Instructor Spotlight
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Marina Maze

"Showing kids the wonder of the outdoors is so vital for the health of our communities and the environment."

We’ve asked Marina Maze, one of O’Neill Sea Odyssey’s previous students and past instructors, to share her thoughts about her unique connection to, and teaching experience with, the OSO program. Here’s what she had to say….

My first experience with O'Neill Sea Odyssey was as a 5th grader in 1997 and I can remember looking down at the beautiful green water from the net and sitting on the cabin floor of the catamaran learning about navigation. That was one of my first experiences on a large boat on the ocean, and the experience was exhilarating. I soon came to love the feeling of being near and on the water. Growing up in Boulder Creek, my family beach days were spent at nearby Greyhound Rock, a beautiful, remote and pristine beach that offered hours of endless entertainment. I will admit, as a kid I was always a bit fearful (terrified really) of how powerful the ocean was. But my excitement, curiosity, and appreciation for the ocean did not falter. These experiences have since rooted themselves in my being, and have acted as my internal compass as I make my way through the world.

As a Marine Biology student at UC Santa Cruz, I was introduced to the fascinating, and utterly overwhelming, world of plastic pollution in the ocean. I began volunteering at Save Our Shores, where I became mesmerized by our addiction to single-use plastics and totally shocked at how this addiction was impacting our oceans. I was hooked, some might even say obsessed, and I found the most rewarding and impactful way to contribute to the solution was through educating the next generation.

Enter O’Neill Sea Odyssey, my dream job. Becoming a member of the OSO team has been one of the best, most rewarding experiences of my life. Not only is it a vividly rich educational experience for the students, but we are also providing a wildly exciting, life-changing opportunity for the kids we teach. Observing the students crawl on the net and listening to them talk to one another about how fun, exciting or cool the boat is, fills my heart with joy, and in some cases, my eyes with tears. There is no better reward for a hard days work than seeing a student’s eyes light up, and know that this experience is going to integrate itself into their internal compass as well.

Providing enriching outdoor educational experiences to children is so important, especially as our society becomes increasingly preoccupied by gadgets, tablets, computers, and iPhones. Showing kids the wonder of the outdoors is so vital for the health of our communities and the environment. O’Neill Sea Odyssey is a gem, offering young minds the opportunity to experience the outdoors, aboard a 65-foot catamaran, suspended over the ocean, on a net. It blows their mind every time!

Witnessing first-hand how impactful O’Neill Sea Odyssey has been, both personally and for the students, influenced me to pursue an advanced degree in sustainable business. This particular graduate program is dedicated to identifying and understanding how business can be used as a catalyst for positive change, both socially and environmentally. While the movement towards sustainable business management is just getting started, it poses a wealth of opportunity to create exciting, unique and innovative solutions to some of our biggest environmental threats. For my thesis, I am focusing on the economic valuation of non-profit services, using O’Neill Sea Odyssey as a case study. I am trying to determine the value of the OSO experience, or the necessary impact and outcome measurements to determine that value. My research is intended to help illustrate how important this, and similar experiences are and that we need to do everything we can to support them for years to come.

Spotlight video produced by intern, Sophie Holin.

My favorite OSO moment was while teaching an ecology lesson with the watershed model. One solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions presented by a student was to “turn off his video games and go play outside”. YES!! Double win! Not only did he make the connection to his own life and habits, he opted to go outside rather than stay indoors.

What does the ocean mean to you?

To me, the ocean is outer-space. Mind-blowingly incomprehensible. It is a life-sustaining mystery that we know very little about, yet are drawn to it in some way, shape or form. The ocean is the beating heart of our planet. It provides the air we breathe, the food we eat and the excitement we crave. It gives us inspiration for music, art, and film while reminding us that nature is a powerful force that we cannot control. The ocean reminds me that as a citizen of the planet, I have a great responsibility to protect the environment and leave things better than I found them. So, I have vowed to do everything I can to keep our watery, blue heart beating and thriving with life so future generations can experience the mystery, excitement, and awe that the ocean brings.


Thank you, Marina, for your leadership at O'Neill Sea Odyssey and your fearless dedication to protecting our planet, teaching our Ocean Stewards, and seeking solutions for positive change. You're an inspiration to us all.

Gifts of Gratitude
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Over the holidays (and just today, in fact) we received a number of wonderful thank you letters and artwork from teachers and students whose classes participated in the Sea Odyssey program in the last month or so. We are so touched by their thoughtfulness and creativity and wish to share just a few with you, our supporters. Please click on the images below to enlarge for improved legibility.

