Juan C. Levesque - Behind The Biologist
Mr. Juan C. Levesque is 100% Colombian, but he was born within the city limits of New Orleans that is why some
consider him a true "Cajun". After spending a few years in New Orleans with his single mom, Nina, they moved to the great state of Florida for better job opportunities. It was in these early
years that he became fond of the ocean; he remembers swimming and playing with his sister, Martha, in the surf off Cocoa and Cape Canaveral.
While living on the Space Coast, his mom started dating Mr. Romeo Levesque, a custom cabinet maker from Maine who spent the winters in the area. After a few years of dating, she married Romeo and they moved from the warm beaches of the sunshine state to the cold rocky coast of the state of Maine. Yes.... you are reading this right. They moved from the warm weather paradise to the cold tundra of Maine, which ended up being the beginning of God's awesome plan; God has a way of intervening when you least expect it. Juan believes growing up in Maine shaped his outlook on God, life, nature, and people. One of Juan's pastors, Mr. Scott Collins of Northwest Community Church once told him that there seven decisions that you will either make, or that someone else will make, which will "Change the Direction" of your life forever. Juan believes this was the first Change in Direction for him.
As a young boy he loved the outdoors, and especially fishing; any kind of fishing. He enjoyed stream, river,
lake, coastal, and offshore fishing. He even enjoyed ice fishing. Besides fishing, he also enjoyed other outdoor activities like hunting, snow skiing, hiking, and virtually any sport that had
something to do with the great outdoors. Juan and his friends (Lance, Mark, Norman, Kenny, Sean, and Rod) lived for the weekends so they could get lost in the wild. Unlike many of his friends,
Juan knew at an early age that the only thing he wanted to do when he grew up was to become a marine biologist; two influences nurtured this love. The 1975 Steven Spielberg movie, Jaws, about a
shark and the television specials by the great early explorer, Mr. Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
Like it was yesterday, he remembers choosing where he wanted to study marine biology and in particular fisheries
biology. While most of his classmates wanted to stay local for college, he had a dream to return to the Sunshine State. In June 1986, Juan graduated 10th in his class and received an academic
scholarship to one of the most prestigious marine biology schools in the United States, The University of Miami otherwise known as “The U.” He admits that the education offered at the U was not the only reason
why he wanted to attend Miami. Lets just say that "Miami Vice" , and the fact that UM had the number #1 college football team in the country influenced his decision; Go Canes! Juan believes
moving to Florida was another Change in Direction.
The transition from Bucksport, Maine to Miami, Florida did not come easy. After one short year at the U, Juan lost
his scholarship; it probably had something to do with the fact that he had joined and moved into the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity house. Subsequently, he then transferred to Florida
International University and later transferred to the University of Maine, Hillsborough Community College, and the University of South Florida. Each summer, Juan would return to Bucksport to work in the local paper mill to pay for college. Juan
always worked part-time jobs while in school. Juan worked part-time jobs because he needed the money and saw the value of gaining work experience; almost all of his part-time jobs were associated
with marine biology. His first part-time job was working for a Ph.D student at the University of Miami. He assisted her with field studies and taking care of her cormorants; she was studying the
bioenergetics of cormorants. While attending FIU, he took a job working at a small environmental firm on South Beach. The firm was contracted to conduct long-term studies on the durability of
marine paints and carpets for the Department of Navy. Besides maintaining the equipment, his job was to document and photograph the weekly growth of invertebrates on the materials. He continued
to work part-time at various places while attending classes, and 1992, Juan finally graduated from the University of South Florida with a BA in Biology. Juan is very proud of the fact that he
paid for college by working and taking out student loans. He is a classic hard-working, anti-participation certificate, non-entitled, Generation Xer! Nothing was giving to him nor did he expect
anything from anyone, especially the world. With God's help, he has worked hard all his life to become a mature man and a professional. See his Work Experience.
