OWUSS 2018 Program Book
The final stop of my internship was Washington, DC where I gave two presentations to National Park Service employees. After arriving in DC, I met Cliff McCreedy, Marine Resource Managment Specialist for the NPS Ocean and Coastal Resources Program. Cliff walked me through my schedule for the next few days and helped me make final edits to my presentation.
On Wednesday, I presented to ~25 employees who were gracious enough to give up their lunch hour to hear me speak about my internship. Sharing my experience with such a diverse group was extremely rewarding. I gave my second presentation the following day to Raymond Sauvajot, Associate Director of Natural Resource Stewardship and Science, and Sonya Coakley from the Office of Visitor and Resource Protection (Public Health). This small setting gave me the opportunity to discuss my internship in more detail, and answer follow-up questions regarding each park.
It’s hard to express in words how amazing my summer was. I learned so much, met so many incredible people, and made memories that will last a lifetime. Thanks to everyone in the NPS who welcome me as the 2018 OWUSS NPS intern. And thanks to everyone who has followed my journey via this blog! I hope that in the future I can find a home again with the National Park Service.
Next stop, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia where I will be an MSc candidate in the Reef Ecology Lab!
For the second time this summer, I pulled up to Biscayne National Park (BISC) with my bags in tow. For the last two weeks, archaeologists from BISC, the Submerged Resources Center (SRC) and the Southeast Archaeological Center (SEAC) had been documenting two sites with the help of colleagues from East Carolina University, University of California Santa Cruz, and Cheikh Anta Diop University in Senegal.
This archaeological work would not only provide detailed maps of these two previously undocumented sites, but it also gave the NPS the opportunity to run a field school for their visiting colleagues. This work at BISC was in coordination with the Slave Wrecks Project, a program which works to research, train, and educate with a focus on the global slave trade. Collaborators of the project include Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, George Washington University Capitol Archaeological Institute, IZIKO Museums of South Africa, the South African Heritage Resources Agency, Diving with a Purpose, SRC, and SEAC.
Upon arriving, I was greeted by familiar faces as I helped offload the boats. Matt Hanks, an archaeologist for the SRC and the project lead, then introduced me at the day’s debriefing. That evening, after some excellent barbeque, I observed as Joel Cook (MSc at ECU) and the three Senegalese students (Laity, Djidere, and Adama) added new drawings to the Boxcar sitemap. While observing, Joel explained the mapping procedure. For each flagged object, a mud map (i.e. a rough sketch with detailed dimension measurements) is drawn. These measurements are used on land to more accurately construct the object. Once resized, the object is transferred to mylar paper and sketched on the larger map.
On Saturday morning, we rose early and headed to BISC to begin our day of diving. On our first dive, I accompanied Tara Van Niekerk, a Ph.D. student from ECU, as she collected some measurements at the Boxcar site. This shallow, small site was surrounded by seagrass and crowded with divers as everyone worked diligently to get their measurements. Next, we traveled to Morgan’s Wreck, the other undocumented site, where Matt gave me and all unfamiliar with the site a tour. Much larger than Boxcar, Morgan’s Wreck is located at about 30 ft and provides divers more room but also gives them more artifacts to sketch. My day ended with a trip to Pollo Tropical, a must-visit according to several members of the SRC crew.
The next day, I accompanied Matt and Jessica Keller, an archaeologist for the SRC, on three dives at Morgan’s Wreck. While underwater, I assisted with measurements and got the chance to sketch my own object. Without any maritime archaeology experience, my first sketch of a simple box was awful. After each dive, I would ask Jess and Matt questions before returning to my box on the subsequent dive. Finally, by the last dive, I had adequately taken measurements from an aerial view (i.e. only width and length), and I had used a compass heading rather than angles to orient my object to the baseline. A baseline is a line that runs along the “middle” of the site and is used to orient objects at the site. The baseline is made of a strong cave line with a tape secured alongside.
On Monday, we took the opportunity to catch up on mapping and determine what drawings were missing. At each site, numbered flags were placed on each object. Therefore, we were able to determine which points were missing. Excited to draw my simple box, Charlie Sproul, an archaeologist from SEAC, explained the dimensions of the map and how I should go about transferring my object. At that moment, I realized I incorrectly measured again. To orient an object on the map, we used two types of measurements from the baseline. When objects are close to the baseline, baseline offsets are utilized. For this measurement, a tape runs from the baseline at a 90-degree angle to the object. Trilates are when two measurements are taken from a single point on the object to two separate points on the baseline. The length of the tape and location on the baseline is used to determine the position of the object relative to the baseline. Often trilateration and offset measurements are taken before an object is drawn by using the numbered flag as a measurement point; therefore, the diver sketching the object must label the location of the flag on their object…something I neglected to do.
Ready to correct my drawing, I headed out with Jess, Joel, Charlie, and Arlice Marionneaux, an American Conservation Experience intern at BISC. After a day full of more diving and more measuring, I was excited that I finally had all the necessary information to add my box to the map. Over the past few days, with trial and error, I had learned a lot. I developed a massive appreciation for maritime archaeology and enjoyed assisting the group over the next few days as they worked to finish the mapping at Morgan’s Wreck.
In addition to our normal crew, while at BISC, we were accompanied by a team of filmmakers who were working on a slavery documentary. While their film is still in the early stages, I got the opportunity to observe document filming first hand, both above and below water. During my week, I also got the opportunity to play with my camera and capture the gorgeous organisms that populated the area around Morgan’s Wreck.
After completing a majority of the mapping, some of the group shifted their priority to jumping anomalies. Last year, in association with the Slave Wrecks project, the NPS dragged a magnetometer around a large portion of BISC’s marine habitat in search of the Guerrero, a Spanish pirate slave ship that wrecked in the Florida Keys. In 1807, Britain and the United States both passed legislation to end the slave trade; however, slavery was still legal in the United States. The heavily armed Guerrero would attack other slave ships and forcibly transfer the Africans to their boat so they could sell them for profit. In 1827, while patrolling for slave ships, the HMS Nimble, caught sight of the Guerrero. The fight ended with both ships running aground. Tragically, 41 enslaved Africans were killed when the Guerrero sunk, while hundreds of survivors were recaptured and transported to Cuba to be sold into the slave trade. For more detailed information, check out this video which was produced through a partnership between the NPS SRC and Curiosity Stream.
During their search for the Guerrero, the group identified over 1,200 anomalies. When the magnetometer was pulled across the ocean surface, the GPS coordinates were recorded when the device sensed iron. While iron can be found on wrecks, it can also be found on anchors, lobster traps, and other marine debris. To examine these anomalies, we traveled to these GPS coordinates, dropped a buoy with a weight, and then completed snorkel or diving surveys to determine what triggered the magnetometer. We spent around 10-20 min at each spot, depending on visibility. If we discovered anything of significance, a picture was taken, and a detailed description was recorded at the surface. At 1 of 12 anomalies checked on Thursday, Bert Ho, a survey archaeologist for the SRC, and I found a large piece of wood with nails. Yes, that was the most significant find out of all twelve anomalies jumped that day! While it seems trivial, jumping anomalies was awesome. Not only did you get to experience different dive sites around BISC, but there was always the small hope that you would stumble onto an undiscovered wreck.
