Ryan Wattam ’05 ~ Marine Biologist, NOAA Officer, & World Traveler
Since the age of 10, growing up in St. Louis, Mo., Ryan Wattam always knew he wanted to become a marine biologist. After graduation from high school, his love of the ocean, sea life, and water sports drew him to Spring Hill College—just a half hour’s drive from the Gulf Coast.
“I initially became interested in Spring Hill because of the strong marine biology program and proximity to the shore when compared to St. Louis,” says Wattam. “When I visited in early 2001, I was taken by the beauty of the campus, and how welcoming everyone was.”
Wattam recalls that favorite parts about the Spring Hill College campus were the strong sense of community, the many friendships he developed over the years, and the personal attention he received from his professors.
“Dr. Charles Chester, in particular, introduced me to many amazing things in the marine environment, and was very passionate about his work and field of study,” says Wattam. “His courses were some of my most enjoyable and thought-provoking.”
An associate professor of biology, Dr. Chester had Wattam as a student when he was just beginning his tenure at Spring Hill College. “Ryan was one of a group of students who really helped me define, expand, and polish my teaching,” says Dr. Chester. “The way I teach today is a reflection of having students like Ryan and his cohorts in class a decade ago. He was, and still is, a bright, mature, focused, and compassionate young man. I am excited to learn about all that he has done since graduating from Spring Hill College.”
Dr. Chester also remembers Wattam as outgoing, personable, and very active on the SHC campus. Along with being a part of the Greek community, Wattam was involved in philanthropic organizations and campus ministry, and received an athletic scholarship to become a part of Spring Hill College’s first swim team.
“I was a sprinter on the swim team my freshman and sophomore years, I was a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon, and was president my junior and senior years. I was also a Eucharistic minister for three years,” says Wattam. “Being involved was one key to my happiness on campus. I’d advise anyone starting out at Spring Hill to be open to new friendships and opportunities. This will prove applicable throughout life, and will greatly enhance the things you do. Grab life by the horns and take steps to make it everything you want it to be.”
Wattam is currently serving as a lieutenant in the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Commissioned Officer Corps. The Corps pilot NOAA’s fleet of scientific research ships. Like a military officer, Wattam is transferred to a new job every few years, and has lived many different places around the country.
“Six months after graduating from SHC, when I joined the NOAA Corps, I spent four months on Long Island, N.Y., for basic training,” says Wattam. “My first assignment was aboard the Gordon Gunter in Pascagoula, Miss., after which I was sent to Key Largo, Fla., to assess and restore damage to natural resources caused by vessel groundings in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.”
Wattam was then transferred to the NOAA Diving Center in Seattle, Wash., to serve as their Executive Officer (second in command). His job in Seattle involved supporting more than 400 active NOAA Divers and training new divers.
In 2013, Wattam began his current job as Operations Officer aboard the NOAA fisheries research ship Oscar Elton Sette, where he coordinates the ship’s activities between the crew and the visiting scientists to ensure the scientific mission is completed safely and efficiently.
His temporary assignments for NOAA have been exciting and diverse, and include being stationed at the South Pole for two weeks in 2007 to help run NOAA’s Atmospheric Research Observatory. Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Wattam was sent to Houma, La., as part of a Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique (SCAT) Team. In 2010, Wattam served as dive master in Juneau, Alaska, for a scuba diving expedition aimed at removing derelict Dungeness crab pots from sensitive habitat areas in the Inside Passage.
Wattam received an achievement award during the Deepwater Horizon response efforts, as well as a NOAA Corps Commendation Medal for his performance as executive officer of the NOAA Diving Center.
In his spare time, Wattam enjoys scuba diving, boating, playing guitar, music, skiing, camping, and hiking. He is married to Karen J. Dyer, a wildlife biologist. Wattam and Dyer met at a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) seminar in the Florida Keys, and were married in 2012.