>Filmmaker Matt Abraxas dreamed up the project and set out building a team of professionals to help provide this opportunity for students who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to experience the ocean firsthand. The team he assembled included Graham Casden, founder of Ocean First, a scuba diving, swim and travel company based in Boulder, Colorado; Mehgan Heaney-Grier, champion freediver, television personality and now host of A Rising Tide; and Klara Fejer, digital media specialist at the nonprofit Ocean First Institute.
>It wasn't easy for the small selection committee to choose just three scholarship recipients from a pool of dozens of deserving applicants, so Casden and the rest of the team ultimately chose to fund five additional, partial scholarships.
>The judges selected Josh Johnston, Fatima Flores Almanza and Emily Sanchez for full scholarships. Johnston, a 17-year-old from Lafayette, Colorado, applied because he is interested in science and is considering marine biology as a career. Almanza, a 15-year-old from the Denver suburb of Erie, Colorado, shared in her video application her amazement that more is known about outer space than the ocean and expressed her desire to be a part of ocean discoveries. Sanchez, a 16-year-old from Longmont, Colorado, marveled at the thought of swimming in the ocean at all as she explained that she had "never even been snorkeling" and was "expecting the unexpected."
>By the end of the trip, all eight of the scholarship recipients had successfully completed their dive certifications. Supplementing their classroom lessons and pool sessions, the students were exposed to a well-rounded curriculum of ocean-focused talks and lectures from scientists and other experts in the field, covering topics such as plastic pollution, shark ecology, invasive species, marine protected areas, marine archaeology and career development options for the marine sciences.
>"We wanted to show kids who might not otherwise get to experience the ocean that they have so many options to get involved in marine sciences and make a difference," Fejer added. "We really wanted to drive home the idea that we all have an impact on the planet and the ocean, no matter where we live."
>After a semester's worth of pool practice as well as an unforgettable experience diving with sharks in the Denver Downtown Aquarium, the project culminated in the students' trip to the Florida Keys, where they conducted their open-water dives in the ocean at the beginning of the summer. Traveling to Florida was especially exciting for Sanchez, because it was the first time she had ever flown on an airplane. The initial excitement of flying soon morphed into feelings of exhilaration for everyone at the thought of diving in the ocean. "To be around the ocean and around marine life," Johnston said, "it's just not a thing we get to do every day."
>"I love learning about how you can be part of ocean conservation even without being in the water at all times," Sanchez said. As a member of her school's speech and debate team, she is interested in pursuing a career in marine policy.
>Throughout the program the scholars talked a lot about the future and looked for ways to inspire others as leaders in diving and marine conservation.
>The group would like to repeat the scholarship process each year, with hopes of broadening the scope and expanding the program's reach.
>"We are relying on the next generation to make a difference," Heaney-Grier explained. The first step for this involvement has been set into motion. The students from A
>This program was possible with the support of many generous sponsors and partners, including Ocean First, Ocean First Education, Scuba Schools International, Mares, Divers Alert Network, Paralenz, ChicoBag and To-Go Ware, Stream2Sea, Prawno Apparel, Strawesome, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries, Denver Downtown Aquarium, A-1 Scuba and Travel Aquatics Center, and Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo. Watch the episodes at arisingtide.tv.
>Meet the three full scholarship winners in this episode of A Rising Tide.
>© Alert Diver — Q3 Summer 2018