Diving Under Waves: The tale of a Mexican Girl embraced by OWUSS

Hola! My name is Jessica Pantoja, and I am from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. I am thrilled to introduce myself as the 2023 Dr. Lee H. Somers American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) Scientific Diving Intern by the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society.

Un poquito más sobre mí / A little background about me:

Growing up in one of Mexico’s largest cities, my passion for the marine world blossomed during family camping trips to coastal destinations like Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Mazatlán, and Colima. These experiences became the driving force behind my present-day fascination with coastal life, surfing, and marine sciences.

Driven by curiosity and a desire to explore the underwater world, I made a firm decision to undertake a Bachelor’s in Oceanology at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC), where the Facultad de Ciencias Marinas (FCM) offered the perfect platform for my ambitions. Looking back, it has been one of the best choices I’ve ever made! And now, I’m incredibly excited and thrilled to begin my Master’s in Coastal Oceanography at the same esteemed institution where I have been accepted, under the guidance of Dr. Gabriela Montaño Moctezuma from Instituto de Investigaciones Oceanológicas (IIO, UABC), and Dr. Nur Arafeh Dalmau from Stanford University.
I can’t wait to dive into this thrilling new chapter of my academic journey. Embarking me on an epic adventure, studying, exploring, and diving into the crucial connection between fisherman cooperatives and kelp forest conservation in the Baja California Peninsula.

De la ciudad a la costa: My marine journey

So… I’m a girl with big dreams, and I’m absolutely determined to turn those dreams into reality. Even before starting my undergraduate studies, I knew I had to take the SCUBA diving course offered by the FCM every year. (Of course, Sylvia Earle played a significant role in inspiring all of this). And guess what? I did it!

Studying scuba diving with Professor Roberto Calderón Campos (FCM, Diving Safety Officer) was truly special. He received his scientific diving training from Dr. Robert Given, a prominent pioneer in this field and former president of AAUS (1983-1985). Learning from someone with such experience, dedication, and valuable contributions in the field of scientific diving was a real privilege. I am immensely grateful for the strong relationship my professor, Roberto Calderón, had with James Stewart (first Diving Safety Officer of Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Dr. Robert Givens, and Dr. Pilmanis, who came to share their knowledge with him and his students at the FCM. Now I realize that the training and knowledge I received at the FCM are part of my teacher’s pioneering journey’s legacy.

After becoming an Open Water Diver, new opportunities emerged, allowing me to participate in various diving projects in Baja California, with a strong focus on the enchanting kelp forests and seagrass habitats. These experiences included engaging in monitoring campaigns, collecting samples for mesocosm experiments, installing and maintaining oceanographic sensors, and conducting video and photography transects – each moment was truly amazing.

During my thesis work, I had an unforgettable diving adventure guided by Dr. Jose Miguel Sandoval Gil, a researcher at the IIO, UABC. I focused on quantifying the carbon fixation capacity of surfgrass (Phyllospadix spp.) meadows in Todos Santos Island, a Biosphere Reserve in Baja California, Mexico. Diving and surfing in those meadows were definitely the highlights of my days.

This remarkable journey of research, diving, surfing, and actively participating in beach conservation campaigns with my colleagues from “Nosotras y el Mar (https://www.instagram.com/nosotrasyelmar/?hl=es-la) has kindled a profound passion within me to safeguard and protect the marine world.

I can believe it, llegó el día! – OWUSS award ceremony

June 1, 2023 –New York City, here I come!

Prior to my exciting journey to New York, I celebrated completing my dissertation thesis with an incredible surf trip in Chile (the land of Cochayuyo, the kelp seaweed). Thus, from the majestic waves of that country, I embarked on my first stop in this intern adventure finding myself amid the towering and impressive buildings of New York City, Attending the OWUSS award ceremony, I was honored to formalize my acceptance as the 2023 Dr. Lee H. Somers American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) Scientific Diving Intern for the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society.

