Students take plunge as volunteers at Aquarium

As some students were at the beach or having a Netflix marathon last summer, sophomore Anna Bransford, among other Carmel students, spent her vacation at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, learning about marine life and current environmental issues concerning the oceans.

Teen Conservation Leaders, a program hosted by the aquarium, provides students with public speaking and interpretation skills, as well as information about sustainability and marine life. Students then use those skills to communicate with the aquarium’s guests and in any field they choose to pursue later in life.

“We want all of our students to feel empowered to be advocates for whatever they are passionate about,” says McKenzie Miller, Teen Conservation specialist.

TCL also provides students with the opportunity to exceed 100 hours of community service—well more than fulfilling the 60-hour CHS graduation requirement. Bransford gained 100 hours for the summer session and has gained 27 more on the weekends since in order to further her skills and community service.

“I think that the program is an amazing way to earn your volunteer hours…and for people who just want to try something new and meet wonderful people,” fellow participant and senior Sarah Carroll expresses.

Bransford herself was at first intimidated by TCL, but as the program progressed it became easier for her, and not just for aspiring marine biologists.

“I think it’s for anyone who is interested in [the ocean and conservation efforts],” Bransford reflects. “You learn different things, and [the program] doesn’t pressure you into a career. They just want you to have fun and learn.”

Students are given the chance to work at the aquarium throughout the rest of the year, on the weekends and at special events.

Sophomore Kent Burns fondly remembers working at one of the special events, the Jellyfish Jamboree, and dancing with The Banana Slug String Band.

While it is a time commitment, Teen Conservation Leaders has become a considerable part of participants’ lives.

“[The program] has affected my life completely and totally,” Burns admits. “I am so much more conscientious of the environment and the oceans, and I have a whole new family that is always there.”

While the ultimate design is to teach, TCL stresses the importance of bonds made between students and mentors, with the intention of creating life-long friendships.

“Throughout the entire experience, students were open and kind towards one another, and it was never difficult to make friends,” junior Haven Parker explains. “By the end of the summer, I had made some incredible connections with others that I will never forget.”

In order to apply to be Teen Conservation Leaders, students must be enrolled in a high school and able to speak proficient English. Applications open Jan. 13 and are due by Feb. 1. For more information about TCL, contact teenprograms@mbayaq.org

-DELANEY KING