For many people taking a year off to travel to exotic locations and explore the underwater world would be a dream, but for Michele Felberg, it’s a reality. Michele is the 2015 Our World Underwater Scholarship Society Rolex Scholar for North America, and she will spend the year travelling the world to get hands-on experiences in activities that will contribute to a well-rounded aquatic education.
Michele recently visited the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre as part of this scholarship and had the opportunity to spend time with our Howe Sound Research Group exploring some of the research and conservation initiatives that are undertaken right here off the B.C. coast.
Originally from Houston, Texas, Michele studied at the University of Southern California where she had her first diving experience. From there she took a course on scientific diving and travelled to Guam and Palau to do field research. After completing her degree in environmental studies with a focus in marine biology and ecology, she went back to Palau where she worked as a dive guide and naturalist for 1.5 years.
Michele found out about the Rolex Scholarship from a previous dive instructor and after an extensive application process she was selected as one of the finalists. When the phone rang to tell her she had been selected she said, “I was shocked! I couldn’t believe that I had been selected as the North American scholar for the year, for what I knew would be a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
This scholarship emphasizes a breadth of experience that allows the scholar to spend time with specialists in areas such as biology, archeology, dive industry-related operations, underwater photography, and conservation. Exposure to a wide array of topics and work environments provides the scholars with a broad overview of the underwater world that will help guide career decisions.
So far Michele has been to North Carolina for the Divers Alert Network, Florida for an underwater photography course, the Dominican Republic to study underwater archeology, Grand Cayman to do closed circuit rebreather training and Boston for dry suit training.
Michele was able to put her dry suit training to good use when she visited with the Vancouver Aquarium dive team. “Cold water diving sometimes gets a bad rep,” says Michele, “but there is a huge amount of biodiversity and surprisingly bright colours to been seen off the coast in B.C.”
Michele is also interested in how to bridge the gap between science and public engagement. “Aquariums are such an easy way to engage the public and inspire them. It offers a hands-on look and understanding of the aquatic world through education and conservation programs.”
What is Michele most looking forward to? She said, “Getting the opportunity to work with a variety of coastal communities who are using innovative solutions to conserve and protect their marine environments – plus to keep exploring the vast marine world in new places!”
We wish Michele all the best on her year of underwater exploration!