Maria Madrigal: My Teacher at Sea Adventure: March 31, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Maria Madrigal

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

April 2-16, 2012

Mission: Comparison of Fishery Independent Sampling Methods

Geographical area of cruise: Tutuila, American Samoa

Personal Log: March 31, 2012

Maria Madrigal, Teacher at Sea on Oscar Elton Sette
Maria Madrigal, Teacher at Sea on Oscar Elton Sette

My name is Maria Madrigal and I am one of the lucky few to be selected as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I am not a classroom teacher, and I have to admit that I stumbled upon my career. I actually graduated with a degree in Studio Arts. What was I going to do with an art degree? Good question.  I didn’t know myself.  So, I began a search for different AmeriCorps programs where I could gain some work experience.

Luckily, I found the SEA Lab. The SEA Lab is a small aquarium located in Redondo Beach managed by the Los Angeles Conservation Corps. My days were spent sharing “cool” and “interesting” facts about the marine animals housed at our facility.  The animals were our ambassadors as we relayed the importance of taking care of our environment to students throughout the Los Angeles area.  However, my teaching was lacking in that I had never explored the marine environment beyond the shoreline.

How can you truly relay the beauty and importance of a kelp forest if you have never explored it? I wanted to experience for myself what it would be like to swim through a kelp forest. It was then that I decided I would face my fears and learn how to swim. That’s right, I didn’t know how to swim but I wasn’t going to let that be an obstacle.

I took some swim lessons and a few months later with my heart racing I dove into the cold waters off Santa Cruz Island. It was a life-changing experience. Naturally, my teaching became greater from my personal experience. The excitement I used to teach was genuine and informed.  Being accepted into NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program is providing me with a similar experience. A teacher’s experience can truly enrich the learning of his/her students whether it is in a classroom setting or outdoors.

It is with that same mentality that I embark on this new adventure.

I am traveling to American Samoa where I will join a team of scientists aboard NOAA’s research vessel, the Oscar Elton Sette. I will be working alongside scientists that are assessing the fish populations that inhabit the shallow and deepwater coral reef environments around the island of Tutuila. The project is being lead by the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC)  which is one of the six regional science centers of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  Also aboard are scientists from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the University of Western Australia. Their work is basically to assess fish populations to ensure sustainable fisheries. The study will involve two of NOAA’s Hawaii-based research vessels , the Oscar Elton Sette and the Hi’ialakai.

It will undoubtedly be an enriching experience.  It will provide me with first-hand knowledge of current research that will help me develop new educational activities at the SEA Lab. I also look forward to gaining some insight on career paths to properly guide my current and future corpsmembers.

It has been twelve years since I started working at the SEA Lab. I am currently the Program Manager and my managerial responsibilities typically keep me behind a desk or sitting in traffic, so I’m thrilled to immerse myself again and explore what is beyond the shoreline. I hope you join me along the way. You can track the ship’s journey using NOAA’s ship tracker.

If you want to learn more about the overall mission plan, head over to the mission overview page. There’s one for the Oscar Elton Sette ( and another for the Hi’ialakai (