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Thank you teachers and students! You are truly Ocean Stewards.

Alumnus Spotlight

Ethan Estess

"Without a doubt, my experience with OSO was a key early life event that encouraged me down my path as an ocean advocate, scientist, and artist."

We’ve asked Ethan Estess, one of O’Neill Sea Odyssey’s past students and contributing artists, to share his thoughts about his experience with, and path beyond, the OSO program. Here’s what he had to say….

I visited O’Neill Sea Odyssey in 2000/2001 with teacher George Alexandrov’s 6th grade class from Bradley Elementary in Corralitos. I remember it was a glassy, grey day on the Bay and I was really excited to bounce on the cat’s trampoline as we glided over the dark water. I clearly remember throwing the small neuston net over the side and being totally shocked by the active, alien-like plankton we saw through the microscope projection later. At the end of the cruise, there was Jack O'Neill climbing aboard to say hi to all of us. I worked up the nerve (he was a bit intimidating with the eye patch) and walked up to introduce myself. We shook hands and out of the blue I got the idea to ask him for his autograph. He kindly obliged and I was stoked to have the keepsake to remind me of the epic day on the water.

Without a doubt, my experience with OSO was a key early life event that encouraged me down my path as an ocean advocate, scientist, and artist. It was one of the first times I can remember experiencing the sensation of wonder - particularly in regards to watching the alien-like phytoplankton zooming around under the microscope. I remember thinking, “If all of these things live in a drop of seawater, what else could be out there!”

That sense of wonder was later rekindled in a marine biology class with teacher Greg McBride at Aptos High, who one day presented some new tracking research on great white sharks that revealed their long-distance migrations. My mind was blown, and I knew then that I needed to get involved in that project. I went to Stanford with the primary goal of studying great white shark ecology with Dr. Barb Block, and soon I found myself spending summers conducting shark and tuna research with her lab group in Pacific Grove. During my sophomore year, I was fortunate to spend 5 weeks on an oceanographic research vessel sailing from Tahiti to Hawaii- an amazing experience that gave me flashbacks to my time at OSO!

Throughout college I took art classes alongside my environmental science curriculum, focusing on using reclaimed materials to tell stories about the marine environment. Today, I am focused on making artwork in my Santa Cruz studio while balancing my research activities with the Conservation Science division at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where I have worked for the last few years. Looking back, my time with O'Neill Sea Odyssey as an 11 year-old sparked something that continues to drive my life’s work with the ocean. I think it’s like scooping phytoplankton out of the ocean and looking at them under a microscope for the first time; if you look beneath the surface of things, there’s so much more to learn.

Environmental education is really a form of civic education. It is a way of teaching young people what it means to be a good community member, a good American, and good world citizen. By teaching students about the natural world and its resource - a world that they will soon be responsible for - it clearly demonstrates what is at stake if they vote for legislation that threatens their environment, or if they choose certain behaviors that are damaging to local ecosystems. It’s hard to justify dumping your car oil down the storm drain when you’ve seen a baby sea otter playing in the kelp forest, for example. Establishing these types of social norms is the fundamental goal of environmental education programs, and it is why access to such programs is of the utmost importance.

Oshio collection - reclaimed fishing rope on wood - currently on exhibit at the R. Blitzer Gallery.

Ethan Estess Art + Design

What does the ocean mean to you?

I’ve been fortunate to make the ocean a central part of my life and livelihood. Growing up surfing and fishing in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, I was lucky to experience what an intact ocean ecosystem really is. Seeing phytoplankton under a microscope for the first time as a 6th grader on the O’Neill Sea Odyssey sparked a sense of wonder that later inspired me to study ocean science in college.

Outfitting a baby bluefin tuna with an electronic tag in Japan.

Outfitting a baby bluefin tuna with an electronic tag in Japan.

As an undergrad and Master’s student at Stanford I took courses in marine ecology, art, and mechanical engineering while conducting research on great white sharks. Since graduating in 2012, I have worked for the Monterey Bay Aquarium where I travel extensively to tag and release bluefin tuna to reveal their migratory patterns and promote their sustainable management.

Spending so much time on the water has exposed me to the beauty and biodiversity of the ocean, as well as the tremendous sustainability threats facing it from overfishing, plastic pollution, and rapid climate change. I feel a responsibility to communicate about these issues in engaging, accessible ways, and I see my professional art practice as a way of stimulating productive dialogue around ocean protection.

