From the backwash basins in the very bottom of the building, to the tippity-top of the tall steeple on top of the observation deck, Keith Bethel knows the Aquarium from side to side, top to bottom. The twenty-five year staff member is technically titled Landscape Specialist, but he’s more like the Aquarium’s own Renaissance man. From parking issues, to sanitation stations, electricity and wiring, exhibit building – you name it and he’s had a hand in it.
Though a native Corpus Christian, Bethel lived in Hawaii as a young adult and worked in the landscaping industry, thus giving him the edge he needed 25 years ago to land his current position.
“I was somewhat knowledgeable about tropical plants and our climate here and what works here,” says Bethel.
Bethel says he was largely tasked with making choices regarding planting, soil, landscaping the front, back, and individual exhibit areas all around the aquarium – a somewhat daunting task for a young man. But Bethel knew exactly where to find answers and inspiration; they were right across the bridge.
“I would go and cruise down Ocean Drive and check out what was thriving and doing well in their yards, then take that knowledge back to the Aquarium. We have the same kind of exposure they do and it translates well,” Bethel explained.
But Bethel’s knowledge and ingenuity doesn’t just stop at plants and landscaping. As a master falconer, he is extremely well-versed on bird care, specifically raptors.
From a very young age, Bethel said he developed a fascination with birds.
“From hummingbirds to condors, you name it; I think they’re all amazing creatures,” says Bethel, who used to spend hours of his childhood researching different bird species in the Corpus Christi Library’s encyclopedia collection. After wearing out the more general books, Bethel looked for other options and discovered one single volume concerning falconry, and that was it – the sport flew away with him.
“It is defined as ‘the art of using trained raptors to hunt,’ and is a sport that’s been around for thousands of years,” Bethel says. “There’s such a rich history behind it. Back even before the Medieval period.”
Bethel is very fond of his two peregrine falcons, Mamba, a female, and Colt, a male or tiercel. He says that working at the Aquarium over the years has afforded him great opportunities to learn more about birds of prey.
“I’m grateful for a lot of opportunities I’ve gotten working here. I’m thankful also for the stability the Aquarium has provided me and my family – my kids grew up in the halls here and now so will my grandkids,” Bethel says with a smile. His daughter Sarah is part of the Aquarium’s Guest Services staff and recently had a baby boy.
Pride indeed runs deep at the Aquarium for Keith Bethel. From creating and maintaining our award-winning grounds, to helping with various tasks in every department, and even helping to transport animals, there truly is so much to learn about the man behind the mulch.