At 60 feet below the surface of the ocean, I was virtually powerless to escape the great creatures which ruled the sea. My heart stopped as the magnificent barracuda slinked into my vision. Its perfectly streamlined body moved in one continuous flow, displaying its four feet of beauty and mystery. As long as I did not interrupt these creatures, they would continue to welcome me into their world.
This was only the beginning. Twenty-six students and I had landed just a few days before on the Grand Cayman Island. With biologists as our guides, we were about to spend six of the most intense weeks of our lives, both physically and educationally, in the water and on land, as part of Northfield Mount Herman Summer School's Caribbean Marine Biology and Scuba Program.
Each day began a new experience and a new discovery. A two-hundred yard snorkel swim to our diving destination awakened each student to the reality that this was not summer camp. While the transformation from outside air to the cool compressed tank air occurred, we forgot our weariness.
As I separated into my small group, I had to be alert at all times, to make certain my "buddy" and group members were safe. It is easy to clear your mind among the coral-munching parrot fish and the fluorescent sponges. I had seen so many fins accidentally strike a head of coral or grab the branch of a gorgonian coral for support, causing irreparable damage.
Later there was time to begin work on my project in the lagoon. The individual project was the dividing line between learning the scientific process through books and teachers and the application of the scientific process itself. On my own, I was faced with the challenge of choosing a subject to research, and then prove or disprove a hypothesis. As I was snorkeling one day, an idea struck me. Before me lay the perfect patch reef. It was minuscule in comparison to those patch reefs around it, yet it supported nearly every small fish I could imagine. I now knew on what I would base my project: the populations of fish on patch reefs.
Every day my observations became more fascinating as I began to come closer to proving my hypothesis that the number of species of fish was not necessarily greater on a large patch reef than on a small one. I knew that even if my hypotheses were incorrect, I would finish the project knowing ten times more than when I began!
While studying the patch reef, I realized how incredible it was that so many different species of fish inhabited such a tiny patch. The patch reef could keep itself alive because every organism depended on the others for survival. Everything I had seen was a member of the marine life cycle.
Learning from an underwater hands-on experience taught me more than any book could have. I discovered how the marine world operates and that it should never be taken for granted. I have become more aware of how to protect the sea and I now realize how valuable it is. L
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.