Coral Farming is the Life for this Penn Manor Alum

This is the first in an occasional series on Penn Manor alumni who lead interesting lives.

Protecting the oceans in some way, shape or form is one of Penn Manor’s alumni’s way of life.

Daniel Navin is a consultant working to develop new commercial coral mariculture techniques that can be carried out by coastal folk around Papua New Guinea (PNG) for the Papua New Guinea National Fisheries Authority.

Navin had always wanted to be a marine biologist and after graduating from Penn Manor High School in 2003, he attended Millersville University.  Following his childhood dreams, Navin majored in biology with a concentration in marine biology.

“I knew I really wanted to protect the oceans in some way,” Navin said.

Throughout high school and college, Navin worked for That Fish Place in Centerville for seven years, familiarizing himself with a wide array of saltwater fish and coral.  He worked in the fish room caring for the fish where he eventually became a supervisor.

Once in college, Navin and a buddy from That Fish Place started a side business in his parent’s basement, farming live corals.

“We constructed a salt water pond, hooked up powerful filtration and lighting, and then began purchasing South Pacific stony coral colonies and farmed them in my basement pond,” Navin explained.

Small corals collected from the ocean. Photo provided by Daniel Navin

After these corals matured, they then sold back their “crop” to That Fish Place and various other walk-in clients.

While at Millersville, Navin was selected to be a member of a research team that was taken to the island of Roatan, off of Honduras, to do a study on the coral reef system down there.  He and his team performed many belt transects which are used to investigate the distribution of organisms in relation to a certain area, using SCUBA, and analyzed the frequency of coral disease on the reef.

After Navin graduated college in 2008, he obtained an internship at the Bimimi Biological Field Station (shark lab) in South Bimini, Bahamas.

Navin said,”I got to spend a couple of months at this awesome field station capturing, tagging and performing behavioral trials on sharks.  It was really fun!”

Navin was in the PA Army National Guard all throughout college and a few months after returning from the Bahamas, he was deployed to Iraq with the US Army for 10 months as an infantry sniper.

Two coral farmers show the fruits of their labor.

“Good times,” Navin recalled,  “good times.”

Upon returning from Iraq in 2009, a week later, Navin was supposed to go to the Outer Banks in North Carolina but a big storm scratched those plans.

“So I reluctantly followed my friend to an aquarium trade show, called MACNA in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  At the show, there was a booth for a newly developing aquarium industry located in PNG, which is in southeast Asia, north of Australia. I began talking with the people behind the booth and the next thing I knew, I was handing them my resume and scheduling an internship in PNG,” Navin said.

Corals collected were analyzed to see how healthy they were. Photo provided by Daniel Navin

As an “after Iraq holiday,” Navin went to Australia with a few of his army comrades and after his trip there, he swung by PNG and volunteered for the SEASMART program for three weeks.  At the end of the internship, they offered him a job and he has been there since .

SEASMART was a government funded program that has since been discontinued and he now works directly for the PNG National Fisheries Authority (NFA).

Navin’s job is to consult and assist the NFA with establishing ocean-based coral farms, or mariculture sites, at various locations around PNG.

“My job involves SCUBA diving, collecting portions of wild corals to serve as mariculture brood-stock, propagating coral colonies, and marketing the farmed corals to aquarium trade importers around the world, most of which are based in L.A.,” said Navin.

Navin’s job is very environmentally friendly.  Farming coral, as well as sustainably collecting fish for the aquarium trade, places a direct cash incentive on coral reef conservation.  The coastal people in PNG are less likely to blow up coral reefs with dynamite, stun fish with cyanide or pollute their waters if they are earning money off an income source that is 100 percent dependent on a healthy reef.

“Penn Manor definitely had an influence on shaping me into the person that I am today.  I took many math and science courses, and the teachers who taught those courses inspired and prepared me me to pursue a science major in college,” Navin said.  “Courses including oceanography with Mr. Bender and all of the biology, chemistry, math and physics courses that I took definitely had an impact, especially preparing me for college,” said Navin.

Navin also took a photography class, which he is using skills from today to do underwater photography, snapping pictures of him and others in action.

“I give a lot of credit to my teachers and friends who motivated me to join the military, which probably had the biggest influence of all on me.  My experience in the army gave me skills that helped me excel in my job today (leadership, self-confidence, problem solving and field survival),” said Navin.

Navin’s biggest words of advice to all of whom are attending college is to get internships.  He goes on to explain that a basic degree without practical field experience is not enough to get by these days.

“I probably would not have the job I have today if I didn’t have a resume full of field experience from my internships,” said Navin.

Daniel Navin enjoying his time with the Tufi tribesmen. Photo provided by Daniel Navin

Navin has been in PNG for ten months and plans to stay there for another year yet if all goes accordingly.  Navin has visited his family once for a couple of weeks since he’s started in PNG in July, and won’t again until about the same time this year.

Navin is not too sure on his plans for the future but will never step away from the fisheries field.  Either way, it’s going to be the “life aquatic.”

“I have the best job in the world.  Not only do I get paid to play in the ocean but I get to help very impoverished coastal people in PNG explore new income opportunities involving farming coral.”

By Cree Bleacher

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