Meet a SFPUC Marine Biologist From a Family of Scientists

Diane O’Donohue recalls being the only woman attending water quality meetings when she started her career as a Marine Biologist 28 years ago. Today, she is one among many women in the same field.

Monday to Friday, one can find SFPUC Marine Biologist O’Donohue in the water quality laboratory of the Oceanside Wastewater Treatment Plant, collecting samples from 16 beaches in San Francisco. At the lab, O’Donohue identifies invertebrates collected at 44 locations offshore of San Francisco and conducts aquatic toxicity testing that checks the effects of contaminants in each living organism. On the weekends, she trades her lab coat in for either a pair of cycling or hiking shoes.

Diane O’Donohue in the lab testing crabs from Pacific Ocean.

O’Donohue has been a Marine Biologist for 28 years, 11 of those years working at the SFPUC. She didn’t always know this was the career she would land on. Raised in a household of “scientists,” she knew she would end up working in the sciences, she just wasn’t sure which area of study.

In high school, O’Donohue participated in the school’s summer program that allowed her to shadow various medical professions, including nursing, pharmacology, paramedics, dentistry, among others, such as criminology. She was searching for her calling. One thing O’Donohue never wavered on, was her love for the ocean and bay.

“I grew up on the water, my family loved sailing and fishing. It was the salt of the air and just the beauty of the ocean,” said O’Donohue.

After O’Donohue’s first year of college, she made a decision that would change her path of study. She transferred to a college that offered oceanography and marine biology majors. That’s where she realized that she had an important job to do.

“Shoreline and offshore monitoring and sampling is so important to make sure the water is safe for aquatic life, watersheds, reservoirs and for us humans,” said O’Donohue.

Dian O’Donohue conducting marine biology ocean testing.
Dian O’Donohue (center) with her team of marine biologist.

Right now, current methods used by biologists at the SFPUC help determine the water quality of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, in just 24 hours. O’Donohue is putting her 28 years to work and is trying to quicken the method.

“By improving our monitoring methods, whether it is to find better test methods or streamline our procedures, protecting the environment is our priority. Thankfully to San Francisco’s combined sewer system, most of the stormwater that hits our streets or rooftops, get collected and treated just like what you flush down the toilet, before sending it back to the ocean or bay,” said O’Donohue.

While O’Donohue and the team of biologists at the SFPUC continue to improve processes, they hope San Franciscans and visitors who live, work and play in the Bay Area, will do their part.

 “Please be considerate of the ocean and the Bay. Don’t dump anything in it, don’t trash it, said O’Donohue.”

SFPUC Marine Biologist Diane O’Donohue enjoys biking to work.