After another day of anomaly jumping and a lovely day off, I was fortunate enough to spend my Sunday with Ronnie Noonan, the 2018 OWUSS REEF Intern. Based out of Key Largo for her internship, Ronnie was able to accompany Joel, Jess, Dave Conlin, Chief of the SRC, and I as we visited several wrecks in BISC. Blessed with spectacular weather, we explored four sites along the Heritage Trail. Joel took the time to point out significant ship structures to Ronnie and I. In addition, with Ronnie’s assistance, I got the opportunity to test my fish identification skills. Having been trained to do REEF surveys in Bonaire, I was excited to try my hand in Florida waters. Not only were my fish ID skills a little rusty, but identifying fish while snorkeling made the process far more difficult.
That evening, after a lovely day on the water, I accompanied Dave, Joel, and Arlice at the welcome barbecue for Youth Diving with a Purpose (YDWP). YDWP is a nonprofit organization that works to teach students about ocean conservation and maritime archaeology. As an offshoot of Diving with a Purpose, one of their focuses is the maritime history and culture of African Americans. For the final days of my internship, I would be assisting YDWP as they ran their maritime archaeology program at BISC.
On Monday, we assisted YDWP with their archaeology coursework by setting up a mock wreck for the students to practice baseline offsets and trilates. While in Key Largo with YDWP, I was also fortunate enough to grab lunch with my friend, Lydia. She was an intern with me in Bonaire, and I was extremely excited that we got the chance to catch up. For the next two days, Arlice, Dave, Andie Dowell, Josh Marano (an archaeologist for BISC), and I traveled to an undocumented wreck in BISC and observed as the students practiced underwater mapping. With slates and tapes in hand, the students worked diligently to find objects, sketch them, and record their position at the site. In addition to helping YDWP, I worked alongside Dave to uncover artifacts with a metal detector. This site was discovered while jumping anomalies last year, and archaeologists need more information before determining whether or not the site is the Guerrero.
Working with YDWP was a privilege. Not only did I meet a group of enthusiast students, but the instructors were clearly passionate about the underwater world as well. Thanks again Dave for allowing me to assist with this program for the final days of my internship!
After drying my gear one last time and packing up my bag, I was ready to head home for a few days before traveling to Washington, DC. While in DC, I would present about my summer internship to various members of the National Park Service.
Thanks to the members of the SRC, SEAC, and all their colleagues who were willing to teach a biologist some archaeology. I really enjoyed my second trip to Biscayne National Park. I got to participate in a project entirely out of my realm, and I had a spectacular time!
A week has passed since my last day at REEF and I am home reflecting on all the fins I got to see during my three months in The Keys.
I was able to help trained NOAA volunteers by going out on turtle walks. During the months of June and July, Loggerhead sea turtles come ashore in Islamorada to nest. On our Sea Oats Beach, we had 21 nests and 15 false crawls this season. A false crawl is a marked incident where it looks like a turtle has come ashore to nest but there was no nest dug; this usually happens if the turtle gets spooked or the conditions are unfavourable.
After 60 days since being marked, nests are checked regularly for signs of hatching. I was able to help excavate 3 nests this summer and released 3 baby turtles that were trapped in a nest. We collected data on the number of eggs and which of those were hatched/unhatched. Then we open the unhatched eggs to record if they are fertilized or not. All this information is important to monitor the turtle population in the area.
Since getting to know more fish species, I have started to appreciate seeing rare fish. For example, finding these Papillose blennies was a real thrill.
I spotted them during a dive with Allison and Carlos Estape who are established REEF members and fish ID experts. Carlos was very excited by my find as this was the first time they have seen this species in the keys or otherwise. It is an especially rare find because it is not listed in the Alligator Reef and Evirons paper which is the most comprehensive list of species of the area to date; it contains 618 different blenny species!
Another set of small fins belongs to the Mangrove blenny.
Amy Lee, REEF Trip Program and Communications Manager, informed us that she had seen a Mangrove blenny while snorkelling through some dock pilings. This was surprising news because Mangrove blennies have only been described to be in Cuba. So, we organized “The Great Bayside Blenny Hunt”. The group of us pictured below went out to find this far from home fish.
After a couple of hours snorkelling, we were able to capture two live specimen and obtain in situ pictures. The specimens were sent out to a lab for DNA sequencing and we received word that our predictions were correct: this was in fact a Mangrove blenny. Thanks to our efforts, it was the first time its DNA had been sequenced and the first specimen captured in Florida since the 1960s.
A high percentage of my summer consisted of helping with educational programs. A specific one that I will always remember is Force Blue. Force Blue is a program that unites Special Operations veterans and marine conservation professionals to create a team of conservation warriors. Force Blue employs these veterans’ highly trained diving skills to assist in conservation efforts which accomplishes two missions: helping to assimilate combat veterans to civilian life and supply aid and bodies to citizen science initiatives.
REEF participated in this program by training The Blue Force team to contribute to our database by surveying fish. We also educated them about the lionfish invasion and trained them to properly remove lionfish. It was an amazing opportunity to dive with these men and to learn a little bit about their world. For some of them, this was the first time they had seen a coral reef despite being trained divers for many years.
As far as the question I asked in my first blog, how REEF’s extensive database can be used to engage a wide audience on ocean conservation, I have decided to answer that by staying on past my internship to help with the Fishinar program. Fishinars are REEF’s brand of interactive webinars designed to teach the finer points of identifying fish. They are meant to be an aid for those already involved in our Volunteer Fish Survey Project and an introduction to fish surveying for those who are not. Fishinars can also be on relevant topics of ocean conservation.
I will be helping to grow this program by sourcing different advertisement opportunities and creating topics to deliver a Fishinar myself. Speaking, as a form of science communication, is a passion of mine and I am excited for the opportunity to grow that skill.
My time here at REEF gave me first hand experience in the world of marine conservation. Because of this experience, I now have a better understanding of where I want to contribute in the future. The connections I made and the chances I had to grow my skill set were invaluable. I have many people to thank but especially my supervisor, Ellie Splain for giving me the trust and encouragement to accomplish my goals this summer. As well, thank you to the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society who without, this experience would not have been the same.
Over the past couple weeks diving has been spotty due to the high seas and busy schedule of Doug. However, the Rasher Lab did go out for a few day trips to the southern coast of Maine by Casco Bay. Unfortunately, kelp has seemed to up and disappear from these previously inhabited sites. Remnants of small horsetail and sugar kelp plants are scattered infrequently. The fleshy red seaweeds that are warm water toleratant comprise a majority of the hard rock substrate that kelps usually thrive on. Morale on the boat is always a little lower when the dive sites are seemingly barren, a situation that was happening at every site in Casco.
