Larry Boles arrived as the new manager of the Oregon Coast Community College’s Aquarium Sciences program with a clear idea of what he wanted to change: nothing.
“One of the things I’ve made very clear is that I’m not here to mess up an astounding program,” he said. “Everywhere I’ve worked, we knew about it. What’s amazing is not only this facility, but our relationship with the Oregon Coast Aquarium. I feel safe to say that this type of relationship doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.”
A native of North Carolina, Boles earned his Master’s in Marine Fisheries Science from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William & Mary, where he focused on the behavioral ecology of crustaceans, including crabs and lobsters.
“I started out studying marine biology as a graduate student,” he said. “I published papers and was a visiting professor in a variety of biology subjects, then I transitioned to working for a small natural science center that had living exhibits. I was hired to do aquatic things, but I worked with bears, wolves, alligators, among other animals.”
That experience led to a position as Research Associate for Disney’s Animal Programs at the Seas with Nemo and Friends, at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center.
“I went to Disney specifically to work with a research team to improve the animal care there and to do conservation projects in the wild,” Boles said. “When Disney built the aquarium at Epcot it was the largest aquarium in the world. A lot of people don’t realize how many animals it has and that is is a leader in animal conservation, and that it spends millions of dollars in conservation projects annually.”
In addition to his work in Florida, Boles travelled for Disney to work with a coral reef specialist in the Bahamas.
“One of the things we did was to build a curriculum for the Bahamian kids to learn about reef conservation,” he said. “Then they would go on to work with the Bahamian people and provide education for people who visit on cruise ships.”
A unique program
The OCCC Aquarium Science Program, housed in the Aquarium Science Building on the Central Campus in Newport, began in 2011. “One of the many reasons to be impressed about this program is that students have had over 90 percent placement in the field after graduation,” Boles said. “We have two tracks: a two-year degree and also a one-year certificate program for people that already have a four-year degree in the natural sciences. That again shows you the value of the program – that students who have obtained a four-year degree might still lack the practical experience that we provide. If you look at the required education in many job postings in the animal husbandry or aquarium sciences fields, more and more of them say four-year degree, OR graduation from a recognized Aquarium Sciences program.
“That language is there because of our program. It’s going to be become increasingly harder for people to get into the field without formal training. At one point, we were the only place to get that training, though there’s one on North Carolina now. Another thing I like is that our students are learning from people that are actively working in the field.”
Every year a visiting committee made up of about 10 aquarium professionals from all over the country arrive to do a collective assessment of the OCCC Aquarium Sciences program.
“They come here on their own dime and do a complete review of our staff, curriculum and students,” Boles said. “They do mock interviews, which is both an amazing opportunity for the students and a great check for us, since we get a big written report afterwards to make sure we are up to standards. It’s going to be stressful, but luckily I’ve been through similar situations in other positions.”
This review is another thing that Boles considers an external thumbs-up: “The ongoing willingness of the peer group to continue to do this shows their confidence in what we are doing,” he said. “It reflects how their future and ours are tied together, since we are providing potential future employees, but I also feel confident that we are creating future leaders in the industry.”
During his time in this field, Boles has seen that, as a society, our attitudes toward animal welfare have improved dramatically. He predicts we will see that trend continue. “The fact that this program even exists is an indication that the field has advanced in the last 30 years,” he said. “As an industry, we are thinking more and more about how we house our animals; it used to be just about food and water quality, and that is changing. People used to get into the field who were home aquarists who learned on the job. Now, aquariums and zoos want people with both conceptual and real-world knowledge. Our students will be going to aquariums where their primary position will be to take care of animals, but they will also be working to educate the public and work on conservation for these animals that are threatened and endangered.”
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is an independent organization that helps to set standards for care for animals in captivity and has an impact on the fields graduates of the OCCC programs will be entering.
“The AZA is a self-regulating system to set a higher standard for care than even the US government requires,” Boles said. “At OCCC, we are well ahead of even their standards, and though the College is not a member, it is a conservation partner, which allows us to work with member institutions like the Oregon Coast Aquarium. I would never transfer an animal from an AZA certified facility to one that is not.”
Boles will be joined soon by Sandra Blake-Boles, his wife of 22 years. “My wife actually went to Reed College,” Larry said. “So she was excited to come back to Oregon. While she was the president of the alumni society we came out here a lot. I actually rode a motorcycle from Portland to Newport once, while she was in boring meetings.”
The rest of the Boles family includes Molly, a Standard poodle, and Fred the cat. When not attending to animal welfare, Larry has a few hobbies to keep him busy. “I like to rebuild and ride old Japanese motorcycles,” he said. “I’m good at the mechanics, not as good with the cosmetic part. I’ve done a lot of scuba diving, and I’ll be getting back into that, but I’m not looking forward to the cold water after having done so much diving in the Bahamas. I used to brew my own beer, but people probably wouldn’t be that impressed by that out here.”
Boles was hired as the Assistant Husbandry Curator at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher about two years before the position at the college opened, and he wasn’t really considering making a change until he saw the posting: “It was an awkward time because we had just laid down roots,” he said. “I would not have considered a major move like this for any other job.”
For more information, call Lucinda Taylor at 541-867-8531 or visit the OCCC website, at www.oregoncoastcc.org. Follow OCCC on Facebook and on Twitter, @occcsharks, for updates and news about special events.
Information and photos by OCCC