Jr. Scientists in the Sea


Les Burke

FOUNDER, Dive Safety Officer

Les Burke grew up watching Disney, Sea Hunt, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Les has been diving since 1980. Les was the eighth African American to complete the Navy’s school for Deep Sea Diving and Salvage in Little Creek, VA. Famed US Navy Master Diver, Carl Brashear, mentored Les in the early years. As one of the Navy’s elite Salvage divers, Les took part in many Salvage operations throughout the world. Les spent 33 years in the Navy, 28 of those, on station as a Navy Diver.

While his Navy career was blossoming, Les began training and teaching within the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) with PADI Course Director and Navy Master Diver, Rudy Watts. As Rudy’s “Padiwan” learner, Les became a PADI Instructor in 1983. The majority of his students were active-duty Sailors and Marines. He often taught on base through Morale, Welfare & Recreation (MWR). He also completed a tour as a Navy Diving Instructor at the famed Naval Diving & Salvage Training Center and taught through the Scientific Diving Program at Florida State University. Les now holds instructor ratings with SCUBA Diving International (TDI/SDI), International Association if NitrOx & Technical Divers (IANTD), the American Academy of Underwater Science (AAUS) and the Diver’s Alert Network (DAN). In all total, Les has certified over 2,500 divers at all levels of diving.

Les Burke
Les Burke
Les was accepted into FSU Law and left active duty to attend. Since he remained in the Reserves, he remained attached to the Navy, and everything the Navy was doing. World events of the 90’s and early 21st century caused him to spend more time in uniform, than in a suit and tie. As a result of 9/11, Les was activated as a Navy EOD/Force Protection Officer and sent to Italy. He was later re-activated in 2005 and remained on active duty until he retired with 33 years of military service.

Over the years Les learned that he had the patience to work with Kids. Les has been honored by the State of Florida, for his Kids oriented prevention programming. He was listed in the 2003 edition of “Who’s who in Florida Drug Prevention Leadership.” He was a two term Chair of the Jefferson County Juvenile Justice Council and was the founder of the Jefferson County Teen Summit. Even while in Iraq, his demeanor and eagerness to share, caused kids to flock to him. He quickly saw while working with a criminal defense firm, that it very hard to get youth out of the system; and in fact, is easier to keep them from entering it. Falling back on what he enjoyed the most, he combined being an “Imagineer” with diving. Les founded the Junior Scientists in the Sea (JSIS) program in 2005.

Les joined the Faculty and Staff of the University of Maryland, College Park, in January 2013, as the Dive Safety Officer (DSO). He immediately began building the research diving program back up to the stature indicative of Maryland’s Flagship “Land Grant/ Sea Grant” institution. This included standing up an entry level diving program, which had been shut down at College Park for ten years. He was the Diving Safety Officer for the entire Maryland University System. That included UMD College Park, UMCES Horn Point and Solomon Island, and UM Eastern Shore. After reflecting on his one-on-one conversation with Jacques Cousteau, Les knew he was supposed to be exposing marginalized and underprivileged youth to aquatic stewardship. He left Maryland after 5 full years to return to Florida. In doing so, he went full time into Jr Scientists in the Sea.

Les is a Board member of the Florida Keys Marine Preservation Society, The Caribbean Center for Boys & Girls of the Virgin Islands, the Marine Research & Development Foundation and the Miami Reef Initiative. He is also a consultant for Pnuema.

Les holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Operations Management and a Juris Doctorate, both from Florida State University. He has completed all coursework for his Master in Public Administration. He is a Department of State ICASS Executive; a certified mediator; a State Certified Law Enforcement Officer, in Florida.; and a certified curriculum developer., and of course a certified Master SCUBA Instructor.