The highlight of the last couple weeks was when Chris took our dive class to Monhegan Island on a dive charter. I had previously dived Monhegan with Doug and Thew earlier in the summer; however, I was still excited because Monhegan is known for its steep mountain cliff faces and sheer drop-offs. Small swim throughs between rocks and mega-fauna like seals abounded, while Mola Mola greeted us as we approached our dive site. This wasn’t at all like the 5 and 10-meter kelp collection dives. Our first dive had a deck (depth limit) of 120 feet, Chris wanted us to experience and see first-hand how inversely proportional depth and remaining bottom time were as a person went deeper. At 120 feet, we had 13 minutes at depth before we would run into decompression obligations. We also were given the opportunity to don a redundant gas supply, a small 20 cubic foot pony bottle, which I was eager to opt for, both for safety and to practice carrying the gas.
In a tropical setting with over a 100 feet of visibility, diving to depth of 100 feet seems almost effortless. Little thought and worry crosses a person mind (although maybe it should) when conducting such a dive. Here though, in Maine, in 50-degree water with less than 40 feet of visibility, and over 30 pounds of weight, drysuit, and a redundant gas bottle – there was a lot to think about.
When looking at my dive computer while descending it seemed like feet turned into inches; 90 feet down, seconds later, 100 feet, 110 feet. We slow our descent by becoming neutrally buoyant. At 120 feet you begin to feel the onset of nitrogen narcosis affecting your judgment. You get a sense of euphoria and lose some of the sharp mental acuity you may have had at the surface. Personally, I thought to myself, “what in the world am I doing at 120 feet with all this stuff on me.” I was sucking through air and usable bottom time like no tomorrow and signaled to my buddy to ascend to a more suitable depth. Besides, there’s nothing to see at 120 feet anyway. The dive was successful with everyone returning to the boat safely. After a quick lunch break, we drifted around the island to a dive site reminiscent of some of our sampling sites.
After the dive trip, there were few opportunities to dive. My last classes of AAUS consisted of water rescue skills and a DAN Pro first aid course. In the past, I’ve found that CPR/general first aid classes have been mainly lecture and some hands-on work – a boring afternoon with little information retained. Yet, Chris completely flipped my past experiences upside down. Broken up between two weeks, the DAN Pro CPR and first aid course was a hands-on opportunity to learn, review, and discuss different methods of life-saving and patient care. What made the class helpful was that it was a discussion, Chris was obligated to teach the DAN standards, yet after, he would give his advice and wisdom from his years of experience in situations he’s been in as a volunteer firefighter. He would also ask if we’ve been taught differently from other organizations or know something different. This dialogue made the class blow by and actually improved the retention of information, for me at least. At the end of class, Chris provided the class with small rectangular slates with general CPR guidelines, how to providing emergency oxygen, how to assembly a DAN oxygen kit, and a neurological assessment slate. These will be stowed in my save-a-dive dive kit; hopefully the only time they will see the light of day is when I renew my CPR certification!
My last dives with Doug and Thew couldn’t have been much better. We had an overnight trip planned around the Mount Desert Island region. We took the Silver Sides and started the two-hour boat ride north toward Acadia. It was a perfect day with calm seas which spared our spines from the usual waves of the Gulf of Maine. I was particularly excited for this overnight trip because we would be camping on an island instead of getting a motel room or just driving back to Bigelow. The only downside to a long day of cold water diving is you want a warm shower when you get back, a luxury we were not afforded on an island in the middle of the ocean. However, what this small island lacked in amenities made up for in beauty.
The dives in this region were kelp dominated especially at the five-meter depth. In the past, our dives had little kelp for me to collect, and when there is little kelp, I usually can complete my collection process just as Doug or Thew is done collecting percent cover estimates. Not on these dives. On one occasion, there was such an abundance of kelp that Thew was so used to me being finished when he got done with his job he started reeling up the transect line and handing his quad to me to carry back to the surface. After about 30 seconds of me trying to get his attention and communicate that I was only halfway done, and still had two more full square meters to harvest. He then re-laid the meter tape and he held the bag and stuffed the kelp as I cut the stipes by the handful. When we got back to the boat we had a pretty hardy laugh about the incident as he said, “Yeah, I was reeling in the tape and saw you signaling me, I thought we were done… nope, you were only halfway.”
After our dives, we headed to the secluded island to camp for the night. One thing about pulling up with a boat was the whole shoreline was rocking, and with nine-foot tides, we couldn’t just park the boat on shore or even very close. Thew had to anchor the boat offshore and swim to the island in his dry suit. A job that Doug and I concluded would be best for the previous division one colligate swimmer. We set up our tents and then ate dinner on the rocks, a Pad-Thai dish Thew made the night before. After dinner, we sat on the rocks eating some cookies and watching the sunset. It had been an amazing summer with incredible experiences and even better people culminating in a beautiful last moment, as dusk turned into night and the stars appeared one by one – a place to reflect on my summer and think about my future. Doug and I stayed up talking about my next steps in the immediate future, and his plans for his research. The peacefulness of the night faded away as daylight approached. The lobstermen were out in force or it seemed like it at least. The engines in those boats produce the most ridiculously load noise at 5 a.m. It doesn’t help that sound travels on water, but you would swear the U.S. Navy was conducting some operation with the noise that was produced by these boats.
The next day was my last AAUS class of the summer. In the morning, we went to Pemaquid Point for a fun dive. Chris asked to be my dive buddy citing “It’s my last dive here” a bittersweet moment, I’d accomplished so much over the 100-hour class and the summer as a whole, which I could be very proud of, yet after this, it’s was coming to end. I asked Chris to take the lead on the dive because for the last dive I just wanted to enjoy myself, not worry about navigation, and let the professionals worry about that! The dive was a good one, we saw fish! Yes, there are actually some fish in the Gulf of Maine! I also saw the biggest lobster by far of the summer hiding in a crack. I swear the claws were bigger than my hands. After our first fun dive, it was back to the DMC to concluded our rescue exercises and put them to a test in a simulated live rescue.
Class ended on a high note, after we got done diving, cleaned and rinsed our gear, we head to the air condition library at the DMC to take our pictures for our AAUS certification cards. We also got to learn our dive class nickname, a tradition Chris has been doing ever since his first class at UMaine. The class will get their class picture framed and hung in the dive locker with the nickname below. We were gifted with the name “the lone divers.” Being there was only three of us we also were given specific names, “Tonto, Lone Ranger, and Silver.” Somehow I was relegated to Silver, maybe a more fitting name then I truly realized at first. Chris even signed off on his last email to me “Hi-Ho Silver,” he always knows how to make a person laugh and keep it lively.
My Internship was a complete success. I earned my AAUS dive certification and got a lot of hands-on research with Doug at Bigelow. I also made friendships that will last a lifetime and made connections that will indefinitely help me in my future search for underwater science exploration. My plan at the moment is to go back to school at Lawrence University to complete my senior year. I will graduate early — this Thanksgiving — and I plan to come back to Maine and continue to help Doug and Thew with diving in the winter months. I hope to continue my education in a Ph.D. program studying inter/intra-species interactions in either kelp forests or coral reefs. Thus, if you’re reading this and know of — or have — an open spot and funding for a PH.D student I’d love to get connected with you!
