Meg Decoite, 22, a junior at UCSC studying marine biology, has not had your typical college trajectory. Deeply committed to remaining true to her passions while building upon her strengths, she sought out an experiential pathway which included taking a year off to work on bilingual plastic pollution education in Chile, among other community-based environmental endeavors. At O’Neill Sea Odyssey we were fortunate to connect with Meg and have her join our team as an education intern. Her strong work ethic, dedication, and passion for ocean education is contagious, and her learning style prioritizes getting kids on the water to connect them with the marine environment that she has come to love so dearly.
We first met Meg at an ocean conservation themed luncheon at the Cowell-Stevenson Collaborative at UCSC hosted by O’Neill Sea Odyssey supporters, Rich Vicenti and Alesa Lightbourne.
Get to know Meg!
Tell us more about your personal connection to the ocean and early childhood experiences on the water:
I grew up on the Northern California coast which definitely influenced my decision to study marine biology. I am part Pacific Islander, and though I have never lived in Maui, my dad lives there and I have spent a lot of my childhood over there. My dad and his family are 100% the reason why I feel such a deep and powerful connection to the ocean, I don’t even want to think where I would be without them and their influences.
My most impressionable on-the-water experience as a child was the first time I saw a sea turtle while I was snorkeling with my dad in Maui. It is my earliest and most influential memory of the ocean as my family from Hawai’i always taught me the strength and beauty of ocean creatures. Recounting that moment and childhood ocean experiences makes me really proud to be passionate about such a beautiful thing.
What brought you to study in Santa Cruz and intern at O’Neill Sea Odyssey?
I started out at a junior college and before I transferred to UCSC I took a year off to work in ocean conservation and education in Chile. This was very inspiring for me and drove home that education and ocean activism are big passions of mine. Later I spent some time in the Sea of Cortez working in a bilingual marine biology summer camp and had a total blast. Since then I moved to Santa Cruz and have been trying to establish some roots. One day I decided to attend a lunch on ocean sustainability where Dan Haifley and Rachel Kippen were the guest speakers. I got to talk to Rachel and I was stoked because she clearly has the desire to change this world for the better. After getting to pick her brain a little I was hooked and knew I wanted to learn as much as I could about O’Neill Sea Odyssey. I remember thinking “oh my gosh that place sounds like a dream.” So I reached out to her and asked if it was possible to have an internship with them and both Rachel and Laura have been very supportive and helpful since I started in February. I feel very fortunate to be working with two strong women like them!
Tell us about your experience abroad in Chile and in the Sea of Cortez…
Prior to starting at UCSC, I emailed a foundation from the United States called Sailors for the Sea because I saw they had a position open in their new Chilean chapter and they wanted to work with the Seafood Watch team from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to make a sustainable seafood guide in Chile. They agreed to accept me and I went to Monterey to learn about the program to bring it to Chile where I would work with Sailors for the Sea Chile and their Chilean team. I was working with a marine biologist, Camila Ahrendt, who is now one of my best friends. We were a powerful team and worked very hard to get the guide going. I then began working with Camila and another friend, Mark, in a new foundation they started called Plastic Oceans Chile. Since then I have gone back several times to visit and I always help out with them, they do a lot of community education and have been working so hard. It is absolutely incredible what they have done in such a short amount of time. I still do a lot of translating for them and I look for scientific journals in English that pertain to what they’re working on.
In the Sea Of Cortez, I worked at CEDO, the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans. CEDO hosts the “Wet Feet Summer Camp,” which is a bilingual marine science camp in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, that is focused on the geography and marine life in the northern Sea of Cortez. Here I led several discussions about the history of the geography of the region and the endemic organisms that can be found there. I also conducted fish dissections, tide pooling trips, and various other camp games with the camp attendees, children ages 8-13.
What has your internship been like at O’Neill Sea Odyssey?
At first, I was working on preparing the educational materials for the classes in the spring, organizing educational materials like critter cards and the folders provided to the classes. Then I began working on a project with Laura’s guidance on a statistical analysis of schools that use a new free school lunch program as an indicator of need. It has been very interesting to be involved in these projects and I can tell I am learning things I never would have in my UCSC classes.
A Sea of Gratitude
During her Spring semester internship with O’Neill Sea Odyssey, Meg eagerly supported our team with any task, from helping collect donations at community events, to auditing our supply inventory and closet of sweatshirts, to analyzing data and communicating with local education administrators about the Free and Reduced Lunch Meal Program and other indicators of resource need. Next year, Meg will embark on yet another experiential conservation journey, working with field researchers studying seals at UCSC’s Año Nuevo Reserve. We are grateful for her donated time and excited to see what lies ahead in her senior year at UCSC, and beyond. Thank you, Meg!