Note: Billy became a grandfather again during the mission
At the age of eight Billy Causey first discovered his attraction to the sea. As a youngster his family would camp along the beaches of the Texas coast and he would spend hours and days snorkeling along the troughs between the sand bars, exploring the sandy bottom. It was an added treat to get even a glimpse of a fish or perhaps a sand dollar or a shell. He bought his first Aqua Lung in April 1957 and used the first two tanks of air in the family bathtub, closely investigating the stopper for the drain. His first tank lasted over two hours and he looked a little like a prune when he climbed out. His third tank of air was an open water dive in Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans where he rested on the bottom in about 6 feet of water with only about one foot of visibility. The highlight of the dive was when a mullet swam past his mask.
Between 1957 and 1959 Billy logged most of his dives in the bayous of Louisiana. In 1960, the Causey family moved to Corpus Christi, Texas where his Dad was stationed in the US Navy. Billy sometimes dreamed of perhaps becoming a Navy UDT Frogman during these early years. By this time diving had become a passion for this teenager and Billy took every opportunity to dive the rock jetties at Port Aransas and the offshore oilrigs along the Texas coast. Billy became interested in marine biology as a junior after being influenced by Ms. Janice Freeman his high school biology teacher at Mary Carroll High School in Corpus Christi. In 1961, Billy and one of his dive buddies joined the American Littoral Society and participated in the first annual Christmas fish count. While still in high school Billy befriended Dr. Henry Hildebrand, a Professor who taught marine biology at the University of Corpus Christi. Dr. Hildebrand, a well-known Marine Biologist along the Texas-Mexican coasts, had a major influence on the development of Billy's career and was the first to introduce Billy to coral reefs off Veracruz, Mexico in 1962. Dr. Hildebrand contributed enormously to the excitement and love for tropical, coral reef environments that consumed the interests of this young adult. Interesting enough, Dr Hildebrand is the nephew of Dr. Samuel Hildebrand who worked of tropical fishes in the Dry Tortugas at the Carnegie Marine Laboratory, which later became the focus of a major conservation effort lead by Billy Causey and his Sanctuary Team.
While a student, studying marine biology at the University of Corpus Christi (Texas A&M at Corpus Christi), Billy met another man who influenced his career and that was a marine engineer named Bill Ogletree. In 1962 Billy began diving commercially for Ogletree Engineering and he worked his way through college diving in the oil and gas fields of the bays and coastal waters of Texas and Louisiana. Bill Ogltree was a brilliant engineer and taught Billy many professional and personal values that went beyond the job. Although commercial diving was an exciting field and a potential career, it was very dangerous and hard work. Billy learned quickly that he wanted to finish college and get into the field of marine biology.
In 1966, while still an undergraduate student and commercial diver, Billy became a Ranger in the Padre Island National Seashore. His responsibilities included water patrols in the Laguna Madre, beach patrols along Padre Island, interpretation, enforcement, and about any job assigned to him. He made many friends in the National Park Service, including his District Ranger, Buddy Martin, who taught him how to be a Ranger, but most importantly, how to be a good public servant in a very proud organization. Billy still cherishes his days as a National Park Service Ranger.
Billy began working on a Master's degree at Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M) in 1967. His interest in marine biology kept him near the Texas coast where he decided as a junior in college to study the fish of a sedimentary rock reef off Padre Island. Dr. Allan Chaney, a South Texas legend in zoology, agreed to be Billy's advisor for his Master's work. Billy felt privileged to work under Dr. Chaney who also had a major influence in shaping his understanding of biology, ecology, natural resources, and both terrestrial and aquatic environments. Dr. Chaney teamed Billy up with John "Wes" Tunnell, another Master's student, and they became the first team to conduct a comprehensive underwater study at Seven and One Half Fathom Reef off Padre Island, Texas. Billy completed a study of the fish and Wes studied the mollusca of the reef. They completed their thesis work and degrees in 1969.
