NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A Sarasota marine biology student
from southern New Jersey said she's lucky to be alive following a
16-hour ordeal after she was swept out the sea.
Heather Barnes, 20, said she's not a strong swimmer, but somehow was
able to tread water for two-thirds of a day until she could be rescued.
"I feel like I cheated death or like I cheated the ocean out of something," said the Deptford native.
Barnes was sunburned, but safe and sound following the incident.
"Even when I didn't feel like I was strong enough, there was enough of me that still wanted to keep going," Barnes said.
She was on a small island off the coast of Honduras with fellow
students from the New College of Florida in Sarasota when she went snorkeling on her
According to her account on her Facebook page, she made the early morning outing to collect coral samples.
"I had felt comfortable in the bay, so it didn't seem like a really big deal," Barnes said.
But then she started to have stomach and leg cramps and the currents pushed her out to sea.
Barnes said she hoped if she stayed put, someone would come looking for her. But after a couple of hours, no one came.
"I never saw any planes, any boats. And at the time I'm like, 'what am I supposed to do?'" she said.
With the sun beating down and jellyfish and stingrays swarming at her feet, the reality hit her.
"I realize if I'm going to make it I have to swim back myself," she recounted on Facebook.
She suffered blisters, sunburn, jellyfish stings and hallucinations
from dehydration, but somehow managed to swim her way back to shore.
Sixteen hours after her expedition began, two locals found her, gave her water and brought her back to her resort.
The grateful student assured loved ones on Facebook that she won't be in a similar situation anytime soon.
"I'm safe, well loved, and ready to take a break from the beach for a while," she wrote.
Barnes' fellow students and the school had launched a search for her
and even reached out to Florida lawmakers for help during the ordeal.