Former plumber turns to environment for inspiration

03 April 2023

He was a qualified plumber and is now on the road to becoming an environmental scientist.

Never in his wildest dreams did Mackay local Josh Potter expect to be travelling the career path that he is now on.

“I dropped out of school in grade 11 and started an apprenticeship as a plumber with no consideration of going to uni,” Mr Potter said.

“After I finished my apprenticeship I wanted a career change, so I went into water/wastewater treatment which put me down the science pathway, and eventually with some encouragement I decided to study.”

Now in his third year of a Bachelor of Environmental Science degree with CQUniversity, Mr Potter is excited about what lies ahead.

“When I was working as a water/wastewater treatment operator, the role involved laboratory testing and the management of biological nutrient removal processes to prevent detrimental impacts on the receiving environment (primarily waterways).

“The role was a great introduction into biology and basic science, but I wanted more. So, after much deliberation I decided to study Environmental Science. Biology and chemistry were on the cards, but I felt I could make a bigger difference as an environmental scientist.”

While studying, Mr Potter is also working full-time as a fisheries ecologist in the Fisheries and Aquatic ecosystems team at Catchment Solutions and he recently applied his university learnings to monitor habitat reef modules in the Pioneer River in Mackay.

“During my job interview I mentioned some of the fisheries monitoring we got to do with CQU at Great Keppel Island, and it just so happened that there was upcoming monitoring on the cards which was similar to what I had done,” Mr Potter explained.

“The habitat reef modules had been deployed in the Pioneer River at three all-abilities accessible fishing platforms to provide enhanced fishing opportunities (15 reefs per site). The reefs were designed to allow safe refuge for large, small-bodied, and juvenile fish species while also providing a surface that allows colonisation of encrusting marine organisms. The monitoring was conducted 18 months post-deployment and involved using Baited and Unbaited Remote Underwater Video units (BRUV and UBRUV),” he said.

“During the environmental monitoring residential school, this method was one of the monitoring techniques that were taught to us by lecturers Guy Carton and Nathan English.”

Mr Potter said the monitoring “couldn’t have gone much smoother”.

“After the monitoring was completed, I got straight into the long, drawn-out process of footage/data analysis. There was about nine hours of footage to sift through, but it was a process I thoroughly enjoyed.

“I got to write the report for the project which received mostly positive feedback which was more than I could have hoped for considering it was my first ‘real’ report.”

>> Watch Mr Potter’s hours of monitoring footage turned into a short and digestible video <<

Mr Potter said it was great to be able to directly apply the skills he had learnt in the classroom, into the real world.

“In my previous role as an environmental technician, I got to apply my study to some degree, however this recent project was what felt like the real deal for me,” he said.

“The experience was very fulfilling, and I look forward to continuing to get the opportunities to further apply my learnings.”

Mr Potter, the first in his family to attend university, provided some sound advice for aspiring environmentalists.

“Find a way to get your foot in the door. Try to find volunteering opportunities or basically anything that you can include in your resume that relates to environmental science before your degree is done,” he said.

“I’ve found that employers value evidence of experience so highly. I started out working in water treatment which barely scratches the surface of the enviro game, but just getting to know other enviros and learning how to use basic equipment has opened so many doors for me.”