After researching training programs for students interested in oil spill cleanup, I wanted to learn more about the kinds of programs available to students interested in marine-focused environmental education.
According to Dr. Patrick Rice, Director of the Marine Environmental Technology Program at Florida Keys Community College (who I spoke to about the college’s HAZWOPER training in my previous post) the next few years at Florida Keys Community College will be an exciting time for students looking for sustainability or green-related jobs that focus on the ocean.
Since joining FKCC two years ago, Dr. Rice has developed a plan to completely revamp the college’s Marine Environmental Technology Program. His efforts focus the program’s course offerings on marine issues and tasks that are relevant now by taking out less environmentally-oriented courses – like underwater photography – and replacing them with unique, high-demand, sustainability-focused offerings. Newer additions include Coral Reef Restoration, Sea Grass Restoration and others.
The program’s Coral Reef Restoration course, for example, surveys different techniques used to rebuild reefs. By combining intense hands-on training with the specific underwater environment that surrounds the Florida Keys, students can have field experiences in an actual reef environment that are impossible to duplicate anywhere else. Comprised of morning lectures and afternoon dives, students are taught how to physically bolster reefs with concrete modules, how to grow coral fragments in a nursery and subsequently transplant them, and more.
But Coral Reef Restoration isn’t the only course at FKCC with actual underwater experience involved. In fact, the amount of hands-on field work involved if FKCC’s Marine Environmental Technology Program is one of its biggest perks. Nearly all of the program’s advanced courses require students to be scuba certified. And by completing scuba training, students also have opportunities for additional certification — such as a Scientific Diving Certification–which can qualify students to work for organizations such as NOAA. One former graduate of the Marine Environmental Technology program continued on to pursue a career in marine archeology, later discovering a previously unknown shipwreck in the Mediterranean. Other students have become certified research divers for the American Academy of Underwater Sciences and others are becoming involved in exciting up-and-coming marine-based fields like mariculture (marine farming).
Though FKCC’s Marine Environmental Technology Program is defined by the hands-on training that it offers its students, the program’s vision extends well beyond simple technical training.
For instance, Dr. Rice is currently working with legislators to jumpstart some big-picture projects — like his proposal to harness the energy created by the tides and waves that bombard the bridges between the Keys and convert it into hydrokinetic power. Or a mariculture earmark that would increase the grouper population by culturing fish and then releasing them back into the wild. A proposal like this one could help jump start industries like fishing and hospitality up and down the east coast. By educating students on pertinent environmental issues (such as restoring coral reef environmental, for example) Dr. Rice is hopeful that current FKCC’s training initiatives can go beyond simply training students by creating the demand for a small workforce experienced in these marine-specific fields.
And with the oil spill crisis, it’s likely that demand for Dr. Rice’s programs will grow.