February 18, 2020

Zoe. Hi! My name is Zoe Keenan. I am currently a sophomore in high school and I have been working and diving with Ocean First for a little over 2 years. I was part of the “A Rising Tide” web series a few years ago; since then, I have continued working with Ocean First through community service, going on diving trips, and learning about marine science.

I had never heard of Ocean First before 8th grade, but I have always had a passion for the ocean as well as global warming and the environment. By the time I heard about “A Rising Tide:, I had been sitting on a dream to get SCUBA certified for years. Seeing the application video for “A Rising Tide” had me very excited. I could only imagine what was to come with the program. I think it surprised my parents when I got into “A Rising Tide” because when I told them, they thought “Oh, my gosh, what have we gotten ourselves into.” I won the partial scholarship which meant I would have to come up with $1,000 during the spring semester to be part of the program and go on the trip. I raised the money through babysitting, pet sitting, and as gifts from family and friends. I was thrilled that I had this opportunity to get SCUBA certified.

As for the actual program, I couldn’t have dreamed what it was going to entail. The group of students ranged from 8th-12th grade, me being the youngest, and we were all from different places around Colorado. For the first few meetings, we were all a little nervous, but thanks to Graham, Matt, Clara, Megan, and Cathy, we became comfortable quickly. We met a few times a month where we would have a classroom and dive session for the certification, but also had extra sessions where we learned about sharks, lionfish, ocean conservation, and so much more. A Rising Tide, Season 1. The program also went to the Denver Aquarium where we went cage diving with the sharks. One of my favorite experiences was when we volunteered at STEAMfest in Boulder, CO. The students worked a table set up with activities related to ocean pollution and conservation. What I really enjoyed about it was getting to connect with people, mostly little kids, who were as interested in the ocean as I was.

Finally at the end of the Spring semester in July, we went to the Florida Keys to get our Open Water Certifications. My first time diving in the ocean was an incredible experience. First of all, I threw up off of the side of the boat, so I got to check that off of my bucket list. But really, my brain couldn’t even process all of it because I was so excited. I could hardly choose one thing to focus on while we observed the reefs and all I could think was, “Holy crap! This is something I'm going to remember for the rest of my life.” Having spent so much time with the group we became really close. Especially over the trip, we became this little friend group that was always having a good time. I was actually really surprised how easy it became for everyone to hang out together, even just doing nothing in the hotel for hours at night, and still have so much fun. Obviously the trip and certification was amazing, but the thing I’m most grateful for is the friendships that I gained from the program. I probably wouldn’t have ever even met these people if it hadn’t been for the program. I really enjoy getting to see where everyone is now. Only 2 of the original students, including me, are still working with Ocean First. A lot of the students have graduated and are in college. They are at Colorado Christan University, Colorado State, and one of the girls even went to Harvard.

Since “A Rising Tide” was so successful, Graham wanted to keep the program going. The next program required us to apply what we had learned in the first about conservation and come up with a community service project that would benefit the environment. Cozumel. Three of the original students were selected based on our service projects to continue in the scholarship program and go to Cozumel, Mexico to dive and get our Advanced Open Water Diver Certifications. My community service project was to implement color-cycle, which is a marker recycling program through Crayola in elementary schools in Lafayette. I loved working on this project because I got to work with kids again; they are really easy to inspire and I love hearing what they have to say about the environment and global warming.

Diving in Cozumel was amazing and of course, so much greater than I could have imagined, and most importantly, the food was fantastic! In Cozumel, you see the effects of pollution a little bit more because of what a tourist hotspot it is there. I thought the resort we stayed in was pretty good with conservation though. Currently, I am continuing to work with Ocean First and trying to be as active as possible in my community. I am also raising money to go to the Bahamas with Ocean First this July to study sharks. We have done some fundraisers and I am working a little bit. I have also applied for a few grants in order to reach my goal.

I can’t even begin to express how thankful I am to Graham Casden and the Ocean First community for all of the support, knowledge, and experiences I have gained over the past few years. I am also especially grateful for Cathy who took the interest I had in the ocean and turned it into knowledge and passion. She is so much fun to work with and I owe so many of the wonderful experiences I have gained to all of the effort she puts in. I truly hope I can remain working with Ocean First through the rest of my high school career and potentially into my adult life.

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