Unlike many traditional professional biologists, Juan decided he would start his work career and delay furthering his education; most students continued their education before going into the workforce. Mr. Levesque's goal was to slowly continue his education while working full-time, which was frowned upon by many of his wise advisers. Once you get to know Juan, you immediately understand that he definitely makes his own path in life with help and guidance from God.
Juan's first professional jobs were working as a Shark Biologist at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, and a Fisheries Biologist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida. Reflecting back, Juan indicates that he was very fortunate and grateful that he acquired his early biological field experience while working at these respected marine institutes. He is very proud that he was among the first wave of biologists that help implement some of the labs ongoing fisheries sampling programs.Although he didn't get paid much ($7.41/hr), Juan says it was alot of fun; basically no responsibilities and getting paid to collect shark and fish data in Sarasota Bay and Tampa Bay. In those years, Juan worked hard and played harder.
After a couple of years, and despite loving his job, the adventurist in him kept wondering what else was out there to explore. Juan has always had a calling for excitement and adventure so when he was presented with an exciting opportunity to work offshore for the federal government, he decided to leave his job with the State of Florida in 1994 and join the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in Miami, Florida as a Fishery Biologist aboard commercial tuna & swordfish vessels fishing throughout the western North Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea. Juan believes making this job change was another Change in Direction.
Historically, the high seas has shaped the way men think for centuries. Juan was no exception. Reflecting back, Juan remembers stepping on to the deck of his first pelagic longline vessel in Ft. Pierce, Florida as a boy and stepping off his last pelagic longline vessel in New Bedford, Massachusetts some eight years later as mature man.
In many cultures, the ritual or transition of a boy becoming a man was connected with an adventure, ceremony, or an event, which was often called the Right of Passage. For Juan, it was the high seas. The ocean has a way of testing one's emotional stability and outlook on life. Anyone that has spent any significant amount of time on the ocean knows exactly what Juan is taking about. You never go out to sea and return the same person.
Over those eight years during the late 1990s and early 2000s, Juan logged hundreds of days on the ocean, and recorded thousands of tuna, swordfish, and sharks. He also participated and helped lead various studies, including one of the first sea turtle bycatch reduction studies in the western North Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, spending so much time out to sea affected Juan's personal life. During those years, he missed countless weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and time with friends and family. At the mercy of field work, he could never plan ahead. Field work on the ocean was always directed by fishing conditions and weather, which caused delayed schedules and plans. This same theme has been at the forefront throughout Juan's career, and ultimately his life. Even today, Juan's life continues to revolve around business travel and projects, which causes him to miss various family functions. Juan says it takes special people in one's inner circle to understand a career like marine biology; its not a typical 9 to 5 office job. Because relationships are essential, Juan always makes it point to celebrate events before or after returning from the field. Over the years, some friends have come and gone because of his erratic schedule, but some of his friends have remained rock solid. He values relationships, so he attempts to live each day like it was his last day on earth. He also believes you should treat each person like how you would like to be treated, which happens to be one of the great callings by God.
After retiring from the ocean as a pelagic longline Fishery Biologist, Juan went on to work as a NMFS Fishery Manager for the Highly Migratory Species (HMS) and Protected Resources Divisions during 2002-2006. As a Fishery Manager, he applied his field experience to not only interact and convey information to commercial fishermen, but help draft useful and practical fishery regulations associated with HMS and protected species (sea turtles and marine mammals). As a Fishery Manager, Juan gained valuable experience drafting, implementing, and modifying domestic environmental regulations under the U.S government regulatory process. This experience has been very valuable throughout Juan's career.
Once again, despite enjoying his position with the NMFS, Juan left the Agency in 2006 to pursue a job in the private sector, and to complete his Masters Degree, which he had been working on for years. Another reason he left the agency was because he missed the excitement of the unknown. He also really missed being on the water conducting field work. Although his first consulting gig did not last very long, Juan was able to expand his experience. Being humbled by the experience, he took advantage of his free time and completed his advanced degree. In 2007, Juan graduated from Nova Southern University with a Master of Science degree in Marine Biology. It was a long struggle to complete his degree while working full time, but he did it.
