Ocean-deprivation: A condition suffered by people who have not visited the oceans enough. Symptoms include a desire to snorkel, feel sand between the toes, run from waves, and get sea salt in the eyes. Living in Wisconsin, I’ve felt land-locked with the exception of Lake Michigan on the eastern border. From a very early age I have been enthralled by the beauty of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans according to picture books. Who would not want to explore its rich depths teeming with life of unimaginable form and beauty? It seemed that even the ocean itself was out to tempt me.
My biology teacher encouraged me to apply for Ocean for Life (OFL), which is a global and science program sponsored by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). From the OFL field studies in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, I’ve had the chance to meet students of other states, Canada, France, Norway, Denmark, Armenia, Australia, Lebanon, Morocco, and Pakistan. I felt that I traveled through eight countries in two weeks!
OFL was mainly hosted by the Key Largo Marine Lab. On the first couple of days, instructors from National Geographic Photo Camp and American University came to show the delegates how to take breath-taking photos and to make effective videos that would enable us to promote the oceans. I got to listen to intriguing ecology lectures and entertaining lobster talks. We visited the Dolphin Research Center, where I learned about issues faced by dolphins in Keys and the conservation efforts promoted to protect wild dolphins. I met highly talented dolphins, including Aleta, Calusa, Tanner, Jax, A.J., Rainbow, and Santini. I also met Renee and Kilo, the gregarious sea lions. The flora and fauna of Florida continuously amazed me and encouraged me to be an active part of saving the environment. It was basically impossible to capture a “bad picture.”
I was cured of ocean-deprivation as I took photos of Biscayne National Park’s vastness and humidity! My camera always fogged up when it was time to snap a shot. Although the Keys were more sweltering that I was used to, it was all worth it when I had the opportunity to snorkel by the sea grasses, mangrove roots, coral reefs, fish species, and shipwreck of the “City of Washington”. I wished to see manatees, but unfortunately, I did not get to; instead, I got to hear of manatee encounter stories from the marine biologists I’ve met. One of them told me of a time when she meticulously observed a manatee passing gas for five minutes, thus getting clues and symptoms of their diets.
The only mishap was when our bus broke down on the way to the Key West National Weather Service Station. Otherwise, nothing can substitute the education that came from spending time with OFL delegates. We all had the same passion of saving the oceans and nature preservation. There was an air about the 60 persons present, which I could not define, but it gave me a sense of comfort—a security I had not experienced in solitude or in any other gathering. Part of the comfort was the knowledge that all the others felt the same way for the same unaccountable reason. It was a feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood. We talked of injustice, unfairness, global environmental issues, and tainted politics. The OFL group prompted me to the importance of self and group discovery.
Less than ten percent of the oceans have been explored. I plan to explore and dive deep into more of the oceans in the future. Hopefully, I won’t explode from hydrostatic pressure!
(Videos of Grace Park’s trip: www.oceanforlife.org/page/ofl-projects)
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