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Sophomore Biologists Thrive on Floating Classroom

Published: September 01, 2017
Ally Marter ’20 and Matt Gamache ’20 used their marine science background to land jobs with SeaTrek this summer. Photo courtesy of SeaTrek.
Ally Marter ’20 and Matt Gamache ’20 used their marine science background to land jobs with SeaTrek this summer. Photo courtesy of SeaTrek.
“Incredible is a good word to describe it,” Marter said. “It’s a mixture of being the coolest job in the world, the most gratifying, amazing thing. It’s also the hardest, most stressful job.” Photo courtesy of SeaTrek.
“Incredible is a good word to describe it,” Marter said. “It’s a mixture of being the coolest job in the world, the most gratifying, amazing thing. It’s also the hardest, most stressful job.” Photo courtesy of SeaTrek.

Floating around the British Virgin Islands while snorkeling sounds like a relaxing and indulgent way to spend the summer. But for Ally Marter ’20 and Matt Gamache ’20, it was a lot of hard work.

As members of the staff at SeaTrek, Marter and Gamache lived on boats all summer, sailing three voyages with a total of about 150 high school students. The camp focuses on scuba diving, sailing and marine science.

Marter was up at dawn and worked until late helping craft an educationally inspirational experience for the students. Gamache assisted as the SeaTrek photographer, also leading some lectures on marine science, photography and videography.

“Incredible is a good word to describe it,” Marter said. “It’s a mixture of being the coolest job in the world, the most gratifying, amazing thing. It’s also the hardest, most stressful job.”

As lead biologist, it was Marter’s responsibility to make sure her team carried out all science program activities (whether leading a hike or a snorkel, giving a presentation or tagging sea turtles), take care of science equipment and work one-on-one with students who signed up to do extra science projects for academic credit or community service hours. Then there were the less exciting tasks of paperwork and spreadsheets to track information, as well as the responsibilities of first mate making sure meals got cooked, scuba cylinders filled, the boat kept clean or even sometimes driving the boat.

“That’s why I treat this part of my job so importantly, because I know I have a chance to make a big impact on these students’ lives no matter what,” Marter said. “What’s really cool is being able to show all the students, even those who aren’t there for the marine science, how important these ecosystems are and to give them that connection, because when they have that hands-on connection they grow to love it. That’s what’s going to make them want to protect it, which is so important for conservation.”

The extremes of the experience have implanted themselves on Marter’s heart. She’s been spending her summers with SeaTrek for five years: two years as a student, one as an intern, one as a biologist and this past summer as the lead biologist. She worked two years saving babysitting money and fundraising so she could pay for the first trip on her own. She’s a different person now because of it.

“I feel like SeaTrek has made me mature 20 years just from the responsibility thrust on your shoulders. You have teenage kids’ lives in your hands that you’re taking care of,” Marter said. “I feel like that responsibility and maturity has helped me come into my own and thrive my first year on campus.”

Marter and Gamache are both marine science–biology majors. They met during orientation and became best friends fast. They’re both in the UT Scuba Diving and Snorkeling Club and “We’re both marine science nerds,” Marter said.

“My experience as the photographer emphasized how vital communication is, especially in marine science, so I plan to continue honing my communication skills, such as photography, to improve myself as a scientist,” said Gamache, of Plymouth, MN. “It is cliché to say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ but photographs often show important details that words cannot describe.”

The experience has ignited Gamache’s fire for research, and he is eager to start on projects this year. Marter, who has found a passion for sustainability and even takes her own reusable spork to Morsani to reduce her plastic consumption, is inspired to find ways to communicate her love of the ocean to the greater community through education. Her involvement with campus organizations Roots & Shoots and Student Environmental Action Coalition are just two ways she’s doing that at UT.

“One of the most impactful ways to get people to care is to be in these environments, be in the water and seeing a sea turtle right before your eyes or coral reef or fish. That’s the way to get a deep emotional gut connection with people, which I think you should then pair with scientific reasoning and logic,” Marter said. “SeaTrek has been an outlet for me to combine the emotional awe-inspiring things with the science.”



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