DownEast

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

Tanks filled and ready.

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.

 

Doing some tree trimming with the RV Silver Sides.

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.

12 different seaweeds separated to be placed in an oven to dry them out for a comparison between wet and dry weights.

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.

Kelp can be as small as this juvenile.

Kelp stipes can be massive, or…

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.

Kelp covers the sea floor.

 

Doug writing on his slate.

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.

-Shane

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WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument: Learning our History and Honoring the Sacrifices of Many

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.

On Dec 7th, the USS Utah was hit by two torpedoes which caused the vessel to flood and sink. After several failed attempts to raise the ship, the decision was made to leave the vessel in Pearl Harbor.

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.

With no visitors crowding its deck, the USS Arizona Memorial stood peacefully in the harbor

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.

The massive three-gun turret located on the front deck of the USS Missouri

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.

After touring the tiny hallways, I took the opportunity to enjoy the sunny deck of the USS Bowfin Submarine

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.

After an office-filled day, I drove to the North Shore community of Haleiwa to enjoy the sunset and some ice cream

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.

Scott works diligently to replace the buoy on the bow of the USS Arizona

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.

When built the USS Arizona had twelve 14-inch guns, now only three of these guns remain as the other triple gun turrets were salvaged after the attack

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.

Soaking up the sun with Erika before spending the next 20 hours traveling back to Florida

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
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Kalaupapa National Historical Park: An Isolated Hawaiian Paradise

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 my duffel, dive bag, and groceries in hand, I climbed aboard to begin my next adventure!

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.

Natural Resource Management Building at KALA

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.

Alex helps me out of the water after successfully retrieving a receiver PC: Yubee Isaac

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.

Practicing my underwater photoquadrat skills in KALA’s harbor PC: Yubee Isaac

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.

An adorable pup feeds from his mother while she sleeps in the shallows

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.

Eric and Randall work together to set up the offshore mooring system for the NPS boat

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.

Meet Esmeralda. This rusty truck belongs to the marine team and is used to carry scuba gear to and from the docks. When the barge arrives this summer, the team will say farewell and a new truck will take Esmeralda’s place.

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.

With limited access to gasoline and a relatively flat landscape, a majority of the workers use bikes to get around

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.

What a view! PC: Alexandra Engler

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.

Enjoying the scenic views and calming breeze from my hammock, while avoiding the falling coconuts

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.

Eric gets a closer look at the pregnant female’s flippers to determine whether she has been tagged

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.

Erika and ‘Ale’alani freediving below the waves to collect coral samples along KALA’s coastline

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.

Hiding in the shade of the nursey as we replant a few hundred juveniles

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.

Alex, Yubee, and I pose in front of the tiny KALA airport PC: Eric Brown

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
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Behind the Scenes!

This week we did not go on any field trips, but it was far from boring!

DAN is in the middle of a website “makeover,” which includes the online seminars being offered at no charge to their members. With the introduction of the eLearning platform, all existing modules needed to be copied from the original platform, then formatted to fit the eLearning platform. I downloaded and formatted seven different modules, plus the modules used internally by the Institutional Review Board. Programs to check out later when they are launched are:

  • Pathophysiology and Decompression Illness
  • Breathing Underwater is an Unnatural Act
  • Inert Gas Exchange, Bubbles, and Decompression Theory
  • Ears and Diving
  • Diabetes and Diving
  • Optimal Path
  • Pathophysiology of DCI

This is what the formatting screen looks like before an image is added.

And this is what the formatting screen looks like after an image is added.

This is what the final product will look like on eLearning.

This was a great experience — much different from what I had been doing here with the field trips and the classes. It was so cool to be able to go “behind the scenes” to help build the DAN online education programs.

The other project I am working on is creating a program for DAN instructors on education theory and teaching methodologies. I am focusing on “effective teaching practices” for adult learners. This is something I have been looking forward to since Patty brought up the idea. The process and research that needed to be done for this program are so different from what I am used to — teaching practices for children. It is interesting to see the other side of teaching practices and compare what I have learned in my university classes with what I am learning here.

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Lionfish & Shipwrecks

Now that we are through with camps for the summer, my remaining weeks will be spent either at the office or at a lionfish derby. The lionfish derbies are part of REEF’s Invasive Lionfish Program. They consist of dive teams, freediving or scuba diving, which collect lionfish by spearfishing or netting. There are prizes for the most, the biggest, and the smallest lionfish.

