Gavin Phillips is ahead of the game when it comes to realizing childhood ambitions.
“When I was a kid, I told my mom, ‘One day, I want to be one of those divers,’” the now 20-year-old says of visiting the National Aquarium in Baltimore at age 5.
When an exhibit-guide position opened, Phillips, then 14, jumped at the chance. Later promoted to aquarist assistant at age 16, he started collecting hands-on experience with the animals. But to get in the tank two years later, “Scuba G” — as his friends now call him — Phillips had to pass two tests: one written and one in-water, which included a logic puzzle, gear removal and fitting through small spaces.
Passing led to his current gig as a volunteer scuba diver responsible for feeding tarpon, hogfish, cownose rays, and — his favorite — a 500-pound green sea turtle named Calypso.
“It’s a cool way to keep up with my dive skills and help out,” says the environmental science major at the University of Delaware. “We’re raising awareness. People don’t know that these animals are endangered until they learn at the aquarium.”
The best part? “I love interacting with the kids,” he says. “I hope I inspire them to pursue their passions.”
WHY HE DIVES
Age When Certified: 16
Level of Certification: PADI Rescue Diver
Hometown/School: Forest Hill, Maryland/University of Delaware
Favorite Dive Destination: Bonaire
Most Memorable Dive: On a night dive in Bonaire, a tarpon came flying at my light. It was hunting the fish swimming in the beam!
Funniest Thing That Happened to Me Underwater: At the aquarium, I always have little kids waving, trying to take pictures with me. We play around with that.
Who I most want to dive with: Capt. Don — the father of Bonaire diving.