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Jessica Benford (right) stands in the water with a ninth grade student in San Salvador, Bahamas. The photo was taken in 2005 when Benford received her scuba diving certification. Natives from the Bahamas were taught how to swim and snorkel. (Submitted photo)
Degree in marine biology provides adventure for Rockwood native
Daily American Staff Writer

March 15, 2008


Spending weeks at a time near the ocean and researching marine life is not a typical lifestyle in Somerset County — but it is Rockwood native Jessica Benford’s job.

Benford, 24, Cape Canaveral, Fla., is a marine biologist. Her job is to research and observe major marine species all over the U.S.  She has seen endangered whales, barracudas, sunken ships and vast miles of ocean.

“The three important things in my life are family and friends, the ocean and traveling,” she said. “I love traveling and being adventurous. I like seeing new sites and marine biology is a huge part of that. I’m not just observing from an aquarium I’m actually out there in the water. It’s nice being able to find the next big adventure.”

Benford said her love affair with marine studies started when she was a child and she took her first trip to the beach.

“I just fell in love with the ocean,” she said.

As she got older her parents took her to Sea World, which intensified her interest.

“I started asking the people who worked there about their degrees and what colleges they went to and if they liked their job,” she said.

Benford attended the Pennsylvania State University of Fayette for two years and worked toward her bachelor’s degree in biology. She spent the rest of her collegiate time at Penn State’s main campus. She graduated in the summer of 2007 with a wildlife and fishery science: fishery option degree.

In order to become more acquainted with marine life, Benford learned to scuba dive. She received her certification in the spring of 2005 during a trip to the Bahamas.

Benford’s knowledge of marine biology has allowed her to do something important — travel.

“I traveled to Boston and just got back from a project in the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll be heading back to the gulf on March 24 and there’s a project in Alaska that’s happening this summer,” she said.

In Boston, Benford was a scientific observational researcher for endangered species. One of her most gratifying experiences was seeing an endangered North Atlantic right whale.

In the Gulf of Mexico she studied sperm whales. During that project, large companies on vessels search for oil in the ocean. The marine biologist’s job is to make sure the company follows the correct policy and does not corrupt species in the area.

For those interested in studying marine biology, Benford said it is important to get hands-on experience.

“Hands-on experience is the key thing to get this job,” she said. “If you’re ambitious and adventurous, you’re going to have a great time in this field.”

She said aspiring college students should take advantage of certifications and trips.

“You have to have an intellectual approach to it and really be interested in the animals,” she said.

Ultimately, Benford wants to research great white sharks, but for now, she said, she is happy to see new places.

“I’ve been taking a lot of videos and pictures. It gives me something to collect the memories so I know I was out there,” she said. “It’s nice because I’m traveling all the time and I get to see the world.”


Thanks to my mom she asked me to write a little bit about myself and my new position. She submitted this to my High School and the local newspaper. I had an interview via telephone with a journalist right after the Viking Vision project. Surprisingly, I had come home to seeing my picture in the local newspaper that my mom sent me. What an amazing publication! This was my solid evidence that I was reaching closer to my ultimate goal – “Last Destination Florida; the Road Trip down the Chosen Path.”

My aunt Shir’s review on my passion: “My niece Jessica’s article was run in the Somerset Daily American Saturday.  She has been crazy about the ocean ever since she started visiting me in Ocean City when she was 3-4 years old.  As soon as she discovered what a marine biologist was (at the age of 7) that’s all she ever wanted to do.  My family has watched her go through many changes over the years but this particular desire never changed.  It’s been a great experience to watch her grow up into such a talented, kind, and enthusiastic young woman.  Jess is fearless in her love of life and always has a smile for everyone she meets.  She’s worked hard to achieve this particular dream and I’m so proud of her.”

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