Lionfish first started appearing on the Florida coastline in 1985 due to aquarium releases. Since then, they have spread to most of the Caribbean directly competing with native fishes. The last derby in Ft. Lauderdale brought in 506 lionfish from 7 teams! Our derbies are a great community event that help educate people on the detrimental effects of releasing a non-native species


Our remaining derbies for the summer are in Palm Beach and Jacksonville. Aside from taking lionfish out of the water, the other objective of these derbies is to demonstrate how tasty lionfish are. We serve free lionfish ceviche at the derbies and have a culinary competition by participating chefs. If we can increase the demand for lionfish by patrons at restaurants and grocery stores, then removal efforts by divers will become more cost effective.

Two weekends ago my regular days were interrupted by a welcomed guest, Shannon Brown the OWUSS NPS intern! We managed to connect while she was here in South Florida at Biscayne National Park. She and other members of the NPS team took me out to the Maritime Heritage Trail to significant and very old ship wrecks. I did what I do best and conducted a fish survey on these wrecks. Because I am not AAUS certified, I could only snorkel these areas, but I was able to see plenty!

Shannon and her co-worker, Joel, changed my perspective on Marine Archeology. While I was busy being distracted by the biology of the area, they were marvelling at the stories the structure of the ship could tell. With their help, I was able to appreciate what I was seeing a little bit more and understand their excitement for maritime history. Shannon tried on my hat and conducted a fish survey herself which she was very proficient at! The entire NPS team was extremely welcoming to me and it was a great reminder of what a privilege it is to be apart of the Our World Underwater network.

Thanks again to Shannon for the pictures and to Dave Conlin for the warm welcome!

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Farm to Table — Kelp to Processing Table

This week was dive intensive. Early in the week, Monday and Tuesday, I finished digitizing the old kelp data thus making it possible for Courtney to make maps of the kelp using geographic information systems (GIS) using ArcMap to visualize the data. Using these maps, we can see that kelp is moving further north to colder waters, along with a change in species composition. Cold water species such as Alaria esculenta are virtually non-existent in the warmer southern waters which are predominantly inhabited by other species like Saccharina latissima and Laminaria digitata.

Predicted percent kelp cover from 1997 survey data. Dark regions signify greater kelp cover; whereas, lighter areas represent less kelp cover. Created by Courtney Stuart.

       

Predicted percent kelp cover from 2004 survey data. Dark regions signify greater kelp cover; whereas, lighter areas represent less kelp cover. In 2004 there is a resurgence in kelp cover in all four sampled regions in the Gulf of Maine. Created by Courtney Stuart.

Hattie, a dive master for the AAUS class, having some fun with a giant scallop!

On Wednesday I had my third AAUS class. This class is always a highlight of the week due to the close community we have formed in such a short period. With only six people in the class, three instructors and three students, it is a more intimate and fun atmosphere with jokes and laughter flowing each day. Chris keeps the class upbeat but keeps us focused on learning and our diving tasks for the day. This Wednesday we headed to my neck of the woods, Bigelow Labs, to complete a dock dive from their property in the Damariscotta River. The purpose of these dives was to plan and execute a multi-level dive starting at 45 feet and progressing upwards. Bigelow is uniquely suited for a dive like this, right off their dock is 20-30 feet of water and a short 20-foot swim will drop you into 60 feet. We completed two multi-level dives while getting to experience a different environment from our previous dive site Sand Cove. We saw massive kelp, five to six feet long, and giant scallops almost the size of dinner plates. Lobsters, Jonah crabs, and Green Crabs inhabit every crack and crevice.

Thursday was finally my first true scientific dive a Bigelow! We woke up early and prepared the gear and loaded the boat to be on the water by 8:00 a.m. We had four dives planned for the day – two dives at Damariscove, one at 10 meters the other at 5 meters, while two more dives at Pemaquid at the same depth profiles.