This is my last blog for my internship summer, and I have many people and organizations to thank. Thank you, Dr. Lee, Somers and Martha Somers for your extreme generosity. A special thank you to Chris Rigaud, Doug Rasher, and Thew Suskiewicz. Chris was an incredible host, he was a great mentor that was willing to go above and beyond to make my internship enjoyable and fruitful, whether it was loaning me gear or being on call if I ever had a problem. Doug went above and beyond as a co-host. He gave me every opportunity possible to dive, was willing to give me advice and mentor me in the realm of graduate school, and made me feel at home in his lab. Thew, was a great teacher and mentor. He was extremely patient with me when I was first identifying seaweeds and taught me all about good dive practices. His methodical attention to detail kept me in check and productive the entire summer. Thank you to Our World Underwater Scholarship Society, American Academy for Underwater Sciences, and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. Thank you OWUSS and AAUS for giving me this opportunity and supporting me throughout the process and in the future. Thank you, Bigelow, for housing me and making me a part of your world renowned scientific community. Thank you, Katherine Newcomer, for your wisdom and guiding me through this internship. Jenna Walker and Stephanie Roach for all your hard work behind the scenes, coordinating these wonderful internships and coordinating with USIA. Thank you USIA for letting me use your amazing drysuit, without it I would have been one frozen popsicle. Thank you to everyone else at OWUSS, AAUS, and Bigelow, for your hard work which makes internships like this possible. I had a blast and I look forward to sharing my experience at Lake Tahoe at the AAUS symposium, and the OWUSS annual weekend in New York.
With that, Chris – I look forward to diving with you again in October! Doug – be ready for more hipster music when I come back in the winter! Thew – congratulations on the new baby!
Signing off for the last time, your Our World Underwater Scholarship Society 2018 Dr. Lee H. Somers American Academy for Underwater Sciences intern.
After arriving in Miami the previous day, in the early hours of Monday morning, Kathryn Grazioso, a marine ecology intern for the South Florida/Caribbean Network (SFCN), picked me up and drove me to the offices of the SFCN inventory and monitoring team. After loading the truck, Mike Feeley, a marine ecologist for SFCN, Kat, and I headed to Key West with the 29-foot boat in tow.
To manage park resources and collection information about ecosystem health over time, the NPS created 32 inventory and monitoring networks. These networks collect and analyze data about the marine and terrestrial ecosystems of over 280 national parks. The data is then used to inform management decisions. The South Florida/Caribbean Network I&M Program encompasses seven parks: Big Cypress National Preserve, Biscayne National Park, Everglades National Park, Virgin Islands National Park, Buck Island Reef National Monument, Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, and Dry Tortugas National Park (DRTO).
For the next 10 days, I would be assisting SFCN’s marine team as they completed their annual benthic monitoring at DRTO. The MV Fort Jefferson would serve as our transportation to and from the park and our home base. MV Fort Jefferson is a 110-foot, NPS boat used to transport staff and supplies to DRTO. Aboard the Fort Jeff are three crewmembers: Captain Tim, Brian LaVerne, and Mikey Kent, the Park Diving Officer at DRTO.
After unloading our gear onto the MV Fort Jeff and receiving a tour of the quarters, we grabbed dinner in town and appreciated the final few hours of civilization. At 9 am, the following morning, the MV Fort Jeff left Key West and began its 5 hour trip to DRTO (located 70 miles west). DRTO is a 100-square mile national park; however, with only seven small islands, a majority of the park is the ocean. Fort Jefferson, located on Garden Key, the second largest island in DRTO, was designated a National Monument in 1935. The monument was officially expanded and redesignated as Dry Tortugas National Park in 1992. There are only two ways to reach DRTO: boat or seaplane. While a ferry brings tourists to DRTO once a day, today the MV Fort Jefferson held not only the SFCN crew but a DRTO ranger, several DRTO interns, and a few visiting scientists.
Upon arriving at Fort Jefferson, Captain Tim parked the vessel as everyone on board watched in awe. In the blazing heat, the SFCN group gave Kat, Tom Hyduk, another marine ecology intern, and I a quick tour of the Fort Jefferson. Construction of the Fort Jefferson began in 1847, and although never finished or fully armed, this impressive 19th-century fort was used as a military prison during the Civil War, a coaling station for warships, and a deterrent for passing enemy ships. Today, park staff work to protect the fort and return the impressive structure to its former glory.
After our tour, we headed back to the MV Fort Jeff and began loading our boat with dive gear for our afternoon practice dive at Bird Key, located south of Fort Jefferson. At the site, before jumping in, Rob Waara, a marine biologist for SFCN, and Lee Richter, a marine biological technician for SFCN, set up a line/buoy for us to moor on. The purpose of this dive was to practice finding metal pins nailed into the substrate and learn how to set up the tapes for the transects. These pins marked both ends of a transect, and a predetermined compass heading was used to find the terminal pin from the start pin. Compass headings and distances also dictated the whereabouts of the subsequent transects. Photographs taken in previous years provided a little context when searching for the pin; however, the coral head or gorgonian located adjacent to the start pin in 2010 may not still be there in 2018.
On Wednesday, we headed back to Bird Key to begin our first day of collection. To mark the location of our first pin, we dropped a buoy attached to a dive weight at a known GPS coordinate. Affectionately known as “Kitty” because of the zip ties tied around the weight resembling whiskers, this buoy drop system allowed us to effectively travel from transect to transect at the surface between dives. On our first dive, Lee, Rob, and Mike set up the tape at the first transect. Rob then took video, while Mike and Lee swam down opposite sides of the transects collecting coral disease or coral species data. Upon demonstrating the data collection process, they signaled Kat, Tom, and I to continue ahead and begin looking for pins. During our two dives that day, Kat, Tom, and I successfully laid a few more transects while quickly discovering the with low visibility finding these metal pins was going to be harder than expected.
With two dives complete, we puttered back to the MV Fort Jeff with one engine. Unfortunately, during transport, one of the engine’s gas lines was damaged and began leaking gas. That night, we watched Captain Ron, a required viewing if you are visiting DRTO on the MV Fort Jeff.
The next day, we returned to Bird Key and followed the same transect/benthic survey procedure. While we spent most of our dives heavily focused on the compass or tape in front of us, as we traversed around, it was hard not to notice the spectacular rugosity at Bird Key. In addition to setting up transects, Tom, Kat, and I were responsible for cleaning the pins (i.e. removing the encrusting organisms). To do so, Kat carried a massive, dull knife to smack the pins clean. While this may sound silly, the knife was extremely effective and also produced a loud noise that often notified the remaining divers of our location.
After collecting data from the remaining transects on Friday, we moved onto our next site Santa’s Village, located north of Fort Jefferson. Unlike the previous site, Santa’s Village had larger coral heads which dominated the ocean floor and left little space for seagrass and sand. In addition, pin-organization wise, this site was easier to navigate and required shorter swimming distances between transects, which was good because the site’s depth meant less bottom time. On Saturday, having left Bird Key and the mooring spot officially, we transition to live boating. For the next few days, as we finished up Santa’s Village and continued onto Loggerhead Forest, we would arrive at the site, drop Kitty, then Tom, Kat, and I would head down to set up transects. Sometimes, Rob would accompany us to film each transect. After returning to the boat, Lee and Mike, who had switched from open-circuit to closed-circuit, would descend to collect data. Their rebreathers allowed them to stay down for extended periods of time, which was especially useful since both Santa’s Village and Loggerhead Forest had a lot of disease.
