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Meet Michael Bradley, Observer Coordinator

May 04, 2023

As part of the Faces of the Southeast Fisheries Science Center series, meet Michael Bradley.

Michael Bradley crouching next to a cow that is brown and white Michael and a cow along a hiking path in Grindelwald, Switzerland in 2019. Photo courtesy of Michael Bradley.

Where did you grow up? 

I spent the first 21 years of my life in the Texas panhandle in a small town outside of Lubbock, Texas. I grew up as an only child and was immersed in sports (track and field, baseball, football, etc.) and outdoor organizations such as the Boy Scouts and 4-H. Unfortunately, a knee injury ended my ability to play most sports, so I found a new hobby; maintaining a saltwater aquarium. This eventually led me to discover my passion for the ocean and conservation. 

Where did you go to school and in what subject did you get your degree(s)?

I first attended South Plains College in a small town in West Texas, called Levelland. In 2011, I moved to Galveston, Texas to attend Texas A&M University where I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology in 2013. 

How did you come to work at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center?

I spent the first year after graduating working as a laboratory technician for the Shark Biology and Fishery Science Lab under Dr. David Wells. This position was an amazing opportunity to apply what I had learned throughout my education,explore fieldwork, and collect data in other parts of the Gulf of Mexico. I was involved in several projects including stable isotope analysis and Natural Resource and Damage Assessment work concerning species of jack fish collected by NOAA Ship Pisces after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Also, I took part in satellite tagging coastal shark species, such as bull, blacktip, and scalloped hammerhead sharks.

Michael Bradley holding up a fish head that has been bitten off from the body by a larger animal.
Michael aboard the R/V Alabama Discovery with a predated grouper. This grouper was likely bitten by a shark. Photo courtesy of Trey Spearman.

Additionally, I participated in surveys aboard the R/V Alabama Discovery, where I worked alongside Dr. Marcus Drymon and Dr. Andrea Kroetz. We collaborated with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and Texas Parks and Wildlife to conduct sampling. In 2014, I was trained as a Protected Species Observer. I was stationed mostly aboard seismic vessels conducting subsea exploration operations for oil and gas reserves. I deployed with up to four other observers on several vessels that were approximately 350 feet long and eventually became the sole Lead Protected Species Observer.

In June 2016, my journey led me to the science center in Galveston where I was trained as a  Shrimp and Reef Fish Observer. I was a fisheries observer on commercial fishing vessels ranging in size from 36 feet to 90 feet. I would collect data on trips that ranged between 2 to 43 days. After three and a half years and approximately 770 days at sea spent between protected species and fisheries, I became the Logistics Coordinator for A.I.S. Inc. I scheduled all travel and managed expenses for the four Southeast Fisheries Science Center  observer programs. As I approach my 7-year anniversary working with the center, I am also nearing the 1-year anniversary of becoming an observer coordinator.

a team standing in front of a landed, bright orange helicopter.
Michael (3rd from right) and a group of observers attending a safety refresher training in December 2022, alongside the crew of a MH-65 Dolphin in Galveston, Texas. The training was organized by Panama City observer coordinator, Brad Smith (center). Photo courtesy of A.I.S. Inc. project manager, Rebecca Hailey.

What do you do at the science center?

My role as Observer Coordinator entails wearing many hats. Ultimately, my priority is to schedule and safely deploy fishery observers on commercial fishing vessels in our region and to ensure the data collected is of the highest quality. Our program covers various fisheries and gear types, including hook and line gear via rod and reel, bandit, and longline gears as well as shrimp trawl gear, both skimmer and otter trawls, working in shallow waters to depths exceeding 1,000 feet. I am heavily involved in operations from recruiting to making sure observers help to achieve the program’s sea day goals. Another facet of my job is data quality control and quality assurance, as well as training new hires and current observers attending refresher training. As the observer programs progress with the new realignment, headed by Observer Program Branch Chief Scott Leach, I will continue to assist with training for all of the fishery observer programs. In the past, the observer programs functioned independently and will now become more standardized to incorporate new and exciting technology and to further improve the data that is collected.

Michaek Bradley standing next to his mom while she is in the hospital
Michael and his mom, Jan at William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital in Dallas in 2019. Photo courtesy of Michael Bradley.

What do you like most about your position?

What I like most about my position is the ability to help others develop their career in marine fisheries and to teach them the necessary skills they need to succeed and grow professionally. Along my journey, there have been many people that have given me a chance and I feel as if that same opportunity should be provided to the next generation of biologists and scientists.  My fellow observer coordinators, Jason Williams, Kate Walter, Sindy Morales, and I  greatly appreciate the  level of support we’ve received to grow professionally. 

What advice would you have for someone interested in a career at NOAA Fisheries?

From time to time I am asked by parents what I think their child would need to become a marine biologist, and my response has changed over time. I used to advise getting a head start as early as possible in both education and experience, prior to applying to college or jobs. Nowadays, I recommend finding purpose, inspiration, and what they are truly passionate about. Finding what matters to you in life and believing what you are doing will change the world is important for the success of conservation. Currently, my profession revolves around commercial fishing, however, what brought me here was my desire for coral reef conservation and my first saltwater aquarium in 2007.  

Is there a book, quote, or person that influenced you to be the person that you are today? Tell us why.

blue room with a saltwater tank
Michael’s reef aquarium, which houses four fish and various invertebrates including corals. The aquarium has soft coral and both small polyp and large polyp stony corals. Photo courtesy of Michael Bradley.

My mom has been my biggest inspiration throughout my life. She has faced a seemingly endless list of health complications including cancer, a lung transplant, and emergency brain surgery all while raising me as a single mom. I am forever grateful for her and continuously witnessing how she has persevered for 25 years after her lungs collapsed has been inspirational. These hardships have taught me a great deal about respect and what it means to give someone a purpose to live. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

I am a very active person by nature. Playing baseball, football, and running track growing up, I always had something going on. Working offshore on vessels, it is difficult to maintain an active lifestyle. However, I am now able to follow a more structured routine. I am faithfully in the gym before 5 a.m. daily, which is very beneficial for my mental health and work productivity. I have set a goal to compete in an Ironman triathlon in 2025. I also fill my free time with offshore fishing, shooting my bow, and of course, enjoying my current saltwater reef aquarium. 

Contact Michael Bradley

Last updated by Southeast Fisheries Science Center on May 04, 2023