Since leaving the government, he has worked as a professional Consultant for small and large environmental firms from Florida to Texas. Juan has worked on a variety of domestic and international projects for many types of clients, including power, mining, and oil/gas. His experience is broad. For instance, while working for an environmental firm in Plano, Texas, Juan assisted with many projects for the Department of Navy. He also supported, conducted, and implemented various natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) research projects related to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig accident and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico during 2010-2013 for a couple of different firms. Working as an environmental consultant, Juan has enjoyed expanding his skills and working on a variety of domestic and international projects. He has even led, and conducted various fresh water fish studies. Juan will always be a marine biologist, but he does admit its fun setting gillnets and using electrofishing gear in large river systems. In 2015, he spent some time collecting fish in the remote jungles of Nicaragua. During his time in Central America, he collaborated with various international scientists on a confidential project. The project was exciting, but the client decided subsequently not to continue with the work, which is common in private industry. Later that same year, he expanded his skills and conducted groundwater monitoring throughout North Carolina for a court-mandated project. Following that project, Juan spent the New Years holiday overseeing an invasive marine species vessel inspection outside of the Panama Canal in Panama City, Panama. When he returned home, a few weeks later, he was on the Ohio River conducting a project to assess potential freshwater mussel habitat for a client; many freshwater mussels are federally protected. Juan has always been drawn to adventure and excitement, which is a benefit of working in the private sector.
Despite all the excitement, diversity, and higher salary, working as a professional consultant does have its drawbacks. Juan indicates that unlike the public sector, consultants have to rely on clients paying their salaries. As such, there is no stability. Generally, consultants are only as good as their last billable project. As such, all of his consulting gigs have ended abruptly when either projects ended or clients decided not to move forward with a particular project. Environmental firms do not hire scientists to sit on the bench. It takes a unique person to handle the pressure of the business world. However, Juan wouldn't trade a thing or ask for a "do-over" for anything even though he has had to uproot and move a couple of times. As eluded to above, 2007 was both a good and bad year; 2007 was the year the great bubble burst. It cost Juan and Frances their jobs. It also was the year that Juan landed a new job in Plano, Texas. With much hesitation and faith, they relocated from Florida to Texas. Unfortunately, the job ended three years later when the firm lost their contract with the Department of Navy after 25 years. However, exactly one week after he was let go....one of the largest accidents in history happened in the Gulf of Mexico. The Deepwater Horzon oil spill. The following week he was representing a new environmental firm collecting oil spill data in the middle of the Gulf; this period of life would end up being one of the most exciting professional times in Juan's life. God always provides. Juan approaches his career like he does his hobbies. He has No Fear. He has No Fear not because he doesn't care, but because he has 100 percent trust in the Lord.
Today, Juan continues to works as a professional Senior Consultant overseeing environmental and
marine-related projects for clients in various sectors, including oil &gas, mining, and power. He has also expanded his skill set to include freshwater systems. In 2016, Juan led a study that
included sampling various streams/rivers from Boulder, Colorado to Albany, New York.
Juan took a leave of absence from his position as a consultant in 2017 so he could complete his Ph.D. dissertation in fisheries ecology at the University of Texas at Arlington. Juan's program fell under the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES). He specifically enrolled in this program rather than the traditional Biology program for several reasons. Primarily, he chose the EES avenue because the program was an interdisciplinary program that required students to complete courses in various subjects areas, such as engineering, mathematics, environmental policy, air pollution, geology, and biology. He believed taking these broad courses would help him expand his knowledge, experience, and scientific perspective. He also believed it would help understand how different anthropogenic activities are shaping the biological community. After many years of working part-time on his dissertation while working full time , he defended his dissertation on 24 April 2019.