One afternoon, after a lovely day of diving, Mikey convinced Tom, Kat, and I to take his tiny sailboat out into the harbor. With limited to no sailboat experience, we all hesitantly agreed. Luckily, Kat had some sailing knowledge and was able to keep us from getting stranded. While we struggled slightly with the sails, we did not capsize, and we returned to shore on our own. So overall, I would consider that a success!
As the days began to meld together, Tom, Kat, and I became very in tune with each other and could have entire conversations underwater solely through hand signals. On the final few transects, we also all practiced data collection. Colony count data would be used to determine disease abundance, whereas species lists helped to understand the diversity at each site. On our final survey dive, we were treated to visitors. Curious dolphins watched as we set up our first transect before disappearing into the abyss.
With all benthic surveys complete, our final 1.5 days would be spent collecting HOBO data from the non-annual sites at DRTO. In total, SFCN has 14 sites around DRTO were benthic surveys are completed. Only three sites are surveyed yearly, while the remaining 11 sites are patch reefs with less relief. Therefore, they are checked every few years on rotation. However, no matter the rotation, the HOBO data (i.e. temperature loggers) needed to be checked every year. To do so, 2-3 divers would descend after Kitty was dropped. Then the team would search for small floats tied to a pin. Upon finding the pin, the floats would be replaced and using a shuttle, the data from the two HOBOs at each site would be transferred underwater for future analysis at the surface. If the HOBO transfer failed, the device was taken to the surface for repair. On our final HOBO dive, Lee, Kat, and I saw a bull shark at our safety stop. Kat and I were just a little excited about seeing our first shark of the trip, especially since it felt like Rob, Lee, and Mike saw one every dive.
With HOBO collection complete, we stopped at Loggerhead Key, the largest island in DRTO. The island is home to a lighthouse and a few small houses. Currently, an intern lives on Loggerhead Key and performs turtle walks daily in search of new nests.
As our time at DRTO winded down, we packed up our gear and prepared for the ride home. Our last day at DRTO was July 4th. And while no fireworks are allowed within the park, with a clear sky and amazing lightning storm over the fort, fireworks were definitely not missed as a mix of SFCN, and DRTO employees sat on the bow of the MV Fort Jeff.
On Thursday morning, the boat left the dock and headed back to Key West. When we pulled into the harbor, the SFCN crew worked together to load the vehicles, trailer the boat, and begin the long drive back to Miami. After several bumps in the road, we made it back in the evening. I was fortunate enough to find a home that evening with Kat. The next day, I would once again head to Biscayne National Park. This time, however, I would spend time with the Submerged Resources Center and Southeast Archeological Center as they participated in the Slave Wrecks Project.
Thanks to the fantastic group at SFCN for welcoming me into the family for 10 days. We dove, we laughed, and we ate a lot of cheese balls! Also, thanks to the DRTO group and MV Fort Jeff crew for making my visit to DRTO spectacular!
Quick facts about DRTO:
- 46% of DRTO is a Research Natural Area which was created so the ecosystem could recover with limited human disturbance (i.e. no fishing is allowed)
- Called “Dry” Tortugas because no freshwater can be found on the keys
- Spearfishing and lobstering is not permitted within the park
- More than 200 bird species pass through the area during spring migration
After 2½ months of living the dream, I have to say goodbye to lovely Durham this week. This summer was definitely not enough time to accomplish everything — I would need about a year to finish the multiple dive safety programs and test them out. That being said, I did accomplish quite a bit in this short time, from “saving” the online seminars to starting a module for DAN First-Aid instructors looking at effective teaching practices. It was a hard-working summer that I wouldn’t change for the world.
As I am packing, I have been reflecting on this wonderful experience, full of new people and opportunities. From the other interns in Research to the people who make up DAN, everyone has been a pleasure to meet. I am so blessed to have been able to see first-hand how this company functions.
I would really love to thank DAN, for sponsoring this internship and allowing me to be in this environment; Patty, for being an amazing mentor and teacher these months; and lastly to the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society for creating this internship with DAN.
This summer was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I am so happy that I was able to experience it.
Now I am on to my next adventure: senior year at Old Dominion University!
This week was a hectic week, I received my drysuit from USIA, I had AAUS class, a day dive with Doug and Thew, and had to prepare for the five-day trip DownEast.
I was extremely excited to get my drysuit so thoughtfully given to me by USIA. As much as I love diving four times a day in a wetsuit, I will be more comfortable in my drysuit and able to focus even more on the science at hand. I am drysuit certified already but that was back in 2016. I metaphorically and literally was thrown into the deep end on our day trip out to Mohegan and Allen Island to test my drysuit for the first time. After a quick buoyancy check and 4 pounds of weight added to my setup, I was under the water and dry! During my four dives of the day I hadn’t had too much trouble adjusting to my new dive setup; however, my position in the water seemed a bit more vertical than horizontal. My feet most of the time seemed to be above my head. I’ll just brush that off and attribute it to me having to get down close to the substrate ripping out all the small little seaweeds which would lead to my awkward position.
The dives themselves with nothing especially out of the ordinary. The collecting procedures are the same, but we have become more efficient as a team both under and above the water. One positive about going to these different islands and places along the Gulf of Maine is I get to experience Maine from the water. People, when they travel to Maine, might take a day trip out to an island and back, they get to experience a small fraction of the coastline and islands that Maine has to offer. Me on the other hand, taking day trips and overnight trips up and down the coast of Maine, I get to experience a wide array of beautiful scenery, with the best vantage point — the water. After the day trip to the different islands. I had all of Tuesday to process and digitize all the samples collected.
Wednesday was the 4th of July, yet there is no rest for the wicked, and we could not afford to miss an AAUS class. Chris gave the dive instructors the day off and with one student sick it was a very small class. Our task for the day was to relocate sand screws using compass bearings we took last week at the same dive site. These sand screws were placed in the middle of eelgrass beds. Once we located the screws we were to run a transect out and quantify percent eelgrass cover. There was a small competition between the students as to who could come up with the best sampling procedure. Chris would be the judge, and the winning procedure was the one we would use in the field. Nick won the competition and we would be using his protocol to conduct percent cover of the eelgrass along with height, substrate type, and lobster/crab counts. This exercise was to help the student dip their toes into underwater diving research. Chris gave Nick and me free rein to plan the dive, locate the screws, and conduct the survey while just watching above. We were using similar material like when I dive with Doug and Thew, transects, quadrats, and writing slate. Thus, for me, I felt this was good practice to try and focus on my buoyancy skills while conducting the survey. In reality, the data we were collecting was just an exercise. I think there were more important aspects of scientific diving that Chris wanted us to see and try and work through. One of these skills was underwater communication. I found it key when diving with Doug and Thew to have good underwater communication. In our work together, we often place each other’s quadrats at the meter tape or ask if one person can move on to the next meter mark, or just asking if they are okay. Being aware of what your partner is doing under the water is a principal component of scientific diving. Another foundation principle is buoyancy especially with a sandy or silty substrate. In those conditions, one needs to pay attention to hanging gauges and equipment and especially their fin kicks. Even a hand touching the muck can disturb and add a plume of dirt into the water and into your quadrat. We worked through these skills and surveyed two sand screws in two eelgrass beds. Another successful day of class.