In short, to me the ocean is everything. Everything I learn about it leads me to a new question - just like every wave I catch makes me want to catch another one! Thanks O’Neill Sea Odyssey for sparking my fire and for providing so many kids with foundational ocean experiences!

Ocean inspiration and playtime in Morocco.

Ocean inspiration and playtime in Morocco.

Thank you, Ethan, for sharing your experience and unique perspective. Your path beyond OSO is a testament to your commitment to ocean conservation. We're grateful for your support and dedication.

R. Blitzer Gallery Reception
Artwork by Connor O'Neill

Artwork by Connor O'Neill

We had a great time last night at the opening reception of the R. Blitzer Gallery's Beach Industry exhibit. Thank you to all who came out to support the amazing work of the talented local artists, and a special thanks to Robert and Donna Blitzer for hosting. The exhibit runs through the end of January so be sure to visit the gallery if you missed the reception. And remember, 10% of all sales during the month will benefit O'Neill Sea Odyssey. Thanks also to attendees who donated to OSO and took a moment to share what the ocean means to them.

When I stand with my toes in the ocean, and you do the same, the ocean means we’re really not that far apart.
— Gallery Attendee
Adam Steckley
West Marine and You Support OSO

O'Neill Sea Odyssey is pleased to be one of four local recipients of West Marine's BlueFuture Grant. Along with Coastal Watershed Council of Santa Cruz, Mountain 2 Sea of Corralitos, and Marine Life Studies of Moss Landing, OSO is among 25 nonprofits nationwide to receive funding through the BlueFuture program. "Through BlueFuture, West Marine distributes tens of thousands of dollars annually to dozens of nonprofit organizations that are dedicated to youth-focused, community-based recreational and educational initiatives on and around the water."

In addition to BlueFuture funding, O'Neill Sea Odyssey receives support from West Marine through their nonprofit affiliate program where 5% of your purchase, either on-line when you shop through their affiliate platform or in a store near you with a printable affiliate card, is donated to OSO. It's a simple and automatic way for you to support OSO and our 100,000th Student Campaign every time you shop, at no cost to you.

Thank you, West Marine, for your continued support of O'Neill Sea Odyssey and our Ocean Stewards.

Donor Spotlight

Maia Negre

"As a tool for creating change, art can bring about awareness and draw attention to the things we find important to express."

We’ve asked Maia Negre, one of O’Neill Sea Odyssey’s long-time supporters, to share her thoughts about her unique connection to, and history with, the OSO program. Here’s what she had to say….

Witnessing the educational experience students received while participating with O'Neill Sea Odyssey was very inspiring. In 2013, I painted an oil painting, based on an iconic photograph taken by Steve Lawson, depicting the beauty and serenity of our ocean environment. OSO donors, Tricia and Reed Geisreiter, hosted a wonderful fund-raising event at their home in Santa Cruz, where we showcased this and a few other sea life and ocean paintings. A portion of the proceeds from the giclee prints that sold at the event were donated to OSO.

Currently on my website's online shop, there's an O'Neill Sea Odyssey Series where 20% of sales from this category benefit the 100,000th Student Campaign.


As a professional artist and volunteer judge for OSO's annual Ocean Steward Art Contest, I believe art is a great form of communication. It is a powerful tool for conveying ideas, concepts, and individual expression. As a tool for creating change, art can bring about awareness and draw attention to the things we find important to express.

It is important that we remember how connected we are to our environment, and to each other. We all share the responsibility of making good choices when it comes to protecting our natural environment, and being kind and respectful to all living things.

Maia Negre Fine Art & Design


Please join O'Neill Sea Odyssey at the R. Blitzer Gallery on Friday, January 5, 2018, from 5-9pm, for their 4th annual Beach Industry art exhibit. Featuring Maia Negre and 16 other local artists, this opening reception is in conjunction with First Friday Santa Cruz and 10% of all sales during the month will benefit OSO.


Thank you, Maia, for your continued support through your artwork and as an OSO art contest judge. We greatly appreciate it.

Adam Steckley
Happy Holidays
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Happy Holidays from O'Neill Sea Odyssey and our Ocean Stewards. We thank you for your continued support and wish you all the best in 2018.

