Category Archives: THE BAHAMAS

Article in Daily American Newspaper; Personal Accomplishment

Somerset Daily American                                     (Front Page)


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.”

A Voyage of Self-Discovery; Persistence of a Dream

Coral Reef Research Project in San Salvador, Bahamas with beginner snorkeler; 05.2005

To better understand the offshore lifestyle, we must first go back to the beginning where my love for the marine environment began. Ever since I was a little girl growing up in a small town; I have adored nature and all that inhabits it. My first glimpse of the powerful beauty that was surrounded by shell-filled sand was shortly after I learned how to walk. You know that one experience that you have as a child and you can replay that memory almost as if it was yesterday? I had that experience when I first stepped onto the beach. The smell of salt overwhelmed my nose, the violent force of water crashed into the rocks that made my ears ring for a moment, and the ocean breeze rolling through my hair all welcomed me with excitement. The softness that tickled my toes and the peace I felt when gazing at the blue water is a flashback that pops into my head every time I come to the beach.

Having this drive to learn more about the marine environment demonstrated to my friends and teachers that I was destined to work in the ocean. When I was in elementary school my friends always told me that they wanted to be a policeman, fire fighter, nurse, doctor, etc; however, none of them ever expressed that they wanted to become a Marine Biologist. I have always been goal-driven and knew in my soul that I would someday follow my footprints in the sand to the ocean. I knew what I wanted out of life, more so than your typical 30 year old that crept around my town. I never really bragged about myself, but I knew in my heart that I was destined for greatness. I concealed the potential to make something out of myself. Little did I know that in a few years I would have the ability to see the ocean’s vastness and discover a whole world of color and imagination. I was led into a journey far greater and deeper than I could have ever imagined.

This brings me into my current lifestyle. I graduated from the Pennsylvania State University with a Bachelor’s in Science; more specially my major was Wildlife & Fishery Science: specializing in Fishery Science with two minors in Biology and Marine Science. The day of graduation I left Pennsylvania behind and ventured to Florida to fulfill my life-long dream of working in the field as a Marine Biologist.

My footsteps led into what is my greatest discovery, which was to have the compassion, determination, and motivation to reach my goals and have the ability to make new ones. I want to fully exceed my own expectations. I want to show the world that one person can make a difference.

A few of my new goals, but are not limited to:

  • Continue to educate the general pubic (target children) about the importance of our environment and raise awareness of marine conservation issues
  • Research the coral reefs in San Salvador, Bahamas (I conducted research here in 2005; picture above)
  • Share both the wonders of the underwater world and the beauty of the ocean environment through travel writing
  • Discuss with Marine Operations and Safety & Environment Shoreside Management the current maritime environmental issues and topics (This could lead me into an Environmental Officer position)

 One of my favorite Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes:

“We are all inventors, each sailing out on a voyage of discovery, guided each by a private chart, of which there is no duplicate. The world is all gates, all opportunities.”