The following Thursday and Friday was purely prepping for our DownEast trip. As a Midwesterner and especially as someone from Minnesota the term “DownEast” was extremely confusing for me. To Mainers, DownEast means north, up the coast. I understand the east part because Maines coastline juts out to the east but I still don’t understand the down part. I call everything up, “up north” “I’ll come up to visit you,” even if someone was south we would still call it up, but I digress.
For this trip, we would be trailering the boat and taking a four-hour car ride north of Acadia National Park to the fishing town of Jonesport. This 5-day diving excursion posed some logistical problems like air fills. The nearest shop to fill our scuba tanks was an hour and a half away so instead of wasting our precious time driving there and back, the kind researchers at the Maine Department of Resources let us borrow extra scuba tanks. We brought 28 tanks in all, and our arms got a pretty good workout lifting them all. Another logistical piece was to bring
enough collection/sampling equipment along with all our processing equipment. During these five days and four nights, we were living out of a motel, not an ideal place to sort and process samples. However, we brought our whole lab sorting equipment with multiple plastic bins and sorting trays of various sizes. Lastly, we needed to bring extras of most things. Besides our BCDs and exposure suits we had extra of almost everything, writing slates, quadrats, meter tapes, collection bags, multiple save a dive kits, coolers for kelp storage. It was quite the process of getting everything organized and then trying to fit it in the back of a truck.
The trip was from Saturday to Wednesday and we would have some help diving. Liz Maxwell a fellow scientific diver from U. Maine who previously dived with Thew would be joining us for one day. We also had Courtney there to help with general organization and seaweed processing. She was also the main DJ for the trip, as we remembered a portable Bluetooth speak which as Doug put it “Increased the coolness of his lab.”Our days were long, but fruitful, with fun mixed in too. Morning wakeup calls would be at 5:45 to promptly go to breakfast by 6 a.m. We would be out on the water all day with long boat rides to far east sites. We won’t be back to the samples at the motel unit 5pm most nights. Our work did not end there; we would usually go right from diving to sorting for three hours or so before cleaning up and going to dinner at Helen’s. Something that was on everyone’s mind at the end of a long workday Along the Bold Coast, where we would be sampling the water was cold. The surface water was a balmy 50 degrees and temperatures at depth were as low as 47 degrees. My drysuit came in handy keeping my dry and happy all day every day. Like I said early, in my drysuit, I am happy and comfortable at the end of a four-dive day. The first day of diving because of Liz I only had to dive twice instead of four times. This was a pleasant break from under the water and gave me a glimpse of what Doug and Thew do above the water. While diving the surface people are transferring the seaweeds from collection bags to storage bags, organizing the boat, and just enjoy the sunshine. With my time not diving on the first two dives, I got to take some great but maybe less the flattering images.
These dives would follow the same procedures as the previous ones with our efficiency going through the roof. I’ve started while collecting the understory to try and identify each species before putting it in my collection bag. Ironically, identifying the small red seaweeds can be easier in the water than online. On the surface the frilling reds clump together making their distinguishable markings hidden; however, in the water, the frills of the seaweed are flowing making them somewhat easier to identify.
During the days of diving, we had a diverse array of sites, some silted out with little kelp and seaweed, and others with an abundance of large kelps.
One site, in particular, exemplified a mass aggregation of primary productivity. It was our last dive DownEast, and we were diving at the site named Ram Island. In past surveys, the kelp has not disappointed and that was sure the case this time. Doug and I after the dive both proclaimed that this was hands down the best of the summer so far. Our opinions were backed up by my collection bags which were overflowing with kelp. There was so much kelp per square meter that some of our collection bags were too small to put all the kelp and understory in them. The dominated kelp was L. digitata. These kelps can get big, four feet or so, but the length of the kelp is not the impressive part of this species. Instead, the stipes of these kelp are most impressive. The stipes are significantly larger than one’s thumb and have multiple three to four-foot-thick blades originating from the bottom. One plant can weigh a couple kilograms if it’s big enough. In one square meter, there was over 13 kilograms’ worth of kelp, not including the understory which covered the floor! It is amazing to see such primary productivity in such high abundance, a true sight to behold. It was a great farewell to DownEast and from there it was back to Bigelow to continue processing the kelp.
Next week will be less diving and more data entry from our recent trip. AAUS class as usual and our class has scheduled a boat charter to dive on Monhegan Island which will be a great experience in a less formal scientific training setting. Rumor has it we will be doing some deep diving. Thank you, USIA for the gift of dryness, to the DMR for lending us the tanks, and as always OWUSS and AAUS for this underwater adventure.
In 1962, the USS Arizona Memorial was constructed over the sunken vessel to commemorate the lives lost in the Pearl Harbor attack and allow visitation of the site. The National Park Service took over operations in 1980 and worked jointly with the US Navy to open the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center. An executive order in 2008 established the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument (VALR) which placed the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Utah Memorial, USS Oklahoma Memorial, and several other WWII sites under the care of the NPS.
I arrived at VALR on Wednesday morning and was blown away by the crowd and the visitor center, which was updated in 2010. When I was about seven years old, my entire family traveled to Hawaii on vacation. Other than losing my mask to the waves, the only memory I have of the trip was my visit to Pearl Harbor. I was excited to return and to work alongside the NPS.
Upon heading to the rangers office, I was greeted by Scott Pawlowski, Curator and Park Dive Officer at VALR. Scott explained our plans for the next few days, detailed the diving program at the park, and gave me a quick tour of Ford Island. For the remainder of the afternoon, Scott gave me the chance to explore the visitor center. Since the expansion, the center allows visitors to visit the three memorials while also having access to the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, and the Pacific Aviation Museum.
During my visit, the USS Arizona memorial was closed due to an engineering issue with the floating dock connected to the Memorial. However, I watched the short documentary and took a boat tour over to the ship. On Dec 7, 1941, about 15 minutes into the attack on Pearl Harbor, the USS Arizona was bombed by the Japanese. The bomb detonated in the powder magazine and caused the violent explosion of the ship which killed 1,177 servicemen. While 21 vessels lay sunk or damaged after the attack, almost half of the casualties on that day are attributed to the USS Arizona.
My next stop that afternoon was the USS Missouri. Located across from the visitor center and accessible by bus, this American battleship was commissioned in 1944. Most significantly, on September 2, 1945, the deck of the USS Missouri was the site in which the Allied and Axis powers signed an agreement of peace. After being decommissioned after the Korean War, and then recommissioned to provide support in Operation Desert Storm, the USS Missouri was decommissioned her final time in 1992. Upon completing her active naval service, in 1999, the USS Missouri was placed as a centerpiece in Pearl Harbor to help symbolize the formal ending of World War II.
