By Dillon Thomas
DENVER (CBS4) – In a landlocked state, some have found it difficult to properly study oceanography and marine sciences. In an effort to encourage more Colorado teens to explore sea life, one local organization teamed up with the Denver Aquarium to bring the ocean to the students.
Ocean First Education, of Boulder, granted scholarships to a group of teenagers from around Colorado, to give them the chance to scuba dive with sharks and other wildlife at the aquarium.
“I don’t think I have ever been more excited in my life,” said Emily Sanchez, a junior at Longmont High School.
Sanchez was one of three students who were given a full grant, to explore the depths of the aquarium, and later the ocean in Florida.
Before diving with the sharks in Denver, she said she had to complete her ACT.
“I was like, if I can get through this test, I will be able to go dive with sharks,” Sanchez said.
The teenagers accessed a cage, which sat in the 22-foot-deep shark exhibit, which houses 43 sharks.
Sanchez was in one, of two, groups of teens that took the dive.
“I was a little bit nervous. I didn’t think I would feel it, but it definitely happened,” Sanchez said. “But, the moment I was fully in the water, everything went away.”
The teenagers absorbed their surrounding in a cage, separated from the sea life by a thin see-through wall.
“(The shark) was so close,” Sanchez said. “They all started swimming towards us.”
Sanchez said she wanted to further protect, and conserve, the ocean for future generations. She said this dive gave her opportunity to learn more about how to do so, in her own state.
Sanchez highlighted the moment a shark swam below her, as her favorite animal approached in front.
“The sea turtle swam all the way up, right in front of my face,” Sanchez said.
“For people in Colorado, the ocean is often times out of sight, and out of mind,” said Graham Casden, founder of Ocean First Education.
Casden said, often times, public schools in landlocked states do not address oceanography as much as he thought they should.
“Kids here in Colorado need to learn the importance of the ocean, the marine environment, and how we are all interconnected to the sea,” Casden said. “It is a magical, otherworldly place. There is nothing like experiencing it first hand.”
Sanchez said the opportunity to dive with the sharks at the aquarium furthered her love for the ocean, and her desire to peruse sciences.
“When I was younger, I always wanted to be the person who dives at the aquarium.” Sanchez said. “This turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. I love the ocean, and I am really grateful to be here.”
Three students, including Sanchez, were scheduled to later fly to Florida, where they would achieve their scuba certification in the Keyes.
Dillon Thomas is a reporter at CBS4 and a Colorado native. He believes everyone has a story, and would love to share yours! You can find more of his stories by following him on Twitter, @DillonMThomas.