Like countless children, Jeremy Heywood first got interested in undersea life because of the gripping documentaries of French explorer Jacques Cousteau.
“Just from that moment, nine or 10 years old or maybe earlier, I wanted to be a marine biologist,” says Jeremy, who fulfilled that dream.
Now, as Vancouver Aquarium’s diving safety officer, diving for a living is second nature to him – although the diving is just as likely to be in an Aquarium exhibit as it is in the waters around British Columbia.
“I love diving,” says Jeremy, who’s also a certified diving instructor. “Being immersed in the diving world is very enjoyable for me.”
He was working at another position at the Vancouver Aquarium when he learned that the organization was about to hire its first diving safety officer in 1996. He filled the role for four years, left it to take on a similar job at the Caribbean Marine Research Centre in the Bahamas, and then returned to the Aquarium in 2009.
Diving in the warm, tropical-fish haven of the Bahamas was lovely, he says, and he came face-to-face with lots of intriguing aquatic life there, including reef sharks.
The most “awe-inspiring” diving experience he’s had, though, was right here in B.C. at the Browning Wall, near Port Hardy.
“There’s a vertical wall on either side, just packed with innumerable creatures in all sorts of colours,” he says. “The diversity and sheer magnitude of creatures that live there, in this little spot in B.C. – it’s just spectacular.”
While Jeremy’s job revolves around diving – about half the time at the Aquarium and the other half in Howe Sound – he only gets to suit up about once a week. One of his major tasks is ensuring that the 40 or so divers who are Aquarium staff, as well as volunteer divers and guest divers, are all properly qualified according to provincial standards, trained for their specific tasks, and the diving equipment is in perfect order.
“We have a fairly large diving program,” he explains – including interpretive diving shows, exhibit husbandry (animal and habitat care), and fish research in Howe Sound. “My job is to make sure that we follow all the rules and regulations and everyone goes home safely at night.”
He also organizes the Aquarium’s annual Divers’ Weekend, now in its 15th year. The January event is a chance for divers and would-be divers to immerse themselves in ideas, watch videos of stunning dives, bump up their expertise and get re-inspired by the oceans.
Jeremy loves the stimulating environment of the Aquarium and spending his weekdays in Stanley Park, where his lunch hour sometimes finds him running the sea wall or walking the forest trails.
He advises those seeking a similar profession to stay in school, get an undergraduate degree in biology or “something water-related,” dive as much as possible, become a diving instructor and – to get on the inside track for job opportunities – volunteer at an aquarium.
Learn more about Jeremy’s and other Aquarium careers during the Ask the Staff program taking place daily during Vancouver Aquarium Up Close, a special feature exhibit on now until April 30.