Twelve members of the Boys and Girls Club of Virgin Islands, between the ages of 11 and 18, were the first inductees into the Junior Scientists in the Sea Program and have already become certified scuba divers and amateur archeologists with successful digs at The Nature Conservancy ruins in Estate Little Princess.
JSIS is a non-profit organization started in 2005 as a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics – known by the acronym STEAM – enrichment program, by Les Burke, a former Navy diver, in Key West, Florida.
“Participants learn what it takes to explore the ocean as well as what their role they can play in maintaining it,” the website states.
First, the teens, all of whom volunteered for the program, spent six weeks learning to scuba dive. According to Michael Casey, managing director of Cane Bay Dive Shop, they became certified by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors and earned designations in coral reef conservation, CPR, peak performance buoyancy and Ecosystem-Aware Global Supply Chain Management.
At the end of June, the junior scientists then engaged in a weeklong terrestrial archeology course at The Nature Conservancy led by members of the Society of Black Archeologists: Justin Dunnavant of the University of California Santa Cruz; Ayana Flewellan from the University of Texas-Austin; Alexandra Jones, of Archeology in the Community; and, Alicia Odewale, from the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The students learned how to use a compass, make a map and unearth artifacts. Bowls, bricks and other items of pottery were uncovered, according to Kemit-Amon Lewis, TNC coral conservation manager.
Four of the young men who participated in the program met with the Source last week to talk about what they saw under the sea and learned about archeology.
They took turns listing the some of the marine life they saw and learned about: grouper, stingrays, barracudas, snappers, jellyfish and butterfly fish. They learned about net fishing, coral conservation and the coral restoration project at Cane Bay.
Devante Stevens, 15, who joined the program because he always wanted to learn to dive, was impressed to swim with a large grouper, a blowfish and at least one seahorse.
“I liked digging. I liked diving. Just being in the water and seeing different kinds of fish,” he said.
Andy Christian, 14, said the best thing about the scuba class was that he learned how to swim. He said he signed up for the program because his friends did.
Elijah Thomas, 13, said he is a good swimmer and that the scuba class was a “fun experience” especially holding a non-stinging jellyfish in his hand. He also liked learning how to wash artifacts and about archeology tools and machinery.
Saeed Phillips, 15, said a teacher encouraged him to volunteer for the program. He especially enjoyed the underwater games during the scuba class. He hopes to pursue a career in marine science because he said he can help the community. He also enjoyed the archeology course because he learned more about the history and culture of the island.
“I can use it in real life to make money, because now I’m a certified diver,” he said.
The other junior scientists are: Armani Doward, Andy Christian, Laila Sall, Kristopher Fabio, Kolby Fabio, Calista Daley, Emily Daley, Kadysha Schoonmaker and Yeremy Peguro.
Still to come for the junior scientists is a course in coral restoration, once funding has been secured, said Conrad Hoover, the Junior Scientist chapter mentor. Hoover was the link between the founder, Les Burke, and local organizations that crafted the program.
“When they got into the water, it was impressive. It was worth it,” Hoover said.
The program is sponsored by Archeology in the Community, Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism, Virgin Islands Caribbean Cultural Center, the Slave Wrecks Project, Diving with a Purpose as well as the Boys and Girls Club, TNC, JSIS, and the Society of Black Archeologists.
Casey said the dive shop will continue supporting JSIS as well as other youth programs.
“Absolutely, we are committed to the young people on the island,” he said.
Lewis said TNC also will continue to participate.
“For sure, I personally love it. It’s why I got into marine science while I was at Central High School. It can only equal a win-win situation – more youth in the field,” he said.