A New Start for Waterstart

For the last 12 years, hundreds of students have descended upon BIOS during the summer months for a unique program that combines experiential education with SCUBA training: the Waterstart program. Founded in 2001 by marine science educator JP Skinner, the program evolved from a small camp offered for just two weeks during the summer to multiple weeklong camps throughout the summer months.

This summer, Skinner and the Waterstart program staff are again welcoming students, but in their new location on Burt Island, and with a fresh focus on sustainability projects that allow for student participation, such as aquaculture, growing corals, and restoration work. While SCUBA certification will still be offered, the emphasis will be on outdoor education and giving students opportunities to explore, problem solve, and learn about themselves in the process.

“Our ‘secret’ mission is to have students discover for themselves and get involved in a project that hits them on an emotional level,” Skinner said. “They believe the project is theirs and this empowers them and converts them into being environmental stewards.”

Skinner hopes to leverage Waterstart’s new identity as a smaller organization into an opportunity to work toward his new vision: a network of related programs offered by different organizations around Bermuda working to help provide the island’s students with a range of environmental education programs suited to their specific interests. 

“BIOS has an amazing science package that will, hopefully, be one part of the matrix on the island,” Skinner said of his vision.

This vision is shared by BIOS, with faculty and staff recalling JP’s contributions and looking forward to the future.

“BIOS has been lucky to be associated with JP and Waterstart these past 12 years,” said William Curry, BIOS president and CEO. “We certainly look forward to working with him as he develops new programs and opportunities for the youth of Bermuda.”

Skinner said that moving Waterstart from Paget Island to the location in Ferry Reach at BIOS back in 2003 was a win-win situation. “For students who wanted to study science, it was fantastic to have the network of faculty, marine technicians, graduate students, and postdoctoral students at BIOS who were doing exciting, cutting-edge research,” he said.

Owing to its new location, as well as the passion and enthusiasm of its instructors, led by Skinner, the Waterstart program quickly outgrew itself with students returning year after year and asking, “what’s next”? With the support of local grants from a number of organizations—including the Bank of Bermuda Foundation, HSBC, and the Chubb Charitable Foundation-Bermuda, among others—BIOS was able to develop Ocean Academy. This umbrella program offered students a suite of progressive learning experiences, beginning with Waterstart, followed by the Marine Science Internship program, and culminating in the Bermuda Program.

For Skinner and his colleagues at BIOS, this gave them an extraordinary opportunity to watch students grow and mature over the course of multiple years. A few students, having participated in every aspect of Ocean Academy, went on to use their training and experience as university students and early-career scientists, fully embodying the program’s goal of inspiring the next generation of scientists.

Those students aren’t the only success stories. Skinner highlights the social impacts of the program; specifically, watching friendships form over the course of the week or summer.

“Sometimes two students are opposites but they become good friends,” Skinner said. “In that way the program really cuts across social divisions on the island.”

To learn more about the Waterstart program, view the summer 2017 schedule, or apply for support or financial aid, please visit the new website or email JP Skinner at jpwaterstart@gmail.com.

To learn more about the education programs being offered at BIOS this summer, including the Marine Science Internship program and the Bermuda Program, please visit the BIOS Education page and click on “Bermuda Student Programs” or email oa@bios.edu.