Youth Ocean Explorer Spotlight: Malèyah Navarro

A young scuba diver gives the "OK" sign underwater Meet Malèyah Navarro, a Youth Ocean Explorer with the U.S. Virgin Islands hub of the SEAS Islands Alliance. The Youth Ocean Explorers summer program is a four-week, hands-on marine science program on St. Thomas and St. Croix for middle and high school students interested in exploring our oceans. Navarro is from the island of St. Croix and recently graduated high school.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I have always had a spark for anything that had to do with the ocean. From since I was a toddler the ocean just always fascinated me. When I was about 12 years old I knew that in the future I wanted to work around different marine ecosystems. My hobbies are scuba diving, welding, and listening to music.

What is your favorite ocean animal?

My favorite ocean animal has to be a shark. Why? Because I feel like they are so misunderstood. They are such beautiful, loving creatures, but they tend to have a misconception because of rumors.


How have the SEAS Islands Alliance and the Youth Ocean Explorers program inspired you?

A young woman on a boat with scuba diving gear gets ready to get into the water
I got involved with the SEAS program during my freshman year in high school.
Honestly speaking, I haven’t really been active in the SEAS Alliance recently, but when I was I had an awesome experience. I met new people from different places and learned many different things.

The Youth Ocean Explorers summer program has helped me shape my career path, because it has offered me countless opportunities—starting with giving me an opportunity to become a certified diver, to traveling to a summer program in the mainland, and meeting people from all over the world—just to expand my knowledge on coral restoration and marine archaeology. The list can go on and on. It has help shaped my way, because now I know way more than I did before.

Can you tell us about your experience as a mentor?

Being a mentor in the summer program has helped me in many ways, [like] helping kids [that] had the same passion as me back then learn new things that I know now. It taught me how to be patient and how to communicate better with others.

My [own] mentors and peers have helped in shaping my experience by being there to give advice and just showing support.

You mentioned your hobbies include scuba diving and welding. How did those come about?

A young woman wearing a welding mask and gloves sticks her tongue out and takes a selfie
My interest in scuba diving has always been there since I was a kid. The ocean had always been my safe haven, and like I have stated before, I knew that all I wanted to do was be in the ocean. I am so happy and so grateful that the Youth Ocean Explorers program helped me fulfill my dreams of becoming a certified diver. Being able to just explore a different world under the Earth’s surface is just awesome and I love it so much. The fact that I can have fun while learning new things and helping sea creatures out is just amazing.

As for welding, when I became a freshman, I had the opportunity to take a class at the St. Croix Career and Technical Education Center. I made up my mind and said to myself, “I want to do something that not [many] females do. I want to be different and surprise everyone.” So, my two options were millwrights and welding. After doing research, I decided that I would be doing welding. Honestly, it’s the best decision I could have made. I love it, although it’s really hot. I am so proud of myself, because I am officially certified in welding technology.

You attended the Youth Diving With a Purpose program. What was that experience like?

A group of young people pose for a photo on the deck of a boat at sunset
I attended the Youth Diving With A Purpose Program (YDWP) in 2022 and 2023 thanks to the Youth Ocean Explorers team. The YDWP program teaches young adults more about our ecosystem. It consists of two programs, maritime archaeology and CARES. In the maritime archaeology [course], you learn about basically history underwater.

As for me, I learned how to identify artifacts, offset and trilateral mapping, draw artifacts underwater, and so much more. Now, CARES focuses on the actual sea life. I learned how to identify different corals and different species of fish, along with how to out-plant corals and clean them.

The most memorable experience I have is probably saving someone’s GoPro that was floating away. I had so much fun even though I was tired from all the swimming. Even though that might be a weird memory, that’s something that always comes to mind when I hear YDWP.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

A young woman in scuba diving gear poses for a selfie in the water
In the next five to 10 years, I see myself being a marine biologist and a certified underwater welder. Just working and living my best life with a family, while giving back to my community. My ultimate dream job has to be a marine biologist—traveling the world, making a change, and teaching people the significance of our marine ecosystems.

I would love to find a career on my home island, maybe not right after I graduate, but I would definitely love a job back home. It all depends on what job.

Do you have any advice for other students?

The advice I have for other students is to always be yourself. Have fun and do what you love. Don’t let anybody change the way you feel about anything. And lastly, reach for the stars, no matter what’s in your way! Overcome it all. Remember, this is your world, everyone else is just living in it.


A person scuba diving underwater over a coral reef

Interview by Howard Forbes Jr., MSc., Director, Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service, University of the Virgin Islands

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This project has been funded through a grant by the National Science Foundation.