Bahamas Expedition: Captain John

Chris, a regular staff diver in the Giant Ocean Tank, is on an Aquarium expedition to the Bahamas. Stay tuned for live updates from the turquoise blue waters of Caribbean, complete with pictures, conservation notes and a taste of life on board a working boat.

For years I'd been hearing about this guy Captain John from my Aquarium coworkers, and I finally got to meet him on this trip. Captain John Rothchild is the captain of the R/V Coral Reef.  He works for Shedd Aquarium, who owns the boat, and is a department head. His offical job title is "Captain of the Coral Reef". He is retiring this year after 32 years, this trip being his last one with NEAq.  Thankfully I was able to sit down with him for a brief interview, to hear what it's like to spend so many days at sea.

Captain John grew up in the Bronx. He now lives in Miami, but has lived in Chicago and has called the Virgin Islands his home. It was there that he met and befriended the crew of the Coral Reef, and a few years later, when they were in need of a captain and their paths crossed in Chicago, they offered John the job. That was 32 years ago. 2 years after that he helped design the Coral Reef II, which is where I currently am while writing this. [Get a taste of live on board the boat with these pictures from a previous expedition.]

I asked him what he loves about his job. "High ooh-ooh quotient," he responded. And sharing his experiences and the wonders of the ocean with all the people who come out on the boat with him. From middle schoolers to PhD students to senior citizens enjoying a cruise on the Coral Reef, he loves to tell them stories of his time at sea and underwater. Some of the stories are more harrowing than others, like the time he was forced to head to a US naval base on Cuba to escape the weather. There are also tales of stowaways, and finding shiny bars 175 feet below the ocean's surface, and many many stories of past NEAq collecting trips.

Why is he retiring? "You know, I have the best job at the Aquarium... but I'm tired. I've put in a lot of hours these past 32 years. It's time." I know I speak for all of the numerous NEAq aquarists and educators that have been on one of these trips over the years that he will be missed.


  1. Captain John,
    You are a classy guy who treats people with respect and compassion, independent of their station in life. Time spent aboard the Coral Reef II will be well remembeered and cherished.
    Many thanks. Good luck with your reirement.


  2. Captain John,
    I spent time aboard the Coral Reef II in the early 1980"s. I think it was with the MS/AL sea Grant. Dr Jim Jones was director. It was a great adventure for a group of teachers from the south east. Captain John .....well you made the trip wonderful. My husband and myself returned many times to Staniel Cay because of that adventure. Good luck with your retirement, I am sure the Coral Reef will miss you.

    Cindy Malley Carroll
    Poplarville, Ms


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