We will be sampling these two sites plus 18 others this summer. Each site has been sampled back in 2004 with little knowledge about the changes over the last 14 years. The return of these kelp beds to Maine have been understudied in the past years. The aquatic ecosystem in Maine long ago was a more diverse system with many trophic levels and a complex food web. Cod was a top predator eating smaller fish and keeping the sea urchin population at bay. However, in the 1950s we started fishing cod and nearly fished cod to extinction in the 1990s. Without these top predators left in the waters of Maine, sea urchin population spiked. Sea urchins are incredible but destructive organisms. Their appetite is unquenchable; urchins can eat 2-4 percent of their body weight each day! Sea urchins also have a preferred food of choice: kelp. Thus, with the fall of cod and the spike in urchin populations, kelp was quickly being eaten and obliterated by the urchins. In 15 years kelp beds, like cod, were gone leaving empty sand and rock patches with only urchins, known as “urchin barrens.” However, Mainers are resourceful and like to make money. Urchins and their gonads are a valuable delicacy in Asia and quickly people started to dive and snorkel for these small spiny creatures. The business was so lucrative and easy that in less than ten years Mainers had fished almost all the sea urchins from the Gulf of Maine. In those ten years, it is estimated that 250,000,000 urchins were taken from Maine’s waters!  With the decimation of the urchins, kelps soon started to return to the Gulf of Maine. And here we are today, kelps are returning, yet no one really knows how much has returned, which species returned, and what proportion of species make up these kelp beds. These questions, along with others, are the questions that Doug and Thew are trying to answer. To answer these complex ecological question means collecting data, and collecting data means getting in the water, and getting in the water means SCUBA diving! Now my summer has really begun!

While I’m in the water, Courtney starts handing me collection bags, and quadrats from the boat.

The dives at Damariscove and Pemaquid were an entirely new experience for me. Unlike recreational dive, scientific diving has a unique feel to it. You have a mission, an objective, and you are simply using SCUBA to accomplish that goal. You aren’t diving for the pleasure of seeing kelp beds and lobster, although it’s a bonus if you like the work! On each dive, I am either diving with Doug or Thew while the other stays on the boat as surface support. Each diver is loaded with gear for the dive: writing slates with underwater paper, collection bags, transect tapes, and quadrats. A bit cumbersome on land and the surface, but underwater it is manageable. All dives start with a descent down the anchor line to the bottom. Depending on those ten-foot tides it could be anywhere from 30 to 45 feet. Once we reach the bottom, we either are directly over a kelp bed or swim a few meters to the start of one. I wait at the starting point while the other diver runs the 10-meter transect across the bottom. While the other dive is doing that, I place one of the half-meter quadrats at the two-meter mark. After laying the transect line, Doug or Thew will come to that first quadrat to begin analyzing and quantifying everything inside, including percent cover of the different kelp species. They will record the type of substrate these seaweeds are growing on and if there are any crab or lobster in the quadrats. After they are done they will move to the left side of the two-meter mark on the transect, then the right side at 4 meters, left side at 4 meters, doing this until they reach 8 meters.

Thew trying to record percent coverage of different seaweeds in the quadrat.

After they record their data I come in and place my quadrat in the same place and begin to collect all the kelp in the quadrat. Kelp can be as big as 6-7ft or as small as an inch. Each kelp is put in a collection bag and will be later measured and weighted. Not only do I collect all the kelp I also collect all of the small understory, the small little seaweeds that cover the bottom. After both divers collect their data we pick up the transect and ascend back to the surface. We will take a short break moving to the next depth or site while getting new collection bags ready and fresh sheets of underwater paper.

The dives themselves take anywhere from 25 minutes to 1 hour. We left Bigelow at 8 a.m. and were back by 4 p.m. The water was cold, only 52F, and doing all four dives can get pretty cold. I have been graciously gifted a drysuit by USIA however, at this point it is being shipped to me, thus I’m diving a 7/8mm semi-dry which tests my fortitude. Being wet and in 50-degree water for 6 hours at a time is definitely an experience. But I love it. That’s why I came here to dive, and there was plenty happening this week.

After our one-day dive trip, we had Friday to process the samples I had collected and prep for a three-day research cruise to Hurricane Island. Hurricane Island is 10 miles southeast of Rockland and two miles southwest of Vinalhaven in the Fox Islands archipelago, Penobscot Bay, Maine. The island has a small staff along with cabins which provide hands-on education programs and research opportunities focusing on marine sciences, for all ages from middle school to adults. The island is run completely of the grid, with solar panels generating the electricity and a gravity fed pump for water. The simplicity of the island is charming. 

Loading the Silver Sides for our trip to Hurricane Island.

A fully load boat! 18 tanks, 3 sets of dive gear, sorting geat, and our clothing.

Our three-day trip, Sunday-Tuesday, was a work-filled fun time. Going on the trip was the usual crew: Doug, Thew, Courtney, and I. We woke up early and loaded our trusty boat, the RV Silver Sides, and started on the 1.5hr ride to Hurricane. After getting there we immediately unloaded our essential research gear and got a quick tour of the facilities. Doug has an “in” at Hurricane, Phoebe Jekielek, the Program Director for the Island. They were good friends in the early stages of their careers at the Marine Darling Center. Phoebe is this wildly funny, free spirited person with a smile that is contagious. After our dives when we would sort our samples, she would come to hang out and tell stories of when Doug and she were younger and all the “shenanigans” they got into. So after our quick tour, we jumped in the boat to go on our dives for the day. Similarly to our last dive outing, we would be sampling two sites and two depth using the sample procedure and protocols as before. It was nice to have Courtney on the boat, as an extra set of hands to help out. After a couple of long hours, we headed back to Hurricane.  

