In addition to the online curriculum, Sharks4Kids offers in-person visits, educational tours, snorkeling trips and shark-tagging expeditions in South Florida and The Bahamas in partnership with the Guy Harvey Research Institute. Pre-pandemic, the Sharks4Kids team could take up to 25 students and five chaperones on these tagging expeditions. In The Bahamas, the Sharks4Kids team usually goes out four times a year and supports up to 25 students on research excursions.

Since 2013, Sharks4Kids has connected nearly 155,000 students from 49 U.S. states and 60 countries through in-person visits and virtual lessons. In South Florida, Sharks4Kids primarily works with Title 1 schools.

“Since we started doing the shark-tagging trips we knew that we wanted to work with Title 1 schools that did not have a budget to do this but had the interest,” says Morris-Brake. “We believe that lack of funding is a barrier that should not stop kids from having access to science.”

Morris-Brake developed this philosophy while working with schools on eight islands in The Bahamas. She also wanted to create experiential learning opportunities where students can work with a real scientist and develop an understanding of how scientific studies are carried out.

“For conservation to be successful, you have to have that connection,” says Morris-Brake. “By putting kids out on the boat or participating in science, they're learning, but we're giving them something they will carry with them for the rest of their life. They will be telling their kids, ‘Hey, when I was your age, I got to tag a shark,’ or, ‘I got to snorkel with sharks.’ I think that changes the way we learn, that hands-on experience, that firsthand seeing, touching, the experience of being on the boat, the equipment, everything. That will stay with them.”

When facilitating these experiences, Morris-Brake reflects on the lack of mentorship and representation she saw in shark science, and how it fuels her mission to change it for the better.

“Most of our team are women because I didn't see women doing what I wanted to do,” she says. “I want young girls to see that women work in science. They work with sharks. They dive. They do all these things. I've worked in multiple careers. Between the media, science, and the dive world, these were all male dominated.”

Beneath The Waves

Beneath The Waves is an organization dedicated to promoting ocean health by using science to catalyze ocean policy, with a focus on shark conservation and marine protected areas. They partner with national leaders, local governments, business leaders, and stakeholder communities to inspire change in our oceans.

Education is a core tenet of their mission, whether it is helping entry-level professionals find their path, mentoring graduate students, or engaging students in shark science through virtual reality and video. Local engagement is also key, as part of a partnership with the Exuma Foundation, Beneath The Waves has worked with 24 Bahamian students and exposed them to marine research and STEM during expeditions in The Bahamas.

“We had a meeting with the Minister of Education for The Bahamas, and we are going to work with their team to actually come up with a curriculum for Bahamian students to begin to learn about sharks and the ocean over the course of their primary school education,” says Jamie Fitzgerald, managing director at Beneath The Waves.

In addition to the work that Beneath The Waves does in the Caribbean, they also offer marine science mentorship to students from the New England region. The organization has been working with Thayer Academy in Braintree, Massachusetts, engaging 50 high school and middle-school students in real-world science and ocean programs. At Northeastern University, the Beneath The Waves team offers graduate student mentorship for those interested in pursuing careers in marine science.

“I think a lot of people think that we are a Caribbean-based NGO, but the biodiversity of the marine environments in the New England area is something that's really ingrained in our organization,” says Fitzgerald. “The sharks that we tag down in The Bahamas migrate up to New England throughout the year, and we want people to be able to understand the connectivity of the ocean, and tracking sharks and seeing how the habitats correspond is a great lesson.”

As Beneath The Waves expands its educational offerings, Fitzgerald asks herself how the organization should adapt and grow to be responsive to what this new generation of scientists wants or needs to explore for the future.

“We want to offer opportunities to the scientists of tomorrow,” says Fitzgerald. “It's priceless getting to see those light bulbs go off in their heads and seeing those a-ha moments of students jumping right in and getting dirty, putting their hands in the bait, wanting to get in the water when we're setting up the BRUVS, having students asking about how we do all of the science that we're doing.”

students working with shark plasma samples in a lab at Thayer Academy

Beneath The Waves interns (both high school and college level) process shark plasma to determine triglyceride levels to gain an understanding of shark feeding habits and metabolism. Image Credit: Beneath The Waves

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