When I'm out on the ocean in a boat, I like gazing at the huge expanse of blue. It's breathtaking. But I know it's time to get ready. I reconfirm oxygen levels in my tank and check the amount of air in my buoyancy compensator. I examine each piece of equipment to make sure everything is in order. I zip up my wet suit and pull the hood over my head. I carefully attach my tank and regulator. I lower myself off the side of the boat and roll backward into the water. Then I look at the shore to orient myself and give a hand signal to my diving buddy that we're ready to descend.
As I slightly deflate the buoyancy belt, I slowly start to sink. I exhale slowly and equalize my ear pressure. I continue to descend and move further and further away from the shafts of sunlight above the water. I feel weightless.
I spot sea life just below me. Flashes of color — oranges, various shades of yellow, blues and pinks — streak by like paintings in motion. I see angelfish, parrotfish, groupers and sea turtles. I look below and catch the faint outlines of a coral reef. Soon I'm swimming by corals and sea fans. It's magical. Then I suddenly spot large patches of white on the reef — tell-tale signs of disease. My heart sinks. An entire section of the reef is drained of color and no longer teems with plant and fish life. It looks like an abandoned city. Most of this damage is caused by the corrosive mix of man-made toxins and global warming. I love the ocean, and I want to protect its rich universe.
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Daniell Washington is the founder and CEO of The Big Blue & YOU Foundation, a non-profit organization that encourages kids in Miami to get involved in marine conservation and ocean studies. Daniell, 25, runs this organization with her mother, Michelle Swaby. Daniell has studied marine science since her early teens, but she is aware that many young girls are not encouraged to pursue science, technology, engineering and math. Daniell's determination to turn this around will help fulfill Title IX's promise to open the door for girls to pursue these fields.