Hurricane Island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Late night sorting. Thew measures and weighs each kelp, Courtney sorts the understory, Doug trying to key out the similar looking species, and I record the species weights and length. Processing samples can take anywhere from 2-4 hours so good music and a speaker is key!

A goat cheese salad, with fresh beets along with crackers and hummus — yum.

Serendipitously, that Sunday Hurricane Island was providing a farm to table dinner, one of three they put on for the community in the summer. This white tablecloth, five-course meal, was the talk of the town and somehow Phoebe squeezed us four grubby scientists on the guest list. When we unloaded the boat we looked like a motley crew, wet, tired, dirty, and even slimy from our kelps. None of us packed nice clothes for such an occasion making this event even more comical. We cleaned up as best we could and dressed to the nines (jeans with ripped holes, and rain coats) sat for an amazing meal. Seared scallops, kale salad, halibut, pork and polenta, and rhubarb cake. Doug and Thew continuously reminded Courtney and me that this is never how nice research trips usually are and we should be extremely lucky. After the dinner was over we all slowly and painfully and to leave to process our samples, sorting, identifying, measuring and weighing kelps and seaweeds into the night. Monday was the same plan, get up, dive, and process samples. Hurricane provides it residents breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all of which are high quality and fresh meals. Although they aren’t five-course meals we still were spoiled. They even packed us an amazing lunch of salad, beets, hummus, and crackers.

In the span of our three days at Hurricane Island we dove 12 times at six different sites. Each morning was an early wake-up call, load the boat, eat breakfast and be on the water by nine. Our nights were long, getting back at six or seven followed by cleaning and rinsing gear and ourselves. Dinner would promptly follow with our day ending in sorting our samples, which took three hours with all of us working hard. It seemed like a short trip with us always being on the move or needing to complete some task. I enjoyed my time on the island and would love to go back to visit and hike their trails. For more information on Hurricane Island: http://www.hurricaneisland.net/

Next week we will take a day trip to Monhegan and Allen island and I have AAUS class. During the week, we will be preparing for our down east trip which should bring lots of diving and stories. Thank you to Pheobe for being an amazing host at Hurricane and to Courtney for the GIS maps. Thank you OWUSS and AAUS. 

Until next time – Shane

 

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Counting Kids not Fish

One of the programs here at REEF that I mentioned in my last post is the Explores Education Program. I am working specifically on the Ocean Explorers Camp. This is an environmental camp with an ocean focus for kids ages 7-12. Each day we are in or on the ocean in some capacity doing activities like snorkeling and kayaking. We host the camp at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

The responsibility to physically be at camp as a counsellor switches between interns. When I am not actually there, I am working on camp curriculum design. This is one of my independent projects I have undertaken. Thanks to my last position, I have experience in environmental education camp program design. I am thrilled to be given the trust and support to exercise this skill set.

In my previous position, I learned and implemented Earth Education Guidelines into my designs. Explained to me by my supervisor but synthesized by Steve Van Matre in his book, Earth Education, “Earth Education is the process of helping people live more harmoniously and joyously with the natural world.” By following the guidelines, you can hope to achieve three outcomes: feeling, understanding and processing. Essentially you aim to create programs that emotionally connect participants to the environment while also having them achieve an understanding on a subject of importance. The last outcome focuses on the participant’s own impact on the environment and how they can take action towards positive change.

I am hoping to take my knowledge and experience using these guidelines to create a comprehensive program design that can be used by REEF in years to come. One of the program components I am creating is a “New World Scavenger Hunt”. Working with a local museum, The Florida Keys History & Discovery Centre, I have gathered information and resources on what life would have been like for the early European explorers and the Native American population of the area. The goal is to have the kids experience how these people interacted with the environment around them. My desired outcome on this particular component is to teach the kids that it is important to look at our past and the perspectives of others to make smart decisions about our environment.

Education is in REEF’s name and I am excited to contribute.

