Chris Rowell has been with the Pigeon Key Foundation for 11 years and is the Operations Director. He ensures that things go smoothly out on the island across all domains including maintenance of the grounds and buildings, education, and historical tours. Chris has been integral in the success of Pigeon Key’s education programs and has become a student favorite with his extensive arsenal of jokes. Read more about Chris and his role here on Pigeon Key.
What is your role within The Pigeon Key Foundation?
As the Operations Director, I am responsible for overseeing day to day operations. I oversee daily historic tours and the scheduling of tour guides. I keep up with island maintenance including the historic buildings, the grounds, and island tools/machinery. I oversee the hiring process for new Intern staff every year. I also work with all education groups on island as a marine science instructor, water safety supervisor, and I also create and implement the food menus. The best way I describe what almost all staff do out here is: “We are the teachers, the lifeguards, the cooks, and the cleaners. We wear a lot of different hats and you gotta be able to do it all”.
What is your background?
I come from a family of SCUBA divers and active fisherman so my love for the marine environment was groomed at an early age. I grew up in Fort Lauderdale which allowed me to SCUBA dive and explore coral reefs throughout my childhood. I knew at an early age that I wanted to work in or on the water which led me to pursue a degree in Biology with a minor in Environmental Science at the University of North Florida. I was then hired on by The Pigeon Key Foundation as a Marine Science Intern. After finishing up as an intern I was offered a full-time position and the rest is history.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of my job is being able to work and live on this beautiful 5-acre island. Everyday I am reminded that people come vacation where I am so lucky to live. Being able keep Pigeon Key preserved and beautiful through my work here just solidifies my love of the job. Also being able to teach diverse school groups from across the world is a huge highlight of the job.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time I enjoy exploring the waters of the Florida Keys. I actively fish, SCUBA dive, snorkel, and spearfish as much as possible. I have also recently taken up fly fishing which has proven to be challenging yet far more rewarding. I am so fortunate that many of the things I do for work are also activities I enjoy doing in my free time.
What is your best Pigeon Key memory?
My favorite memory is not a single memory but a re-occurring event that takes place almost weekly out here on Pigeon Key. Seeing our students go through a metamorphosis during their time on Pigeon Key is the greatest memory for me. I am blessed to be able to work with many different types of school groups of which many are completely new to our Florida Keys environment. This sometimes results in uncertainty and fear when it comes to getting in and snorkeling around the island or at the coral reef. However, with the right motivation, patience, and coaching, these students overcome their fears and go through a metamorphosis to become great snorkelers. This is truly one of the greatest perks of the job.
The most important question of all… What is your favorite sea creature?
It’s funny because this was the last question asked to me when I was interviewing for the internship here so many years ago and I ask this question every year to applicants applying for the internship still. My answer remains the same since the first time I was asked it: The Spiny Lobster. I grew up diving for them with my grandmother and father and still dive for them to this day. Their social structures and life cycles are complex yet bizarre. Their economic importance is huge in Florida and their environmental importance is even greater. Plus they are so weird and alien that you can not help but be fascinated by them!