime example of why starting young is so integral to a developing passion.

So what advice would Owens give to the aspiring marine biology student? He encourages students to enter the field of marine biology and consider a graduate degree as well. While acknowledging the highly competitive nature of the field, Owens stresses that there is a need for scientists and conservationists. "It is a great time to go to graduate school and there are some excellent programs out there, including our own," he says.

What does a marine biology professor do during his free time. Owens likes to enjoy the outdoors, of course. During his younger days Owens took fishing expeditions and went sailing. Most recently Owens has traded his rod and reel for a kayak.

Owens and his students often take kayak trips into the estuaries to watch the birds, turtles, and the rest of the ecosystem. Owens says he and his wife also take similar kayak trips on the weekends and during the winter they often go hiking.

Professor Owens is easily reached for information about the marine biology program via email at owensd@cofc.edu.


David Owen