“Look!” someone yells excitedly. “There’s an otter!” Everyone looks up from their tubes, snorkeling gear in hand, the slow current gently nudging them downstream. Indeed, there was an otter. Some stop and observe, pulling out their GoPros and cameras to catch a snapshot of this moment, forgetting that they are in the middle of a stressful semester in college.
The Marine Life Adventure Society is the fresh new club on Eckerd’s campus, founded on Jan. 23, 2021 by Ben Brust, a first year, after discovering that many Eckerd students shared an interest in volunteering at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, just as Brust had wanted to do since before his college days.
The lack of volunteering opportunities because of the pandemic have caused a void in activities revolving around marine life. Moreover, Brust says that their new club status means insufficient ECOS funding has greatly impacted the scale of trips.
Brust and Ryan Loughran, a sophomore, took it upon themselves to plan activities for those interested in marine life and adventure, as their club name implies. Thus far, they have conducted several successful trips such as freshwater kayaking at Weeki Wachee, tide pooling for small critters and tubing along Rainbow River. They plan to do a manatee snorkeling trip later in the semester.
Safety in the sea
Planning opportunities for groups to venture is not an easy feat, pandemic or not, but Brust and Loughran have managed to attract at least 20 people on each of their adventures. For every single trip planned, supporter turnout has been more than successful. Each adventure has been fully booked, with people disappointed in not getting spots on the trips.
One of the main concerns Brust keeps in mind as he plots another fun adventure is social distancing and safety. Despite the struggles, the past trips have taken full advantage of outdoor activities and large areas for social distancing. Moreover, students driving themselves in personal vehicles, has reduced the chance of virus transmission.
“The pandemic brought into a new light just how important and how hard it is to keep people safe,” Brust said. “Our biggest priority is just keeping us safe and the campus safe, which just adds another layer of planning.”
Otterly fun future
Currently, Brust has been planning his adventures to observe animals from micro to macro, starting the semester with small critters such as crabs and ending with a whale-watching trip. Along the way, he has a sharks and rays trip and a manatee one in store.
On March 31, Brust launched the Marine Life Adventure Society website for anyone interested to sign up. Soon, officers and official positions of the club will be publicized, with the website providing short descriptions and contact information of all the officers. For now, the website serves to keep track of all members and the trips they are interested in.
In the future, Brust hopes to escalate the trips to international destinations. Loughran notes that there will be two main activities provided by the club: one for the adventures for fun and another for the experience for their careers. Volunteering at aquariums will play a large role in the club’s activities, but more adventurous outings are sure to come.
“We’re less than two months old,” Brust said, “And we already have over 100 members.”
Come swim by!
Though the club has achieved great success over the past few months, Brust and Loughran invite all Eckerd students to participate in future events. They suggest emailing them to be added to the mailing list for any updates on meetings or outings. The website serves as the primary mode of communication between organizers and participants, but the club’s officers are always open to chat.
“Anyone’s always welcome to the meetings, then you can also learn more and get involved,” Loughran said.
Brust also agrees, saying that everyone, no matter their intended major, is free to sign up and engage with the club.