 

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The end of my Alaska adventure

I left off my last blog post while I was aboard The Lituya motoring along from Juneau to Prince of Wales with Ginny and her husband Matt. My trip down was spectacular. The weather was great and the opportunity to spend a few nights on the boat, anchoring in places with almost no one in sight was out of this world. The first night we anchored in glassy waters just outside the bay of a town called Kake. I will honestly never forget the feeling of sitting on the boat as the sun was setting watching the eagles soar over the water and trees.

The next morning was met with rivaling views. As the fog cleared after our early morning departure, the most magnificent reflection I’ve ever seen was created on the water. The second day was packed with spotting sea otters (which would later come in handy when learning to do sea otter surveys with the Prince of Wales team), dodging kelp, and navigating the Rocky Passage, a big but shallow short cut Ginny decided to take. 

We made it to our destination in Prince of Wales later that day but had time to spend before our meet up on the North of the island with the team the following day. We decided to check out a small bay called Hole in the Wall, named because of its extremely narrow passage, which can only be navigated at certain tides. Luckily our timing was perfect and Matt and Ginny were able to navigate through. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and spying for black bears on land.   

The following day I hopped off the boat, drove down to the south of POW and met up with some of the team. For the rest of the week I helped out with all of the intertidal sea grass surveying that took place every morning. Overall, my one week on POW was outstanding. Despite the extremely early wake ups at 2:00 and 3:00 each day to catch the low tides, I was able to help out a lot and have a great time with all the people there. For anyone interested in the science being done on POW, I definitely recommend checking out the APECS (Apex Predators, Ecosystems, and Community Sustainability) website to learn all about impacts of sea otters on ecosystems and marine resources. 

After working with the crew in POW, I flew back to Juneau for my final week and got ready to fly back home to California. This internship experience was five weeks of intensive cold water diving and field work, during which I learned new hands on techniques as well as participated in real applications of scientific processes I have recently studied in school. I undoubtedly learned more about myself and my future goals, and would like to thank the many people at OWUSS, AAUS, and the University of Alaska who made these opportunities possible for me. Thank you again to all who have followed and supported me on this journey!   

 

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Biscayne National Park: Coral Reefs, Seagrass, and Endless Mangroves

In the early 1950s, developers and conservationists fought over the future of the northernmost keys of Florida. Located by Biscayne Bay, developers envisioned building hotels, roads, and a large industrial seaport to support the growing population. The battle between the two groups raged on for many years, until 1968, when Biscayne National Monument was created. Expanded and re-designated as Biscayne National Park (BISC) in 1980, the park protects the ecological and historical resources found in Florida’s northern keys.

Upon arriving in Miami, Shelby Moneysmith, the Regional Dive Officer and a biologist at BISC, picked me up at the airport alongside Herve, her husband who works for the University of Miami in coordination with BISC. After a filling lunch, I unpacked at park housing and accompanied Shelby and Herve for a quick stop at a popular fruit stand (Robert is Here). The once small, fruit stand started in 1959 but has since grown into a huge operation which sells a wide variety of fruit and delicious milkshakes. My mango milkshake was especially delicious!

That evening, I met my roommate for the next two weeks. Originally from North Carolina, Devon received an internship to work with the interpretation department through the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Initiative. On Monday (Memorial Day), Devon and I took the free day to explore the grounds and the visitors center. While Biscayne National Park is approximately 180,000 acres, 95% of the park is water.

Due to weather, my dives on Tuesday and Wednesday were canceled. However, luckily on Wednesday, I was able to accompany Shelby and Elissa Condoleezza-Rice, a biological science technician, on one of their turtle nest monitoring trip. Every few days, six beaches along Biscayne’s keys are checked for loggerhead turtle activity. Loggerhead turtles reproduce every 2-4 years but often nest multiple times throughout the season (May-October). As an endangered species, the greatest threat to loggerhead sea turtles is the loss of habitat due to coastal development, predation, and human disturbance.

For turtle nest monitoring, we anchored near a beach, popped off the dive door, and waded towards the shore

After wading to shore at a few beaches and observing no activity, Shelby and Elissa found evidence of a false crawl on our fourth beach. When a female turtle crawls onto the beach to explore a nesting area but in the end decides to move on, this is characterized as a false crawl. At each false crawl, the surveyors marked the site, record location/site characteristics, and any additional metadata. This information prevents the surveyors from recounting the activity, and in case the false crawl ends up being a misidentified nest, they have the location for future monitoring.

