Megan Bernier

Megan Bernier

Megan Bernier is a second-year Biology and Health Sciences student from Montreal who participated in a 40-day voyage aboard a traditional tall ship, studying oceanography and nautical science while also serving as an active crew member.

With a strong interest in healthcare but also a deep attachment to the ocean and to exploring a potential career in environmental science, Megan embraced her B.E.S.T. project as a chance to gain exposure to real-world marine biology practices.

Megan’s B.E.S.T. project was a unique, hands-on, experiential learning opportunity, as she joined thirteen other students aboard the ‘Ocean Star’ schooner for an immersive experience sailing the Caribbean. The 788-nautical-mile voyage included stops at Saba, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Bequia, Tobago Cays, Saint Lucia and Antigua.

Academically, Megan and her crewmates learned about topics including marine adaptations, winds and currents, waves and tides, ocean circulation, coastal wetlands, and fisheries and aquaculture. She also worked with three peers researching the effects of water quality on sessile organism biodiversity rates in coral reefs (sessile organisms are those that cannot move about freely on their own, such as barnacles, mussels and coral polyps).

Practically speaking, the full-time staff on board ensured that Megan and her fellow students – all novice sailors – acquired the skills they needed to safely operate the Ocean Star, from learning about rigging and sail mechanics to radio operation and traditional navigation.

“We rapidly grew familiar with the ‘job wheel’ that was spun every morning to assign each of us our tasks, which we performed three times daily,” explains Megan. Some of these were ‘deckie’ (scrubbing the deck), ‘saltie’ (dishwashing in a bucket of saltwater), ‘freshie’ (dish-rinsing in a bucket of fresh water and vinegar) and ‘gopher’ (putting the dishes away).

When the ship docked at port, those responsible for cooking had to plan for and purchase sufficient provisions until the next stop, while everyone else formed an assembly line to get the items safely into the galley. Megan and her fellow crewmates each also served on different hours of the night watch, keeping a careful eye on the ship as well as the weather while everyone else slept below deck.

Without any technological distractions, Megan appreciates how special it was to have the opportunity to form meaningful connections with the students and staff. “Throughout this journey, I realized that a community’s resilience is ultimately determined by its members’ support for one another,” she says. “Through the diverse challenges we encountered as a crew, including a sail breaking, running out of fuel and seasickness, I discovered the value of humour and lightheartedness in situations where things take a wrong turn.”

Describing her participation in this unique program as an invaluable learning experience, Megan hopes other students will be inspired to seek out enriching experiential learning opportunities.