At Sanibel Sea School, we strive to help students grow into capable, successful, innovative citizens who care deeply about the ocean. We start with our four year olds, when we teach them about kindness and self sufficiency at Cuddlefish Camp (think putting on your own water shoes, then helping a friend!). But the goal applies to students of all ages, including the college aged ones who often join us as camp counselors and marine educators during the summer months. We're proud to be building and encouraging a tribe of smart, driven Ocean Ambassadors like Shaniqua Gladney, who worked with us in 2011 and 2013 as a Baltimore Aquarium Henry Hall Intern. Shaniqua is now pursuing a Ph.D. in biological oceanography at the University of South Florida, and has a long-term vision to make marine research more accessible to high school students. We sat down with her to talk about the ocean, Sanibel Sea School memories, and what she hopes to accomplish in the future.
You grew up in Baltimore. How did you become interested in the ocean and marine biology?
I participated in the Henry Hall Program at the National Aquarium in Baltimore from sixth grade until I graduated from high school. It's a summer program that gives public school students an opportunity to explore different marine environments, visit research stations, and participate in ocean conservation projects, and it's what made me realize that marine science would be a part of my life forever.
What led you to Sanibel Sea School?
As an undergraduate, an adviser told me that internships were important. I didn’t know exactly how to find one, but I knew I could reach out to the Baltimore Aquarium and they would point me in the right direction. As it turned out, they were in their second year of partnering with Sanibel Sea School for the Henry Hall Internship Program. I applied and ended up working for the Sea School for two summers - in 2011 and 2013. I was a marine science instructor intern, splitting my time between Sanibel and Captiva.
Do any memories from Sanibel Sea School stand out as meaningful to you?
I spent one of my Saturdays with a group of minority students, who were in an alternative school program for at-risk girls. They lived so close to the beach but hardly ever got to see it, and they were so excited to explore an unfamiliar environment. From that day on, I knew that one day I wanted to start a research organization to allow students from all backgrounds to experience marine science research well before college.
Now you are a Ph.D. student. Tell us about that.
I'm a first-year Ph.D. student at the University of South Florida, studying biological oceanography. Right now, it is important for me to focus on my core courses, but the plan for this summer is to start narrowing down a specific research topic. My hope is to become a part of the red tide study group and develop some research questions around the toxicity of Karenia brevis. I might decide to include an education and outreach component in my dissertation as well.
What are your eventual career goals?
My big, long-term goal is to start a research organization for students to receive research experience in the marine science field prior to pursuing higher education. Shorter term, I’m hoping to either land a research job in a government agency, such as NOAA or FWS, or to stay in academia.
What do you think is the most amazing thing about the ocean?
That it connects all of the Earth sciences and allows us to study Earth’s history and climate through many of the proxies from biological, chemical, physical, and geological processes.
What do you think is the most important ocean conservation issue for people to know about in 2017?
Climate change. Although we are still trying to figure out some of the details of climate change, we know that Earth’s climate is warming. The carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are higher than ever, and are continuing to rise. Due the vast majority of the global population being coastal, we should be worried about sea level rise as the ice caps melt. Ocean acidification will also cause problems for the ocean and its creatures as a result of climate change. We should all learn how to make changes in our everyday lives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
What do you think is the most effective way to inspire people to become ocean advocates?
Through effective communication. As scientists, we sometimes get so wrapped up in the details of our research that we forget about the other people who can get involved in creating healthier oceans. When we can communicate our science clearly, people will become more trusting, and will gain a better understanding of what we do and why we do it.
What advice would you give young Sanibel Sea School students who want to study marine science someday?
Follow your dreams. There is so little that we know about the ocean and the more students that study marine science, the more we will learn.
Thank you, Shaniqua!