Within a few more minutes, Shelby, Elissa, and I stumbled upon our first turtle nest. Compared to a false crawl, a nest was distinguishable because a patch of sand/vegetation was clearly disturbed as the loggerhead dug a chamber to store her clutch. At each nest site, we gently dug about an elbow deep into the sand to locate the clutch. Little contact was made with the eggs to limit the introduction of bacteria. To protect the nest, a screen was placed above the nest to protect the chamber from predation.

Hopefully, in about 60 days, little hatchlings will be crawling from this nest to the water

On Thursday, I finally participate in the diving operations at BISC. For two days, Arlice Marionneaux, an American Conservation Experience intern at BISC, and I planned on surveying several archaeology sites within the park’s borders. Checked every ~5 years for damage and looting, Biscayne National Park has over 120 archaeological sites. Most of these sites are known only by GPS coordinates. At each site, we used a map to locate pre-recorded wreck fragments including wood decking and ballast piles. Several sites had been damaged by Hurricane Irma, and on a few occasions, we were unable to find the marked artifacts.

Thursday was also filled with a multitude of boat problems. From radio issues to boat battery problems, our engine stopped working on a few occasions and forced us to throw anchor in a channel to prevent running aground. While stressful at the time, I learned a lot about boats and troubleshooting from Arlice.

On Friday, with a different boat, we headed out to finish several more archaeological sites. On our second of the four dives, Arlice and I visited the Lugano. Sunk on March 9, 1913, this British steamer was heading to Cuba with general cargo and 116 passengers when it grounded on Long Reef during high winds. Unlike the previous sites, the Lugano is a more exposed wreck site. While surveying the area, we observed a large diversity of reef fish, a nurse shark, and removed several fishing lines wrapped around gorgonians.

Located along BISC’s Heritage Trail, the Lugano is a well-preserved wreck inhabited by a variety of marine life

That evening, Dennis Maxwell, a park ranger at BISC, was kind enough to bring Devon and me on an evening kayak trip through the mangroves. With the visitors center in the background, Devon and I took off on the crystal clear water as the sun set over BISC. As we rounded the corner of a mangrove, we observed brown pelicans dive-bombing mullets riddling the shallow waters. To evade the pelicans, mullets jump out of the water. From our fluorescent orange kayak, the show as pretty spectacular.

Definitely one of the best ways to spend the evening at Biscayne National Park

Saturday morning began with a knock on my door. Terry Helmers, a volunteer at BISC for 31 years, asked whether I wanted to spend the day assisting with mooring buoys. With no weekend plans, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Throughout BISC, there are 40+ mooring buoys along the heritage trail and various other locations to allow visitors to easily explore their park without damaging the marine habitat below. Replaced every year, these buoys can get damaged by hurricanes or boat engines. Mostly by freediving to 10-30 ft, Terry and Ana Zangroniz, another volunteer, spend several weekends at the beginning of the summer season replacing the buoys. While I had experience freediving for fun, I struggled to stay down for extended periods of time while also expending energy to unscrew bolts and remove caked on organisms. Terry, on the other hand, could unattached a buoy and bring it the surface in one breath. It was beyond impressive!

Replacing a float underwater to mark the location of a future buoy on the Heritage Trail – PC: Ana Zangroniz

In addition to replacing buoys at six sites, Ana and Terry let me snorkel the Mandalay. Sunk in 1966, this luxury-line from the Bahamas to Miami hit a shallow reef. All 35 passengers were rescued and scavengers later stripped the vessel. Sitting in shallow, clear water this well-persevered wreck is teeming with fish life. At the surface, hundreds of chubs surrounded you as you explored every small crevice of the vessel. In addition, I saw a midnight parrotfish. While relatively common in Biscayne National Park, when in Bonaire, I was the only member of my marine station to not see a midnight parrotfish after living there for seven months. Finally, after traversing the dang Atlantic, I could finally check a midnight off my list!

 

Unintentionally, we also collected a large amount of marine debris while out for the day. With limited fishing regulations and a crowded metropolitan city nearby, Biscayne has a sizable amount of marine debris. From plastic bags floating along the surface to abandoned crab traps scattered on the bottom, Terry, Ana, and I collected what we could.

Following a relaxing Sunday, I traveled out again with Elissa and Hayley Kilgour, an NPS intern, to check for turtle nests on Monday. After observing Shelby and Elissa the previous week, I was excited to correctly identify two nests myself during the day trip. While returning to the boat, we also saw five juvenile blacktip reef sharks swimming through the shallows. In the shallows, we commonly saw stingrays or tiny fish but sharks were definitely a treat.

