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A summer of sailing, scuba and science

By: Julia Westwood, high school student and marine biology program alumna High School Study Abroad, Scuba Diving, Marine Biology

My summer break involved a 45 foot boat, nine complete strangers, a handful of sharks and a few college credits. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been dead-set on pursuing ocean science as a career, as the ocean is one of the last truly unexplored areas on Earth. So, I found an accredited summer program through Broadreach!

This particular marine biology voyage sailed to five islands and two territories, providing me with various dive certifications, community service and college credit hours. I started my journey, flying by myself to St. Martin in the Caribbean. Here, I met up with my boat family, received all my scuba equipment and dropped my belongings at my assigned boat’s: Tidre. We received a brief introduction to the rules and regulations, ate dinner (which the students cooked each night!), finally setting off for our floating home for the next 21 days – a 45-foot catamaran.

There were seven students on Tidre and three instructors – our Divemaster, Calvin, from the U.K., MG, our marine biologist and instructor from the U.S., and Eli, our skipper and sailing instructor from Israel. On the first evening, we each had an individualized meeting with our instructors to get to know them and to give them our SIM cards, passports and any medications – from this point, our communications were isolated from the outside world. It was both the best and worst feeling to be so disconnected, waking each day with the sun to start lessons and new adventures.

I experienced so much in my first week: explored my first dive site, hiked a mountain at sunset, overcame some pretty rough seasickness, served as the first student instructor of the trip, went snorkeling, saw my first shark and sea turtle, earned my Open Water certification and attempted (unsuccessfully) to master nautical knots. During our daily lessons, we discussed reef ecology, reef biology, ocean chemistry and also primary producers. The lectures are so valuable because you were able to take the knowledge from the class and apply it to what you were seeing underwater! 

At the beginning of week two, we sailed ten hours to the island of St. Kitts. There, I began my Advanced Open Water diving certification, fish identification and underwater naturalist diving courses. While in St. Kitts, we combined a lecture about invertebrates with first-hand experience with live animals from the field, including sea stars, sea urchins, worms and crabs. Week two gave me the opportunity to see a 4-foot stingray while diving, meet a monkey, dive over and around a shipwreck, hike another mountain to a former European fort and learn in-depth about fish biology and fish adaptations – it was jam-packed

In our next location, Statia, we had a family dinner on land and dove at an old shipwreck that was a habitat for huge, and I mean HUGE, sharks. We also worked with Statia’s conservation organization by helping to remove an invasive species of vine called coralita. Across the Leeward Islands, this vine has been critically damaging green spaces. We then traveled to our next location, the gorgeous island of Saba, where we were fortunate to make glass beads with a local artist, help a marine conservation center clean its coral trees, dove at some of the most beautiful sites and took our final exam.

Toward the end of this adventure, we completed our last “family dive” together and sailed to our final destination of Tintamarre before heading back to St. Martin. Our last day was spent helping the instructors prepare the boat for the next program. We cleaned – I mean cleaned – that boat, organized and stocked the new food, and packed all our belongings.

We were all so sad – saying goodbye to these new friends and to the greatest instructors ever was really hard. We all knew that we had shared the experience of a lifetime and made friendships that we would cherish for years. Broadreach taught me so much about myself, the marine environment and positive, useful conservation efforts. I now know that this is my field of study and future career path, and I’m so grateful I had this opportunity.

Julia is a high school student who spent part of her summer on Broadreach’s marine biology voyage in the Caribbean.