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Bimini Blog - Journey of a Thousand Miles by Nicholas Starosta

As a recipient of the Doc Gruber Memorial Scholarship, I have been given an exceptional opportunity to be a role model for many kids in marine science. As I reflect on my current success, I wanted to take this opportunity to tell my story. My wish is that those who share a part of my journey, no matter how small, will find comfort in that connection. I hope our paths cross and we can one day reflect on the hard work and perseverance we share. Until then, there is much work to be done, and I’ll see you on the other side!

As we progress as a society and continued education becomes more and more of a requirement to be involved in the field, financial constraints have become an ever present barrier to entry. Many kids cannot afford education, therefore removing them from competing for fieldwork opportunities and halting the progress of many students. Through my career I have seen many fall at the demanding nature of our field. While I couldn’t do much to help them back then, I hope one day I can change the rules of the game we play.

[Nick in the bull shark cage in North Bimini - Photo by Baylie Fadool]

My story stared pre-college, as I struggled to decide on a path to take for my future. Often times, I assumed that my career would be decided by what opportunities I could afford, as my uprising was far from wealthy. I attended a small college in Northwestern Ohio for a few years as a restoration ecology major, doing lots of work with soil & water conservation districts, working with a local nature sanctuary, and focusing my education on freshwater systems. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t quite scratch the itch I was reaching for. My true passions had always been set in the ocean, specifically with sharks. However, I knew how small that field was, and how impossible it seemed to break into that realm. During the start of my junior year in Ohio, my major was cancelled, leaving me and my education shattered. Ruined, I was faced with a choice: start over somewhere new, or switch to something even less focused on what I was passionate about. After much debate, I chose to start over somewhere new. The difference would be that this time, I would reach for the stars. I decided to see how far I could push the envelope, knowing full well that it would be a waste of my talents to settle and take the easy road. So I searched for a school that would let me study what I always wanted - marine biology. Little did I know that I would find an environment to flourish in, one that would push me to be better intellectually, emotionally, and sometimes even physically.

I transferred to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida where I became a marine science and environmental studies double major while also making time to minor in both mathematics and chemistry. I took my education seriously and ultimately, it would take me 6 years to earn my bachelors degree from start to finish. The downside, however, is that this 6-year excursion of mine meant that I had a large shadow of student loans to deal with. For 6 long years I took out loans to support myself living and paying for school. Internship opportunities were slim since I held a job outside of school, as most didn’t fit into my lifestyle needs/schedule. One crucial opportunity that I did take, however, was the chance to visit the Bimini Biological Field Station back in 2019 with an Eckerd College course trip. My family and I found a way to make it work back then, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that opportunity, as it reignited my passion and would set the bar high for myself and my career. I saw it was possible to reach these places to work with elasmobranchs and so now it was time to put my nose to the grindstone. I worked hard in school, both academically and outside of school at a job to support myself. Although it took me longer than my colleagues, I graduated with a stellar gpa, a great education, and the skills I needed to succeed in my future endeavours.

[Nick during a shark handling lesson in 2019]

Fast forward a few years after graduation - I had moved to Maui, Hawaii where I had been working with cetaceans and testudines. I was taking a slightly different path than I had hoped, but I was gaining experience, while still looking for my opportunity to get back to the shark world. Sitting at my desk at work, I came across a post from the shark lab about the Doc Gruber Memorial Scholarship; a funded opportunity for an internship working with elasmobranchs. I immediately applied. The interview process continued and I spoke with some of the lab staff about my future goals, what the internship would mean to me, and what I hoped to accomplish. My philosophy was to be myself, answering their questions honestly. If I were to be selected, I wanted it to be because my authentic self earned it. A few weeks passed and I would end up being selected to participate as a summer intern, and furthermore I was offered the Doc Gruber Memorial Scholarship.

[Working up a shark in the Florida Keys, 2023]

In those moments, I can only describe what I felt as total euphoria. Goosebumps ran from my head to my toes. My hard work had paid off, and my patience felt validated. I would be traveling back to the shark lab as an intern to yet again learn from the best in the field. Even further, Dr. Gruber was a great inspiration of mine. An original in the field of shark research, I was beyond honored to be selected to receive a scholarship in his name.

I am now nearing the end of my time here, but what a wild ride it has been. From research experience, to helping to run college courses (one of which was Eckerd’s own), to making new friends, to helping keep the station running and more, every moment here has been an amazing experience. My time here has been life altering, providing me with yet another stepping stone for which to build my dream career. I am truly grateful to the shark lab for investing in me and my future. I can only hope to one day return the favor by paying it forward.

For those of you who wonder what my answers were during those interviews, I’ll set the stage for you. My words were jumbled in a nervous mess, but my message was clear: this is my time to shine. My answers painted a picture of my passion, of my drive to succeed in places where others had failed. I had plans to one day provide the next generation with opportunities I was once denied and I was willing to sacrifice what was necessary to meet those wild aspirations. Deep down I am a dreamer, an artist, and a pioneer. No words spoken will ever be a testament to my dedication to making the change I want to see in this world a reality.

[Nick snorkelling with Caribbean reef sharks - Photo by Baylie Fadool]

This internship has many meanings for me, but the most important is that I proved to myself that I am not done yet. I’m on my own journey to become a marine scientist and time after time I stand up to show those watching that I’ll be there at the finish line one day. I hope my story will inspire those who walk in similar shoes, and pave a path for the many who come after me. One day I hope I can foster the next generation of scientists, just as the shark lab has done for people like me. I have big plans for my future, and for those struggling to find a way into marine science. I was once told, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. Well, I have found refuge in the scientific community, in my friends & family, and most recently in the shark lab. As my final note, know that I will do what it takes to open the doors that society slammed shut. Rest assured that I aim to hold them open for those who come after me. To those who are struggling, we will go together. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to the Bimini Biological Field Station for believing in me.

Until we meet again,

Nicholas Starosta



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