Aren’t they adorable? – PC: Elissa Condoleezza-Rice

On Tuesday, I assisted with the ongoing marine debris study. Previously, transect markers/floats were placed at 12 sites through the park for a lionfish removal study. After the study was complete, the natural resources department decided to use these sites to study the accumulation of marine debris. Marine debris is collected from each site once a year and the amount/type is recorded to estimate the overall accumulation. Every 6 months, markers are cleaned and damaged floats are replaced. While diving with Vanessa McDonough, a biologist at BISC, we were met with strong currents and a float bag that decided to prematurely travel to the surface. Fortunately, we managed to check the markers and to spear a few lionfish along the way.

Lionfish are carnivorous fish native to the Indo-Pacific. These beautiful fish were popular ornamental fish which were either intentionally released in the Atlantic and accidentally released due to storms. In the Atlantic, lionfish have no known predators, reproduce year-round, and compete with native fish for food and space. At BISC, biologists spear lionfish in hopes of reducing their numbers at the park. At the end of our day, we measured the total length of each lionfish and stored them in the fridge for future interpretation programs.

 

Elissa measured each lionfish while carefully avoiding their 18 venomous spines

After an eventful day in the field, I was starving. Jay Johnston, BISC’s education program coordinator, was kind enough to invite me and several other employees and interns to his house for Taco Night. Our evening was filled with chips and salsa, scrumptious tacos, and great conversation.

With Amanda Bourque, an ecologist for BISC, as my dive buddy, we completed two more marine debris site dives on Wednesday. Since these sites are apart of an ongoing study, we were not allowed to pick up any debris within the transect. Already within six months, these sites were covered in stray lines and crab traps that were hard to resist collecting.

Blue skies and calm waters….ready to dive!

Thursday was spent assisting with goliath grouper survey dives. Relatively uncommon within BISC, at previously chosen locations, 20 min roving diver surveys are used to search for this critically endangered species. Unfortunately, during our four dives, a Goliath was not observed. We did, however, manage to spear a bunch of lionfish even one that decided to hid under Elissa’s legs mid-capture.

My final day was spent monitoring the turtle nesting beaches. With no new nests, Elissa, Hayley, Suzy Pappas, and I decided to perform a short beach cleanup on Tannahill. Suzy runs a non-profit organization called the Coastal Cleanup Corporation whose mission is to remove marine debris from Florida’s coast and educate the public. She volunteers with the turtle monitoring group at Biscayne and often sponsors beach cleanups throughout the year. During our quick 30-min beach cleanup, the four of us collected 10-12 full garbage bags of trash ranging from glass, buoys, and microplastic.

Cleaning up the trash and hopefully making more space for turtle nesting – PC: Suzy Pappas

After returning to headquarters and disposing of the trash, I was greeted by several individuals from the natural resource management department. Apparently, while Herve and Austin were collecting samples for water quality analysis earlier that morning, they came across a 3 m Burmese python hanging off the buoy about 1.4 miles offshore. Vanessa, Elissa, and Herve worked together to restrain the invasive species and get an accurate length measurement. My fear of snakes definitely prevented me from jumping in to help wrangle the creature.

Vanessa, Herve, Elissa, and Hayley handled the ~17 lbs animal

In the early hours of Saturday morning, Shelby and Herve drove me to the airport so I could continue my adventure. Three flights, lots of snacks, and almost a full day later, I would arrive in Honolulu, Oahu. From there, I would take a small plane to my next destination, Kalaupapa National Historical Park.

Thanks to all the great people who made Biscayne National Park feel like home for two weeks!

Quick facts about BISC:

  • Park has four distinct marine ecosystems: a fringe of mangrove forest, southern expanse of Biscayne Bay, northernmost Florida keys, and portion of the third largest coral reef
  • Fishing and other harvesting activities are dictated by state law within the park boundaries
  • Home to many protected species including the Schaus swallowtail butterfly, American crocodile, five species of sea turtles, and elkhorn and staghorn coral
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New Adventures Start Here.

While in Maine opportunities come both under and above the surface. When I’m not diving, I have the chance to explore the state of Maine. This past weekend I decided to venture north and explore Acadia National Park. One fun fact about me is I am an avid road cyclist, so much so I had to bring my bike to Maine for the summer. So, when briefly researching Acadia and what to do over the weekend, I read about the carriage roads. These roads were commissioned by John D. Rockefeller from 1913 to 1940. These 57 miles of compacted smooth gravel roads are perfect for runners, walkers, bikers, and even the occasional horse-drawn carriage. My weekend was filled with numerous miles on my bike exploring the trails and taking in all the beauty that Acadia had to offer. The highlight of the trip was climbing to the peak of Cadillac Mountain which had spectacular views of the coast and Bar Harbor.