Adam Steckley
Alternative Perspective by Josh Bowman
Photo courtesy of Jasper Lyons

Photo courtesy of Jasper Lyons

The Best Method To Educate Youth

The O'Neill Sea Odyssey program redefines education by providing kids with an opportunity to see marine life up close and in person. In the education system today, it is easy to get stuck between the margins and standards, completely missing out on why the material in the classroom is important. As an environmental studies student at CSUMB, I have seen people at every stage in the education system who don’t take the subjects they are studying seriously. The answer is because most of them haven’t had the chance to experience what they are studying.

Instead of following along in the pages of a book, the kids who participate in the Sea Odyssey program are taught valuable lessons about the marine ecosystem.  On their journey aboard the sixty-five-foot Team O’Neill catamaran, the kids collect their own water samples, take their own navigation coordinates, and observe a plethora of marine life. From jellyfish to seabirds and all the mammals in between, the complex inter-working’s of the marine ecosystem are shown down to the microscopic level. A fun filled adventure for anyone, the Sea Odyssey experience opens many doorways for the youth by bringing their education to life.

This is a crucial aspect of education that gets overlooked by the education system most people go through. Very few people can get out and get a hands-on perspective at any point in their educational career. They are instead left with a lot of information passed on to them from someone else. Without their own experiences they cannot apply that information in a practical way that properly addresses a problem.

For the first hour and a half of the Sea Odyssey program, the kids get a chance to gain that experience. They cruise around on the waters in the Monterey Bay and see for the first time, animals they previously had known exclusively by pictures. As I watched them, I could tell that this experience would leave a lifelong impression. They were an eager bunch and all smiles, leaning up on the safety rail as close as their orange life jackets would allow. When you are there, you can feel the change happen. It’s as if a switch is being flipped and now their curiosity has been triggered. Endless questions stream in, they want to know more about this amazing new place. They reminded me of my younger self, and how I felt when I first tasted the salt air and saw all the incredible marine creatures.

I grew up as a free diver and went through all my stages of life with frequent trips beneath the waves. Nothing I came across in a classroom inspired me as much as actually being in the ocean. The inspiration that was ignited by ocean’s magic burned into a passion. And that is the key to engaging someone with their learning. We can’t force people to care, they must decide that for themselves. Once engaged, the classroom becomes a place where further learning can take place. It’s like experience is the foundation for the class setting. I saw how that relationship worked during the Sea Odyssey program. After their tour on the boat the kids were taken back for the second half of the program. In the shore-side classroom, they were taught in more depth what they had just gone out and seen.

One of the classroom stations had a model demonstration on how pollutants end up in the marine ecosystem. This visual demonstration, where a spray bottle was used to simulate rainfall, provided a broad perspective of how precipitation collects the various pollutants on the land and carries them into the marine habitat. Then it was explained to the kids, how the pollutants negatively impact the wildlife they saw earlier that day. The look on their faces, when they learned how oil and trash can kill birds and otters, showed their concern. Many of them started to offer their ideas on how to reduce the amount of pollution entering the environment. Combining a classroom activity that was based on an outside of the classroom experience really defined the purpose of the lesson.

Observing this education model, the impact translates well in other learning aspects of society. The most effective policy for conservation comes from the people who have had actual experience in that environment. Earlier this year, I participated in a public forum where California State marine resource management was discussed between government spokespeople and the local communities. During the meeting, it was clear that the policymakers didn’t really understand the environment the way the divers did. The divers, who spent years of their life interacting with the marine environment, had brilliant ideas on how to protect marine resources. They had an insight and perspective that was only attainable because of their experience in the water. Which circles back to the main point here, that providing life experience to our youth is the best way to prepare them for the roles that, one day, they will address in society. Perhaps some of these students will become policymakers themselves, hold offices of power, and be able to make a positive difference in the world. Thanks to O'Neill Sea Odyssey, their perspective will be a little more whole.

During their navigation station, each student had a photo taken of them standing at the control platform of the catamaran. In that moment they were the captains, stewards, and sentinels with time on their side. Maybe one of them will become the next innovator like Jack O’Neill.

With the Sea Odyssey program soon to reach their one hundred thousandth student, the echo of that message is becoming a boom. Once served, a lesson will last a lifetime. O’Neil Sea Odyssey is a fitting example of exactly what one lifetime can amount to. After all, it was started by innovator, Jack O’Neill, who had the vision that experience and learning should be for everyone. The Sea Odyssey program has become a proven example of successfully facilitating connections between youth and the environment. And with those connections, a better understanding that the life they now understand more intimately, is worth protecting.

Josh Bowman

Josh Bowman

Adam Steckley