My final two stops of the day were the Pacific Aviation Museum and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum. The USS Bowfin was launched exactly a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor. This fleet attack submarine now resides by the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and allows guests to explore her narrow hallways while learning about her nine war patrols between 1943 and 1945.
With no diving scheduled until Friday, I spent the next day on base working alongside Scott and Stan Melman, current archivist at VALR. My first project was to unlock several CDs which contained eyewitness accounts of the attack. Once unlocked, these CDs would be shared with the public and used to add to the historical record. Unfortunately, even after much research, I was unable to unlock the CDs. While I felt defeated, I still eliminated a few potentials and hopefully made success more likely for the next individual.
My second project of the day was to research waterproof and oleophobic fabrics or coatings that could be used for an upcoming project. The USS Arizona went down with about 500,000 gallons of oil and is still leaking about 9 quarts a day. To prevent oil from contaminating the surrounding ecosystem, later this year, Scott and Brett, Deputy Chief and A/V Specialist at the SRC, hope to create a collection tents that they can capture the leaking oil. Previous attempts have failed because the materials were compromised by the underwater environment and exposure to oil.
While spending the day in the office, I was also given the amazing opportunity to join several military personnel on a tour of the historical collected led by Scott. The historical collection at VALR includes over 60,000 objects ranging from photographs, drawings, memorabilia, diaries, newsletters, etc. that pertain to the War in the Pacific. The collection is used by the park for public programs; in addition, the park works to preserve and protect these resources while making the archives available to researchers. Each item in the collection tells its own unique story.
On Friday, I arrived at VALR with my scuba bag in tow. Currently, VALR has a small dive team which dives 30 to 120 times per year depending on the needs of the park. The purpose of today’s dives was to replace the buoys on the USS Arizona and USS Utah. Buoys placed at the bow and stern of each vessel are changed every 6-7 weeks. Even with only a few weeks in the water, the once clean, white buoys are quickly covered in encrusting organisms. To eliminate the hours wasted cleaning organisms and oil from the underside of the buoys, Scott devised a plan to wrap the buoys in saran wrap. After preparing four buoys, Scott, Stan, and I met up with Dan Brown, Concessions Management Specialist at VALR and our third diver.
When the memorial is open, usually the VALR dive team relies on an O2 kit and dive flag located at the front of the memorial. With the memorial closed, we took a few additional minutes to load our small boat at the visitor center. After notifying the NPS and US Navy by radio of our dive operations and boating plans, we slowly migrated to the USS Arizona and began setting up our gear. With a giant stride from the dock, Scott, Dan, and I were in the water with the new buoys in tow. As we swam towards the stern against the surface current, I watched as Scott quickly clipped on the new buoy before removing the previous one. After repeating the same procedure at the bow, Scott, Dan, and I ducked under the surface to complete an orientation dive.
Diving the USS Arizona was a surreal experience. Today, this vessel remains the grave for over 900 servicemen who died on December 7, 1941. And while over 1.5 million people visit the memorial each year, I was among the few to have the privilege of diving such an important landmark of American history. As the silence of the underwater world set in, I thought of the many men who lost their lives that day and the efforts of the NPS and US Navy to protect the USS Arizona.
As we explored the USS Arizona, Scott pointed out a well-preserved section of tile from the kitchen and a patch of wooden decking peaking out from under the sediment. With limited experience on wrecks, I was surprised with how well many of the artifacts on the USS Arizona were preserved. From kitchen bowls to pots to shoe soles, every piece of history made the vessel feel as though a lively crew had just inhabited its hallways.
In contrast to the death the vessel represents, life in the form of marine creatures can be found at every surface. Beautiful feather duster worms extend their radioles into the water column while sea cucumbers twist themselves around the diverse sponge species that cover the now abandoned deck. The USS Arizona is around 30 ft at the deepest point. After surfacing, Scott commented on the spectacular visibility. Unbeknownst to me, 15-20 ft visibility on the USS Arizona was rare due to its location in the harbor. So not only was I fortunate to dive the site, but I was also lucky that my dive buddy was in view. While we, unfortunately, ran out of time to dive the USS Utah, I will never forget the afternoon that I spent diving the USS Arizona.
Before leaving Hawaii for the mainland to continue my adventures, I was fortunate enough to catch up with Erika Sawicki, the 2017 OWUSS AAUS intern. Last year, she spent time at Scripps Oceanographic Institute and worked alongside NOAA at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. If you are interested in learning about her internship, click here.
Thanks for all those who welcomed me to World War II Valor in the Pacific Monument. Even though my visit was short, I am so thankful that this internship gave me the opportunity to return to Pearl Harbor and observe all the amazing work the NPS does at VALR. Next stop, Dry Tortugas National Park with the South Florida/Caribbean Network Inventory and Monitoring Program!
Quick facts about VALR
- During the busy season, certain areas of the USS Arizona are riddled with debris as tourists lean over the memorial railing and drop their glasses, wallets, etc.
- Survivors of the USS Arizona are permitted by the US Navy to have their ashes spread on the wreckage
- 23 of the 37 sets of brothers serving on the USS Arizona died in the attacks on Dec 7, 1941
- VALR is located within the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickman, therefore, only military and park service divers are allowed to dive the USS Arizona and USS Utah
On Sunday, after arriving in Honolulu the previous night, I caught an 8-passenger plane to Kalaupapa National Historical Park (KALA). I was picked up at the airport by Eric Brown, the Park Dive Officer and a marine ecologist at KALA, and his wife, Claire, who have lived on the peninsula for 13 years. After a quick tour of the settlement, Eric dropped me off at Bay View Home, my home for the next week. Built in 1916, Bay View Home originally served as a group home for older, disabled, and blind patients.
With no known cure in 1866, as Hansen’s Disease began to spread across Hawaii, the current monarch (King Kamehameha V) decided to exile thousands to the isolated peninsula. Families were broken as children and spouses were ripped away from their homes and relatives. Patients of this isolated colony were treated as prisoners with limited access to resources and reduced contact with the outside world. Over 8,000 people lived and died on this remote peninsula. By 1949, forced isolation at Kalaupapa had ended and the lives of patients drastically changed as the new superintendent promoted social activities and lifted restrictions that prevented patients from holding jobs. Officially, the Hawaiian isolated policy was not abolished until 1969, at which time, patients were given the choice to remain or leave. Today, Hansen’s Disease, otherwise known as leprosy, is curable and is one of the least contagious of modern-day communicable diseases. In 1980, Kalaupapa National Historical Park was established to protect the remaining residents and preserve the history of the peninsula. Nine patients still remain in Kalaupapa with about 70 national park service and department of health employees.
Upon arriving in the office on Monday morning, I met the natural resource management team and set out in search of green sea turtle nests with Alexandra Engler, a participant of the International Volunteers in the Parks Program, and Yubee Isaac, a UH Hilo National Historical Park Intern. Every morning, they checked the nearby black sand beach for nests. On average 5-6 nests are found per year at KALA, unfortunately, no nests had been observed this season.
