The O’Neill Sea Odyssey has a special way of introducing kids to the ocean.
(A radio segment from aboard the O’Neill catamaran, aired on KUSP)
On a warm Wednesday afternoon in April, fourth graders from Main Street Elementary School in Soquel, hardly believing their good fortune, roll around on the deck of a catamaran that speeds into Monterey Bay.
“This is so fun!” screams one student, as the trampoline on deck bounces with the waves. The students are part of a daylong educational program founded by the famous surfer and wetsuit designer Jack O’Neill. He bought this 65-foot catamaran as a launch pad for his hot air balloon, but in 1996, he turned it into a floating science lab.
“We transform Monterey Bay into the world’s largest classroom,” explains Dan Haifley, the program’s Executive Director. “Everything’s there: hydrology, physical science, life science, we have incredible biology here, particularly in the near shore kelp forest habitats.”
The program aims to teach kids about the importance of the ocean in their lives, and encourages them to protect it from pollution. Nearly 75,000 students have participated so far, and research suggests the message is sinking in. A long-term impact study conducted by one of the program’s instructors found that kids who go on this trip tend to hold on to that sense of stewardship five to seven years later.