In the Fall of 1969 Billy moved to Tampa, Florida to pursue a Doctorate at the University of South Florida. Although he did not complete his degree at USF, he completed all of his course work under great marine scientists such as Dr. John "Jack" Briggs, Harold Humm, Clinton Dawes, and others. During this time Billy was introduced to the tropical coral reef environment of the Florida Keys.
Billy supplemented his income while a student at USF through commercial diving. He worked for Commercial Marine Services in the Tampa Bay area and spent a considerable amount of time under the hulls of ships, raising sunken vessels, and gaining experience in the use underwater cutting torches. This exposure to underwater construction convinced Billy he wanted to work in clear, tropical waters.
As a student at USF, Billy met his wife of 28 years, Laura Goddard. She was working on an undergraduate research project under Dr. Harold Humm when they were introduced. Their mutual love of the marine environment and its' inhabitants lead Billy and Laura into the field of marine aquaria. In 1971, they opened the first exclusively saltwater retail aquarium store in the world. As full time students, the aquarium business became very demanding on their time. By the mid-1970s Aplysia Aquarium had become a very successful retail and wholesale outlet for marine fish, invertebrates and plants. Billy and Laura, along with their staff and friends, did most of their own collecting off the west coast of Florida and in the Florida Keys. In 1973, they moved their wholesale business to Big Pine Key, Florida where they opened Aplysia Aquarium Collecting and Research Center. During the 1970s and early 1980s, they served as marinelife consultants in several countries.
In 1983 Billy's career path changed enormously when he became the Manager of the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary off Big Pine Key, Florida. It was a dream come true for him. At last, he was able to apply every skill and every bit of knowledge he had prepared himself for since he was that 8 year old, snorkeling off the beaches of Texas. By the late 1980s Billy had logged over 18,000 hours underwater since he had begun his underwater adventure in 1957.
Today, Billy Causey has managed National Marine Sanctuaries in the Florida Keys since 1983. He is currently the Superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and has headed up this 2900 square nautical mile Sanctuary since 1990. He has been the lead National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) official in the development of the management plan for the Keys Sanctuary, which is the second largest marine protected area in the United States. He serves as the liaison with local, state and other federal agencies responsible for management of natural resources in the Florida Keys.
Billy was appointed by Governor Chiles to the Governor's Commission for Sustainable South Florida in 1994. He served as the Chairman of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force's, Interagency Working Group in 1995. He continues to be a member of the Working Group and is currently Co-Chairman of the Public Outreach Support Steering Team for the Interagency Working Group. All of these groups are involved in planning for ecosystem management and sustainability for South Florida and the Florida Keys.
In March of 1992, in recognition of his efforts in the field of marine sanctuary management and resource protection, Mr. Causey was awarded the Coral Reef Coalition's annual award for the "Greatest Individual Contribution to the Protection of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary." NOAA presented Causey with the first annual award for excellence in Marine Sanctuary Management in September 1992. In 1994, he was presented the annual Chairman's Award by Florida's Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. In 1995, he received NOAA's National Ocean Service Outstanding Employee of the Year Award and in 1997 received, on behalf of the Florida Keys Sanctuary Team, the Department of Commerce's Bronze Medal. In 1998, The Everglades Coalition recognized Mr. Causey's achievements by presenting him with the annual Jim Webb Award.
In May 2001, Mr. Causey accepted NOAA's Administrator's Award, as a member of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Tortugas 2000 team, "for establishing the Nation's largest marine reserve which will preserve the richness of the species and health of fish stocks in the Tortugas and throughout the Florida Keys."
Mr. Causey recognizes that it is because of his team of dedicated Sanctuary staff that his accomplishments have been singled out over the years.
This is Billy's second saturation Mission in the Aquarius Underwater Habitat. In August of 1998 Billy joined Dr. Sylvia Earle, Dr. Steve Gittings, and Dr. Ellen Prager. The mission studied the deep reefs off Conch Reef in a Research Only Area within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The Mission was a huge success where the Aquanauts were able to spend time assessing the conditions of the coral reef and reef fish populations at great depths for extended periods of time. Aquarius is a window into the underwater world off the Florida Keys.