Florida Marine Ecology Expedition, June 20-30, 2023: in partnership with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium

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Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. – Dr. Seuss, The Lorax


Join other teens from Florida and all over the world for the Florida Marine Ecology Expedition and learn how you can be part of the solution to the many problems facing our oceans. The Expedition combines a survey of challenges to the marine ecosystem through five days with the iconic Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) in Clearwater on the west coast of Florida and then a shift to a focus on practical solutions to these problems for five days in Key Largo on the east coast with the Coral Restoration Foundation (TM). Earn PADI Open Water Scuba certification; do a coral restoration project on scuba; learn about manatee, turtle and dolphin conservation from top researchers in the field; and more (June 20-June 30, 2023).

Participants in this program will also be trained as leaders to become part of the Ocean Matters Team Ocean Teen Leader (TOTL) project, a group of teens seeding projects to make a difference to our world’s oceans.

“Amazing trip! So thankful for everything—the experiences, scuba certification, the friends I’ve made. This has honestly been the best thing I’ve ever done in my life—will never foget it! I’m so sad that it’s come to an end.” — Ellie Siney, Florida Marine Ecology Expedition 

“I got to help fix what was falling apart.” — Josh Fields, Florida Marine Ecology Expedition 

“This program has been the most impactful week of my life. Thank you so much!” — Sophie Sharp, Florida Marine Ecology Expedition 

What Do We Study?

  • PADI Open Water Scuba certification
  • Coral reef restoration on scuba
  • Manatee conservation and encounter at the Crystal River on snorkel with world-renowned manatee scientist Dr. James (Buddy) Powell
  • Turtle walk during nesting with biologist 
  • Watershed and grassland ecology
  • Everglades ecology with the Miccosukee Indian Tribe
  • Leadership skills development
  • Behind-the-scenes engagement with CMA’s rescue, rehabilitation and release program, including hands-on labs and experiences in Tampa Bay.

Manatee in fresh water spring; Florida. Photo by Brian Skerry. Used with permission.

We are partnering with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) for this project. CMA is a world-class institution in Clearwater, Florida whose mission is to preserve the environment while inspiring the human spirit through leadership in the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of marine life; environmental education; research; and conservation. CMA is the inspiration behind the blockbuster film “A Dolphin’s Tale” that tells the true story of the rescue and rehabilitation of an injured dolphin named Winter, who was fitted with a prosthetic after losing her tail in an entanglement with a crab pot. CMA is now a pilgrimage for wounded warriors and children with disabilities. A leader in turtle and manatee rehabilitation and right whale conservation, their work is on the forefront of issues impacting Florida’s marine ecosystem.

Coral reefs globally are threatened by warming waters, ocean acidification, plastic pollution, overfishing and other chronic stressors. We have lost 50% of our coral reefs in the past twenty years, with more loss predicted as waters continue to warm. Coral reef restoration is a relatively new science where substrates (surfaces) are lain and coral fragments or coral colonies from land-based nurseries are attached in order to replace coral that has bleached or died. Students will be doing this important service work on scuba.

Dr. James (Buddy) Powell, President of CMA, Executive Director of the CMA Research Institute and a world-renowned manatee and turtle researcher working jointly with CMA and Mote Marine Lab is our supervising scientist for this project.

What is the West Coast Component?

For the first five days of the Expedition at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, FL scientists and marine educators will engage you in hands-on inquiry and activities related to understanding the marine ecosystem and current threats to it. Turtle, dolphin and manatee conservation will be featured, along with other important components of understanding the land/sea connection within the ecosystem such as grasslands and estuaries. Our Director of Dive Education Laura McCallion and her staff will complete the pool training component towards PADI Open Water certification while on the West Coast.


What is the East Coast Component?

After five days working with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, students will travel to the East Coast for an additional five days in Key Largo, stopping to learn more about the Everglades and its ecology with the Miccosukee Indians on their tribal lands. In Key Largo, Director of Dive Education Laura McCallion and her staff will be focused on open water training for PADI Open Water certification. The Coral Restoration Foundation will provide training both on coral reef ecology and coral restoration techniques to prepare students to participate on a coral restoration project on scuba on the coral reef.

What is Coral Reef Restoration?

Coral reefs globally are threatened by warming waters, ocean acidification, plastic pollution, overfishing and other chronic stressors. We have lost 50% of our coral reefs in the past twenty years, with more loss predicted as waters continue to warm. Coral reef restoration is a relatively new science where substrates (surfaces) are lain and coral fragments or coral colonies from land-based nurseries are attached in order to replace coral that has bleached or died. Students will be doing this important service work on scuba while earning their PADI Coral Reef Restoration Specialty certification.

To learn more about the Coral Restoration Foundation’s work in the Florida Keys see this report from the Nature Conservancy.

What Is the Scuba Instruction and Certification Component?

Students need no prior experience to receive PADI Open Water certification as part of this program, but must be able to swim 200 yards without stopping comfortably and tread water for 10 minutes. All scuba instruction will be supervised by our Director of Dive Education Laura McCallion, who has the highest level of professional certification available. Laura is a PADI Course Director and has decades of experience teaching scuba, as well as having a special talent for working with young people. Laura will be joined by Peter Lewandowski, Assistant Director of Dive Education and PADI Dive Master Joe McCallion, providing dive supervision and support.  For more information see our scuba program page 

For additional information about this program, please email lmccallion@oceanmatters.org or call Laura McCallion, our Director of Dive Education and a leader for this trip at 508-320-5087.