This annual weekend event brings together passionate ocean enthusiasts, fostering connections among old friends and cultivating new friendships. There were so many amazing people that weekend, including past scholars, interns, volunteers, and coordinators. I will never forget the warm embrace of the OWUSS community, as they surrounded us, the new scholars and interns, with amazing support. Meeting the dedicated individuals behind OWUSS, who invest their time and energy to create these amazing scholarship and internship opportunities, was truly an awe-inspiring experience to me! I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of this family.

Los tres mosqueteros mexicanos: Ana, Yann y Jess
2023 Interns – OWUSS Family

Furthermore, after the thrilling OWUSS awards weekend, we were honored with an invitation to participate in World Oceans Week. This week-long event featured various engaging activities and enlightening lecture sessions at the Explorer’s Club, as part of the “Blue Generation” initiative. The Explorer’s Club is a prestigious organization promoting exploration and scientific research. Founded in 1904, it brings together distinguished explorers, scientists, and adventurers to share knowledge about the natural world and foster collaboration. As if that weren’t enough, we finished off our Blue Generation week by attending the UN for World Oceans Day.

I felt truly moved to see so many incredible women leading conservation programs and projects worldwide, empowering themselves in their roles. It was an inspiring experience for me, a Mexican girl with a desire to take on leadership roles in marine sciences and conservation in Mexico.

I left New York feeling incredibly inspired for my internship and my future, and also filled with joy for having made many truly wonderful friends along the way.

I want to express my sincere gratitude to OWUSS family and The Explorers Club for this amazing start. I’m also immensely grateful to Claire Mullaney and Jenna Clos, my internship coordinators, for providing me with a best support to begin this remarkable experience.

Am I dreaming? – Embarking on a Scientific Diving Internship

June 10, 2023 – Heading to Washington, Anacortes.

As you already know, I have a deep passion for surfing! It’s how I love to describe my life, using surfing metaphors to express my journey. And now, being part of the scientific scuba diving program of AAUS feels just like the anticipation of a great swell on the coast and experiencing one of the best surf sessions of my life.

The American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) is a prestigious organization dedicated to promoting safe and effective scientific diving. It facilitates collaboration among researchers, educators, and diving experts while upholding rigorous standards for underwater research. AAUS plays a vital role in advancing marine sciences and environmental conservation through its member institutions.

Thanks to the support of OWUSS and AAUS, now I’m receiving training and scientific scuba diving certification at Shannon Point Marine Center (SPMC), Western Washington University (WWU), an esteemed organizational member of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS). Alongside incredible Dive Safety Officers (DSOs) Derek Smith and Nathan Schwarck, I’m eager to dive into the experiences and learning that await me this summer. This summer will mark my first time in the United States, and what better way to experience it than by diving headfirst into this scientific diving adventure!

I am particularly excited about being involved in the Seastar Wasting Disease monitoring program, guided by the exceptional Morgan Eisenlord. Working alongside fellow students from the REU program, we have the privilege of conducting supervised research with faculty advisors. This collaborative effort is made possible through the support of the National Science Foundation, which has been instrumental in fostering meaningful research experiences at Shannon Point Marine Center since 1990.

Coming soon: More on this project and my underwater adventure in Anacortes, Salish Sea! Stay tuned for my next blog post!

Thank you very much!

I want to express my sincere gratitude to Our World Underwater Scholarship Society, American Academy of Underwater Sciences, AAUS Foundation, Shannon Point Marine Center, Western Washington University, Heather Albright and my advisors Derek Smith and Nathan Schwarck for making this wonderful opportunity a reality.

Undoubtedly, life would not be the same without our loved ones surrounding us. They make this journey of life even more special. I extend my heartfelt appreciation to Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, Facultad de Ciencias Marinas, and Instituto de Investigaciones Oceanológicas. A special thanks to fellow labs (@entremareasbc) (@botanicamarinaiio). Baja California’s beauty and its people have supported my journey as an Oceanologist and surfer.


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