-By John Lynds
Three East Boston students have joined eight other local area high school students on a trip to the Bahamas to study marine science.
Dina Bahloul, 18, Jessica Andrade, 18, and Lee Huang, 18 will be in Bimini, Bahamas until April 23 where they will scuba dive and experience marine biology up-close – seeing underwater wonders and discovering the interconnectedness between humans and the ocean – as part of the New England Aquarium’s (NEAQ) second Sea Teen Underwater Research, Training and Learning Expedition (TURTLE) program.
Like the three local teens, many of the other teens resided in urban neighborhoods and lacked or had limited swimming skills before learning about the program. Yet, their commitment to participate in the Sea TURTLE program inspired them to take swimming lessons last year in order to be qualified to apply for the teen diving program this year. From street-wise teens to Bahamian divers, the Sea TURTLE program is responsible for changing lives, according to NEAq supervisors.
The program works to help the teens develop as young individuals and teaches them how to work as a team, says NEAQ’s Jenna Sigman.
“I’ve watched each student develop new skills individually and collectively as a team through the Sea TURTLE program,” said Sigman. “They not only worked hard to learn these skills in a few short months, but also they learned how to best support each other both underwater and on land.”
Beginning in January, the teens went through a rigorous application process for the opportunity to become certified to take open dives in the Bahamas. Since February, the group has met weekly as part of the certification process and to learn marine biology. They had guest speakers and were able to safely practice for the scuba tests at MIT, through donations from United Divers in Somerville and The Blackstone Community Center in the South End.
On April 18, the group flew to Miami and boarded the Aquarium’s rented research vessel, Coral Reef II, to live aboard for a week with Aquarium staff members Dave Allen, Jenna Sigman, Sarah Taylor, and Michael Whyte.
Several Sea TURTLE teens and staff supervisors are writing blog posts on the New England Aquarium website, www.neaq.org, about their experience leading up to the expedition.
“The biggest hurdle for me so far was the swim test that I’ve been preparing for over a month,” said Huang of East Boston. “Now, it’s onto the actual scuba training. I can’t wait to see what new adventures and challenges I’ll face in the Sea TURTLE program.”
“Their commitment to themselves through the certification process, weekly classes and guest lectures has given them the opportunity to put their skills to use for their trip to the Bahamas in April,” said Allen.
Other teens who participated are Denise Caban of South End, Boston; Michelle Chen of Brighton; Lulu Emmons of Cambridge; Christian Mareskes of Newton; Thomas Peacher of Weston; Libna Ramos of Chelsea; Porshai Rivera of North End, Boston; and Joshua Sanchez of Boston.