What is the Leadership Component?

Ocean Matters Founder and Executive Director Laura Parker Roerden will be working with the program youth in the development of leadership skills. For interested teens, there is the opportunity to serve on the Ocean Matters youth leadership council Team Ocean Teen Leaders (TOTL), a group of teens who seed ocean conservation projects where they live and elsewhere. These projects continue on into the following school year and are supported by our Youth Advocate Leader Arcadia Davies.

Team Ocean Teen Leaders (TOTL) who attended the Florida expeditions in the past created an ocean advocacy film, which was released virtually on World Oceans Day and has been seen by tens of thousands of people around the world. You might want to watch it to see how inspiring our youth leaders in ocean advocacy can be!

Participation in this extended teen leader project is fully voluntary and included with your tuition, but can be a meaningful way to continue learning about the marine environment and participating in ocean conservation well beyond the time in Florida.

Teens will furthermore have the opportunity to explore further study and potential careers in marine science or conservation.

“I love the relationships I built with the Ocean Matters staff and with the rest of the teenagers. It’s amazing to know that I have a whole team of people that I know will always have my back in any sort of ocean-related activism I or any of the rest of the group want to do or are currently doing.” – Isabella Campos, Florida Marine Ecology Expedition












What Does it Cost?

This 10-day program is $4,400.00 including e-learning, pool training, all scuba equipment and certification (PADI Open Water and Coral Restoration certifications), boat dives, instruction, food, lodging, materials, and a year of Divers Alert Network (DAN) membership and insurance.

Students must provide their own mask, fins (booties), and snorkel, as these are personal items that must fit well.  

Airfare is not included, but should be planned to arrive at Tampa, Florida and depart from Miami, Florida. Ocean Matters will provide all transfers in Florida from the airport for students on the schedule provided by your individual flight plans. Important logistical details related to scheduling your flight and other preparation will be provided upon acceptance to the program.

A Word About the Cost
We sometimes are asked why our costs for this program is so high. Typically, PADI Open Water scuba instruction and certification is valued at $1,500.00, because of the cost of gear, pool and boat rentals. We also include a Coral Restoration Certification and DAN insurance, which is an additional $500.00 value —bringing the scuba component alone to a value of $2,000.00 per person. For safety reasons, we keep our teen to adult supervision ratio very low (3 to 1): we will have 5 adults supervising a program of 16 students. As teens will no doubt hear us say over and over again, “Safety is our number 1 priority!”

“Ocean matters isn’t just a place for your child to learn how to scuba. If your child has passion and love for the ocean, this once in a lifetime opportunity will truly light your child’s fire. This program is led by such an amazing group of people who nurture the youth of today so that we can have a better tomorrow.” Linda Swartz-Holt, a parent of a student who attended our Florida Marine Ecology Expedition

Is There Scholarship Available? 

Yes! Because of the generosity of our donors, we are able to provide partial scholarships to selected students who show both 1) demonstrated financial need and 2) merit. In order to apply for consideration of a scholarship, along with your application for admission:

  1. Submit a short (no longer than 3-minute) video explaining why the ocean matters to you and why you think you would be a good candidate for further instruction in marine science. This video will only be reviewed for its content, not for technical aspects, so feel free to record a very simple, yet sincere video. 
  2. Submit a letter of recommendation from a teacher or guidance counselor addressing both your financial need and merit. 
  3. Check off the box on the application for admission saying you are applying for scholarship.

Where Will We Be Staying?

We will be staying in a block of rooms in hotels on both the West and East Coasts with three meals a day and snacks provided.

Our accommodations from June 20-25 while in Clearwater, FL will be the Fairfield Inn  and while we are in Key Largo, FL from June 25-30 we will be at the Marina Del Mar.



What Are the Goals of the Project?

  • To deepen knowledge and understanding of Florida’s watershed ecology.
  • To become PADI Open Water certified and Coral Restoration certified.
  • To explore a career in marine science or conservation.
  • To understand challenges facing the marine environment through the lens of evidence-based solutions.
  • To build grit, self-efficacy, teamwork and leadership skills through rising to together successfully meet challenges and solve problems.

Please help us spread the word about this amazing opportunity for  teens to make a difference to the ocean and the world they will inherit!

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To Apply to the Florida Marine Ecology Expedition

Students must have the following prerequisites:
– be a high school student (rising freshman through graduating senior)
– be minimum 15 years old by the start of the program
– be able to swim 200 yards continuously and tread water for 10 minutes (please be certain you can do this in a pool without touching the bottom or stopping, as it is a pre-requisite for scuba training.)

See the apply tab on our website to apply online to this program. You must submit:

– a completed application
– a letter of reference from a teacher (preferably a science teacher)
– a high school transcript

Admissions decisions are granted on a rolling admissions basis within two-three weeks of applying. The timeline for scholarship decisions will be provided upon application depending on the funds still available at the time. 

Help Us Support Teens and Their Important Service

We are currently raising money to support this project. Ocean Matters is 501(3)c nonprofit corporation and donations are tax-deductible as outlined by law.


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