Stories from the Blue: Lt. Dustin Picard

April 2019

Did you know NOAA has a uniformed service? The NOAA Corps supports NOAA’s research missions from American Samoa all the way up to Maine – including in your national marine sanctuaries. Meet Lt. Dustin Picard and hear his Story from the Blue.


The best diving I’ve ever done in my life is actually here at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

I’m Lieutenant Dustin Picard. I'm with the NOAA Commissioned Corps and specifically Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. It’s a dream job.

As NOAA Corps officers we wear a lot of different hats, but predominantly I’m the vessel operations coordinator.

So we’re on the R/V Manta. We are the predominant research vessel for Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. This is day two of a three-day cruise. Two main objectives of this cruise are the water quality, which we tackled on day one at each bank, and then as well as the mooring buoy work we’ve been doing today.

Flower Garden Banks has Stetson Bank, West Bank, and East Bank. Each bank actually has water quality instruments that are anchored to the seafloor and as researchers we go out and change those instruments every three months.

Also, we’ve tacked on some mooring buoy work as well. And as part of our sanctuary management program we actually go out there as researchers and install these buoys, making sure the general public, recreational divers, recreational fishermen, can actually come out here and use the banks as a resource as well.

So you kind of just see some of the highlights of some of my experiences sailing on NOAA vessels.

This is the American flag flown off the Ronald H. Brown. It was about a 28-day cruise. We were doing some buoy deployments along the way in the equatorial Pacific.

I’ve been in the Corps for about five years now. It’s one of seven services. Of course you have your five armed services, then you have two uniformed services, one being the NOAA Commissioned Corps. We support NOAA’s research missions from American Samoa all the way up to Maine.

I think NOAA Corps officers bring a diverse background, so I can slide in at any of the crew positions. So if a crew member needs a cruise off or something comes up I can help facilitate that role. Or I can slide in as a research diver, working diver, scientific diver, or even a dive master. You know, that’s the best part of my job, really.

I say go out and do it. I think a lot of people have reservations because they look at it and they say it’s such a big commitment, and, yes, it is, but I think you’ll be surprised about the training and what you learn from yourself that you can actually go out and accomplish.

I’d like to do a full career in the NOAA Corps, so that’s my goal right now. But after I’d like to stay working for NOAA. I’ve definitely enjoyed it. I’ve always wanted to work for NOAA since I’ve always been into environmental and marine science.

I’ve been here down at Flower Garden Banks, which is based in Galveston, Texas, for about two and a half years now. You know, out here hundreds of miles offshore, not many people get to experience this. These coral reefs are very healthy, over 50 percent coral coverage in some areas, so it's unlike any place I’ve ever dove. And I feel very lucky every time I get togo in the water and see that. You know, it takes your breath away really.

My favorite of the three banks has got to be West Bank, something about it. So I always kind of joke “West is the best,” but that’s not true. Each bank has its own characteristics that make it special.

There are other banks and reefs out here in the Gulf of Mexico that are very similar in nature to East, West, and Stetson Bank. So it’s pretty well known that the sanctuary is going through an expansion proposal. Right now there’s five proposals on the table. Each one has its own benefits.

It’s been a dream working for the sanctuary program now and after my time in the Corps hopefully I can find myself in some type of role working for the national marine sanctuaries program.

Learn more about the NOAA Corps.