The remainder of my Monday was spent at sea. In partnership with the University of Hawai’i, acoustic receivers were placed in the waters surrounding KALA. In previous years, large pelagic fish and sharks were tagged with acoustic transmitters. When they swam near these strategically placed receivers, the movement of these apex predators was recorded and then studied. With the study complete, Randall Watanuki, a maintenance mechanic at KALA, and I spent the afternoon diving to remove these receivers. Using GPS coordinates, Randall and I would jump into the rough seas only to be met with a calm underwater environment that allowed us to quickly locate the receivers and unhook them from the ocean floor.
The following day was spent practicing the benthos and fish monitoring protocol that the marine team would employ later in the summer to monitor 30 sites around the peninsula. In the harbor, Eric laid five, 25 meter transects. Along each transect, Eric counted the number of fish and estimated their size. Fish density and species richness would be determined from this data. As Eric focused on fish counts, Randall and I took turns measuring rugosity with a chain and operating the camera. Photographs taken at every meter were analyzed to determine coral cover and disease prevalence. Though the harbor was a relatively barren, shallow habitat, the morning dive gave Eric and Randall a chance to refresh their skills in preparation for the busy monitoring season.
On Wednesday morning, I accompanied Alex and Yubee as they monitored Kalaupapa’s monk seal (Neomonachus schauinslandi) population. Endemic to these islands, monk seals are an endangered species once almost hunted to extinction. Currently, there are around 1,300 monks seals throughout the Hawaiian islands. To monitor the seals, Alex and Yubee walk along the beaches in search of the mother’s and their pups. Monk seals spend a majority of their lives in the water; however, females return to the beaches where they were born to give birth. They then remain on land with their pups for about 2 months before abandoning the pup and returning to sea. After being weaned, the marine team at KALA in association with NOAA Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program, measure the pups, given them immunization shots, and tag their flippers so they can continue to monitor the pups as they grow. The purpose of these morning walks was to not only check in on KALA’s population but to determine whether any new pups were ready to be tagged.
In the afternoon, Eric, Randall, and I completed a short, harbor dive to set up a mooring for the park boat. Due to the large swells and rocky shoreline, Eric wanted a place further from shore to attach the boat when necessary. This dive gave me the opportunity to observe some shallow maintenance work while exploring the nearby ecosystem.
With more receivers to remove and water samples to collect, the marine team loaded the boat on Thursday morning and headed out for another adventure. Similar to our previous dives, Randall and I successfully collected three more receivers even after battling some strong surface currents. While Randall handled the tools, I controlled the line for the surface buoy that marked our location. In between dives, I assisted Eric, Randall, Yubee, and Alex as they collected water samples from three predetermined sites. At each site, a Niskin bottle was used to collect water from the surface. The samples were filtered and then stored for later analysis. Two snorkelers would also enter the water at each site. With a multiparameter instrument attached to a float, they would lower the device to depth to collect data such as water salinity and temperature. Water quality data collected around Kalaupapa’s peninsula allows Eric to monitor any water chemistry trends that may influence the marine ecosystem.
Upon returning to shore and drying our gear, Alex and Yubee were kind enough to invite me over to their home for the evening. Staff Row, built between 1890 and 1930, originally served as housing for the medical professionals living at the settlement. Today, these buildings are home to a group of interns working for the National Park Service. We spent the evening trading stories as we enjoyed an outstanding ratatouille dish cooked by Alex.
While our work week was behind us, Yubee, Alex, and I awoke early the next morning to begin our hike to the topside of Molokai. Kalaupapa National Historical Park is accessible by plane or by a single hiking trail. The trail is around 3 miles, 1,600 feet, and has 26 switchbacks. No roads connect the small settlement of KALA to the 7,500 people living on the other side of Molokai. Many inhabitants of KALA, hike this trail multiple times a week to get groceries, visit topside, and/or live with their families who reside topside. Unlike Eric, whose impressive trek takes less than an hour, Alex was patient as Yubee and I took our time. We were enjoying the scenery while simultaneously catching our breaths.
Upon reaching the top of the trial, Eric drove a group of us down 10 miles to Kaunakakai, the largest town on the island, home to two grocery stores. There we explored the small, lively town while filling our bags with groceries and our stomachs with ice cream. After returning to the settlement, that evening, I joined several members of the community for their weekly potluck and movie night at Tim’s house. Tim is the chef for the nine patients who remain on the peninsula.
After enjoying a relaxing Saturday morning, I accompanied Eric on a weekly monk seal walk. Starting at the Kalaupapa airport and ending at the harbor, we walked along the shoreline to count the monk seals, record their activity and habitat. To prevent seals from becoming accustomed to humans, we stayed low and avoided eye contact. During the walk, we observed three nursing mothers, a pregnant female, and multiple weaned pups playing in the shallows.
Monday morning marked my second to last day at Kalaupapa National Historical Park. In the morning, I assisted Randall as we filled the boat’s gas tank. Due to a sizable swell, we were unable to pull the boat against the dock. Instead, Randall and I swam three gas tanks out to the boat. Upon returning to headquarters, we were greeted by Erika Johnston, ‘Ale’alani Duboit, and Emily Conklin. All three are Ph.D. candidates in the Toonen-Bowen lab at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. For the next week, they would be freediving and collecting samples of two native coral species for a connectivity study. We spent their first day in the field at two sites. At each site, we collected ~20 samples of each species from separate coral colonies located around 15-20 feet deep.
My final morning at KALA was spent at the settlement’s nursery. Alongside Ryan, a volunteer for the terrestrial team at KALA, Yubee and I helped transfer juvenile plants to individual containers so they could grow freely. While the nursery was filled with native plants, most of Kalaupapa’s peninsula is inhabited by non-native species. Pittosporum halophilum (native coastal species) and Reynoldsia sandwicensis (native crater species) were the two species we transferred. After growing in the nursery, these plants would be transferred by the terrestrial team to their natural habitats. While the re-introduction of these native species at the crater had worked well due to their fenced environment, the plants sent to the coastline of KALA had seen limited success due to deer predation.
After our trip in search of the pregnant monk seal ended with no success, Eric, Yubee, Alex, and I jumped into the trunk and headed to the airport. With my baggage in tow, I climbed into the small plane, this time crowded with seven other passengers and headed back to Honolulu, Hawaii. Before returning to the mainland, I would spend the next four days at World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.
Thanks to the amazing team at Kalaupapa National Historical Park for welcoming me with open arms. You made me feel like a member of the community, and I look forward to hopefully returning in the future!
Quick facts about KALA
- Following my departure, KALA welcomed its 11th monk seal pup for this season beating a previous record set in 2013
- Once a year, a barge brings large items like furniture and cars to the peninsula
- The only gas station on the peninsula is open 3x a week and each person is limited to a specific amount of gasoline – therefore most people travel by bike
- To enter KALA, you must have a resident sponsor. For tourists, permits are provided by the Kalaupapa resident owned and operated tour company, Damien Tours