Amon Kimeli, 33, is a professional geological and physical oceanographer with an experience spanning over eight years.
He tells the story of his interesting career as he reminisces being part of a research crew aboard Langseth of Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory vessel in 2015 where the team was involved in sub bottom data collection off the coast of Massachusetts in the USA.
This work was part of the U.S. Law of the sea cruise to map the foot of the slope of the Northeast U.S. Atlantic Continental Margin.
Currently, he is working at Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute aboard Kenya’s only marine research vessel christened RV Mtafiti.
Why did you want to become an oceanographer? When did you know it was what you wanted to do and how did you find your way into this line of work?
Growing up in Eldama Ravine in Baringo County, such a career was unheard of. As a matter of fact, I first heard of oceanography while undertaking my BSc Geology at The University of Nairobi where I graduated in 2008.
Coincidentally, I hadn’t applied for Geology and I was surprised when I got letter of offer to study the course. I didn’t know what the course encompassed.
At the university, oceanography was offered as a unit in Geology and it sounded very interesting because of the environment where one works and the instruments used, such as the ship and buoys. I recall my lecturer telling us that oceanography was among the “uncharted professions”. That challenged me to pursue it.
Simply defined, oceanography is the study of both the physical and biological aspects of the ocean. Currently my area of interest leans towards geology of the seafloor, ecosystem dynamics and climate change.
When most people envision an oceanographer, they probably see someone who spends all their days in water. Is this so? How does your average day look like? Are there different types of oceanographers?
An oceanographer’s schedule oscillates between the ocean, laboratory and the office. For oceanographers, life at the ocean is very different from life on land and there is nothing like a typical oceanographer’s day. One day could start at sea (collecting data, testing equipment) the other in the laboratory (analysing) or in the office (planning and report writing).
Just as there are many specialties within other fields like medicine, there are many disciplines within oceanography such as physical, chemical, biological and geological oceanography.
What’s the best way to prepare to become an oceanographer? What should one major in at the Secondary and University level and what experiences and skills should they seek?
Being a wide field, Oceanography requires one to be all –rounded. Although, the first pre-requisite is good grades in sciences. However, if you are good in sciences and poor in languages, you will have a hard time writing your reports.
Also, one needs to remain curious and astute. For experiences, one should seek skills in research methods, field experience and instrumentation since oceanography is mostly instruments-driven.
Is the course offered locally? If yes, in which Universities?
Kilifi based Pwani University offers B.Sc., M. Sc. and PhD in all the major oceanographic disciplines i.e. Physical, Biological, Chemical and Geological. The University of Nairobi offers Oceanography as a course unit in the B.Sc. Geology major while the Technical University of Mombasa offers a Marine Sciences course with oceanography as a unit.
In my case, after my undergraduate studies, I enrolled for a master’s programme in 2010-2011 in marine science and management at Vrije Universiteit Brussels in Belgium and graduated in 2013. The following year, I enrolled for a one-year postgraduate certificate, ocean engineering at University of New Hampshire-the centre for coastal and ocean mapping.
What is the job market like for oceanographers? Who are your employers? Can an oceanographer opt to be independent rather than seeking employment?
As I mentioned earlier, Oceanography profession in Kenya remains an uncharted one due to its wide disciplines and lack of local institutions offering it as a stand-alone course.
In Kenya, the main employers of oceanographers are marine-based research institutions- both the Government and NGO’s. Oceanographers, however, can also easily find employment beyond the Kenyan borders. I got my first job just a year after graduation. Equally, opportunities for scholarships are plenty for all the oceanographic disciplines.
An oceanographer can be independent through consultancies, especially now with major marine based infrastructural developments that require oceanographic data.
What is the best part of your job?
Each day is different and presents a chance to learn something new about the ocean. It’s also so exciting to encounter different ocean creatures.
What are some of the challenges you encounter?
The working environment can be challenging. For example, the ocean can be very unfriendly especially seasickness. Some oceanographic expeditions take a lot of time; some over two weeks to even months which means being far away from family and friends. However, the most pertinent challenge is the inadequate funding for oceanographic research especially locally. Oceanography is technology and instrument driven and some of the technology and equipment in question costs a fortune.
How much can one earn as an oceanographer?
The average monthly salary for a beginner oceanographer with a bachelor’s degree could be in the tune of Sh 60,000-experience and additional skills is an added incentive for a better pay.
Any other advice, tips or commentary you’d like to add?
Oceanography is a growing profession and even more, interest has been generated by the advent of the Blue Economy. To valorise the blue economy, oceanographic data which is vital will be needed and therefore the need for oceanographers. The future of oceanographers is bright, no doubt.