Tane Casserley

National Maritime Heritage Coordinator, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

On Your Career…

What is your educational background?
I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a graduate certificate in maritime archaeology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. I also have a master’s degree in nautical archaeology and maritime history from East Carolina University.

How did you end up in the field you are in today?
I had been an avid SCUBA diver since I was 16 and loved history. In college I was looking for something to do over the summer after I graduated and a professor of mine mentioned I could take a field school that documented shipwrecks. I had already graduated with a degree in psychology, but went back to school and started taking classes in archaeology.  The rest is history.

Who or what inspired you to pursue this career?
I watched Dr. Ballard and his team discover the Titanic and I was hooked. The view of the Titanic’s bow coming out of the darkness like a ghost was better than any science fiction movie I had ever seen.

How and where do you conduct your work?
I’m stationed at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, but I work across all 14 marine protected areas within the National Marine Sanctuary System

What tools and/or technologies do you use in your work?
I’m an archaeologist so I use tools as simple as a tape measure and underwater writing paper to digital cameras and video gear.

What research projects are you currently involved in?
I’m currently involved with documenting the shipwrecks of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

What have you learned so far from your research?
I’ve learned that the cold fresh water of Lake Huron acts as a fantastic preservative to help keep shipwrecks from the 18th century intact.

What do you like the best about your job?
I love to dive on shipwrecks that no one has ever seen before. I feel like I’m stepping back in time. It’s an amazing feeling to be on a wreck that no other human hand has touched in hundreds of years.

What do you like the least about your job?
I could do without office meetings. Meetings are important and it’s how we plan our projects, but I’d much rather be SCUBA diving than sitting in an office boardroom.

What are the most common misconceptions that people have about what you do?
People think I carry a bullwhip. I don’t. I have a speargun, but I never bring it to work.

Where have you traveled for your work?
I’ve traveled everywhere from Maine to Midway Atoll and Alaska to Alabama. I even documented a few wrecks in a swamp in North Carolina.

Where’s your favorite place that you’ve been to so far?
My favorite place so far is Kure Atoll in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. The marine life there is so abundant that it’s what I imagine going on a safari in Africa must be like.

What is the most incredible thing that has happened to you while conducting your work?
Once, while diving in the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary we were approached by a pod of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins who circled us for several minutes underwater. I’ll never forget when one of the dolphins swam about 5 feet away from me turned upside down and looked me in the eye. It was a life changing experience.

What are some of the different career opportunities that are associated with the work that you do?
As a maritime archaeologist I have to wear many different career hats including historian, artist, SCUBA diver, computer graphics specialist, photographer, video editor, spokesperson, and teacher.

What advice would you give to kids who are interested in studying science?
The best advice I could give you is to study hard and get good grades, but don’t forget to go outside and look at the real thing.  Academic knowledge will take you to a certain point but to actually master a marine science you have to get out of the classroom and into the water.


On Exploring the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary…

What about doing work in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is most exciting to you?
I love diving on the intact shipwrecks in Thunder Bay. I grew up in Hawaii where the tremendous power of the waves smash the shipwrecks into pieces, so to see an intact wreck in Thunder Bay with the masts still standing is amazing.

What one thing would you most like kids to learn from studying the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary?
I want kids to remember that the shipwrecks of Thunder Bay belong to everyone and that means it’s up to all of us, not just NOAA, to help protect them for the future. We invite you to snorkel or SCUBA dive on the wrecks but please take only pictures and leave only bubbles.

On Being a Kid…

What kinds of books did you like to read when you were a kid? Why?
I loved books by Robert Louis Stevenson, especially Treasure Island. Don’t watch the movie--you have to read the book to get the full flavor of ships, tropical islands, and pirates.

What was your favorite subject when you were in middle school?
I loved history, but I was lucky because I had an excellent teacher who understood that history is more than just memorizing the presidents. History is the best source of excitement out there filled with betrayals, intrigue, and blood. Don’t forget I was 13 when I thought this was cool.

What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a marine biologist for as long as I could remember. I love fish and aquariums. 

What advice do you wish that someone had given you when you were a kid?
It doesn’t matter what you pick, but pick something and throw everything you have at it.

On the Rest of Life…

Who are some of the people you look up to or admire?
My mother and father are from New Zealand and I’m part Maori, so I’d have to say that my ancestors are the people I admire most.  The Polynesians made round trip voyages between Tahiti and New Zealand nearly 1000 years ago using only the stars to navigate by, no compass and no GPS. To survive that kind of ocean voyage and then settle a land filled with glaciers takes a huge amount of determination and strength. If you can take on those types of challenges and not only survive, but thrive in the new environment, you have my respect. 

When you are not working, what do you like to do for fun?
I love to kayak and mountain bike. I need to take myself out of the city and enjoy what nature can throw at me.

Do you have any final thoughts or words of advice that you would like to share?
Never be afraid to try new things because you never know where the journey will take you.

JASON Learning: A Partnership of Sea Research Foundation and National Geographic