After the great weekend, it was back to work. Doug had signed Courtney, a summer intern at Bigelow also working in the lab, and myself up for a boating course. In the event one of us needed to drive the boat we would have the proper training and knowledge of the high seas. The class was two days and consisted of learning the entire US Coast Guard “Navigation Rules and Regulations Handbook,” survival procedures for cold water environments, a multitude of anchoring methods, and how to read and plot on charts.

After the two days of the boating course, I had my AAUS class at the Darling Marine Center. Before each class, we have designated reading material from either PADI or SDI. Our class time is spent reviewing these readings and Chris Rigaud usually gives a quick PowerPoint lecture on this week’s scientific diving skill. This week class was short due to the high tide coming in at 11:15 a.m. Here in Maine and especially around East Boothbay, the tides rise and fall over nine feet! Therefore, it is essential to get out during high tide when we have the most water. We had two dives planned in which we would be reviewing our navigation and buoyancy skills, along with other small tasks. Our first dive was fairly shallow at 30ft with the water temperature reaching a chilly 51oF. During our first dive, we practiced mask removal and replacement along with buddy breathing. Chris teaches a more rigorous buddy breathing than in normal SCUBA classes. Buddy teams must share only one regulator taking two breathes and passing it to their buddy that is holding their breath. (Well not really holding their breath because we all know the number one rule in diving — never hold your breath!) The buddy team must safely ascend using this method. After practicing these skills, we were released to plan a quick dive while floating on the surface. The only stipulation of this dive was to navigate back to the departure point.  We planned a short out and back dive along a nice kelp wall with massive kelp completely shading out the bottom. Lobsters and crabs scurried and hid as we passed just overhead.

After a one hour surface interval, we were back for our second dive. The sole purpose of this dive was to try and prefect our buoyancy and streamline our dive set up. Chris had set up two hula-hoops just big enough for a diver to squeeze through without touching the sides. In many buoyancy classes, students swim through swim rings or swim squares at fast speeds. Chris implored us to try and inch our way through, stating: “Anyone can maintain neutral buoyancy swimming Mach 3, but it takes real skill and control to go slowly through it.” The ultimate goal was to stop and hover exactly in the middle of this small hula-hoop a task I could not complete. These 25 minutes of us having fun and practicing our buoyancy is something many divers don’t give themselves. Most divers whether it be recreational, commercial, or scientific usual have some objective of the dive – exploring a reef, repairing a pipe, or sectioning the bottom. Most people do not dive just to try and work on their dive skills. I enjoyed and valued this practice time and hope to dedicate more time throughout this summer and in my life to working purely on such skills.

My first dive at Bigelow and in front of Doug and Thew was a bit anticlimactic. Due to unforeseen issues, we have yet to start collecting field data on the kelps, so this dive was primarily a check out dive for Thew and myself. Thew especially, wanted to make sure his gear was in working order and his new drysuit seals were properly trimmed. We used this dive to get oriented with each other’s equipment, weight systems, dump valves etc.. The second goal for this dive was to practice the sampling methods that I would need to carry out on a dive. The dive was short, around 20 minutes at 20 feet. The sampling method had us run out a 25 meters transect line on the bottom. Using the half meter quadrats I made, I would start at the beginning of the tape measure and lay my transect on the bottom. Any kelp stipe (the root) originating in the half meter transect was to be cut and put in the collection bag I carried with me. I would replicate this process four times – at the 2,4,6, and 8 meter mark on the meter line. The dive was successful because 1) Thew and I both gained knowledge of each others dive setups, and 2) I felt confident in the sampling procedures that I would be conducting independently on future dives.

 

Thew (left) and Doug (right) laying out all of their gear checking it over before going in the water.

To end the week, Bigelow had a BBQ on Friday for all of the employees and interns. During the BBQ there were the “Lab Olympics” going on, which had different wings of the building competing against each other in different oceanographic themed challenges. The BBQ was a good way to meet other people who worked at Bigelow and to get to know Doug and Thew on a more informal level.

From left to right: Myself, Doug, Doug’s daughter Betsy, Thew, and Courtney.

Next week we start conducting our kelp surveys. Doug, Thew, Courtney, and I will be going on a three-day dive trip to Hurricane Island to do the work.

Thank you to Our World Underwater Scholarship Society, American Academy of Underwater Sciences, and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences for giving me this great opportunity.

-Shane

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