It has been an incredible summer down on the Kenai Peninsula to say the least. It is hard to put into words how many new experiences I have had and how much knowledge I have gained over the past three months. I am endlessly grateful for OWUSS, AAUS, and Dr. Brenda Konar for allowing me to have this experience as the 2019 AAUS Mitchell intern.
In addition to diving in Kachemak Bay’s rich and diverse kelp forest ecosystem, I had the chance to work in the rocky intertidal, seine fish along the beach, survey marine birds and mammals from boats, operate ring and trawl nets, use underwater drills, and even hike upstream to sample a glacial stream. As an ecologist coming from Colorado with a background in tropical marine ecology, the cold water ecosystem of Alaska offered a new lesson just about every step of the way. It is one thing to learn about one of the most common examples of a keystone species, the sea otter, in an ecology class in a landlocked state, and it is another to be immersed in an ecosystem where the kelp-urchin-otter dynamic is occuring. I have come away from this summer feeling more confident as a scientific diver, possessing a strong drive to continue asking questions about this system, and being humbled at the wealth of knowledge and skills the amazing mentors I have had the pleasure of working with hold and are willing to pass on.
One of the most important pieces of advice I received before beginning this internship was to always say yes to opportunities. After three months of saying yes to every chance I got to go on a dive, go out on a boat, or help with something new in the lab, I have compiled a non-exhaustive list of firsts sprinkled with photos.
- First time setting foot in Alaska!
- Put on a survival suit (just for fun)
- Dive not in a 3mm wetsuit
- Dive in a drysuit
- Sea otter in the wild
- Whale!!! Yes, I freaked out.
- Sea star in the wild
- Dive in a kelp forest
- First time catching a fish!
- First time working in the intertidal
- Beach seine
- First time operating an underwater drill
- Delightful experience of walking through knee deep mud near a seagrass bed
- 100th dive!!!
- Drove zodiaks
- Seal in the wild
- Sea lion in the wild
- First time seeing an iceberg… this one surprised me, too
- Taste of glacier ice
- Sunset over Kasitsna Bay
- Tossed a salmon
- Saw a puffin
Lucky for me, this is not a list of lasts. Alaska has stolen my heart and I have decided to stay a bit longer than just one summer. In Spring 2020, I will be beginning my masters in marine biology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. This means that I get to continue to learn and grow as a scientist under the mentorship of Brenda Konar, as well as return to the Kasitsna Bay Lab next summer.
This opportunity has been so much more than a summer internship. I have grown as an individual, a scientist, a diver. It has been a springboard for my career in marine ecology fostered by invaluable experiences and supportive mentors. I recognize that this field has been built by the scientists and divers before me and I am humbled by their contributions. As a member of OWUSS and AAUS, I hope that I can pay it forward so other young scientists like myself can continue to make their exciting lists of firsts. So, thank you to the building blocks of this experience: OWUSS, AAUS, the team at the Kasitsna Bay Lab, and most of all, Brenda Konar!