When Juan isn't conducting and overseeing projects, you can find him tweaking his compound bow, throwing lures from his flats boat in pursuit of marine gamefish, or working on his rock crawler truck.
In 1995, Juan met Frances Anne Phillips at an undisclosed night club where she was working at in
Tampa, Florida. Looking back, he remembers his friend, James, stopping by his apartment and convincing him to get out and have some fun. At the time, Juan was day trading stocks in the stock
market, which was emotionally draining. Like a good friend, James talked Juan into going with him to one of Tampa's hot spots, which also happen to be one their favorite hangouts. Ironically,
that day would end up being another Change in Direction.
When they arrived, it did not take long for Juan to spot Phoenix, the name she used when they first met. Frances always used a fake name when meeting strangers, which is a great idea for women. In every relationship, timing is everything. He had just returned from sea and she had just return from scuba diving in the Cayman Islands. They both hit it off when they started talking about the ocean. Juan claims the classic rock song below was playing in the background when they first laid eyes on each other.
Besides the initial physical attraction, Juan thought it was pretty cool that Frances had a custom truck. After
dating a few months, they moved in together. A couple of years later, Juan and Frances purchased a home in the country outside of Tampa. And just like that....Juan was a step dad to three boys
who loved video games and had an appreciation for 80s rock, and great TV shows like the X-Files. In the summer, Joshua, Corey, and Christopher helped maintain the yard (i.e., picked up sticks),
and enjoyed going to the beach. The family would go the beach almost every weekend as long as the boys didn't fall asleep in church; church was very important to Juan and Frances. Sadly, a few
trips to Honeymoon Island were cancelled because the boys had dozed off in church; they liked to stay up late watching the Godfather or some other classic movie.
After living in sin for just over seven years, Juan decided it was time to take the next step. Needless to say, he did not know that Frances was plotting the same thing. Juan had been planning the event for awhile, but Frances had her own plans. He remembers flying Frances to Maine after one of his trips on the ocean to make the engagement official. His plan was to propose to her on a hike up to Chimney Pond at the base of Mount Katahdin, which is one of his favorite places on earth. Mount Katahdin is the tallest mountain (5267 ft) in Maine and the first place in the United States to see the sunrise.
It was a typical day in Maine.. foggy and cold. He remembers checking in, and the ranger telling him and Frances that Mount Katahin was closed due to weather. Juan was used to this, but he would later find out that the beach girl from Sarasota was very nervous about doing the hike; she was scared of heights...the things you do for love. When they reached the famous Chimney Pond destination it was around noon, and quickly noticed that life was non-existent. No animals or other hikers were around, which was weird. Juan remembers seeing moose in the pond on numerous occasions and many hikers along the way; Chimney Pond is a favorite among hikers. When he looked over at Frances, he could tell that she was cold, tired, and couldn't wait to get back, so he mentally prepared to ask her if she would marry him. Before he could get on his knee, Frances started to kneel... she was going to ask him! He immediately grabbed her and said, "wait...I have something to ask you". He then reached into his pocket and grabbed a banner that his sister had made, pulled out a deformed rose from his backpack, and got on one knee. It is crazy to think that God had been working on them both at the same time. Timing is everything in a relationship.
Today, they are happily married and love being part of the gathering church. God continues to be at the center of their lives and marriage. Attempting to live in
accord with the Holy Spirit, they take delight in receiving the Fruit of the Spirit. Juan and Frances admit they are very blessed. Over the years, they have been able to enjoy life. One of the
many benefits of Juan's career is that Frances has been able to tag along or meet him in exciting locations around the United States. They have been able to have romantic rendezvous in Boston,
DC, Miami, Nashville, Denver, New Orleans, San Diego, Seattle, Honolulu and many other great cities. As you might guess, they love to explore cities with great beaches. On any given weekend, you
might find them living life on a beach. As you might guess, there is a reason why they choose to live in the state of Endless Summer. Juan and Frances truly believe ... "Life's a