Category Archives: Internship Journeys

Marine Monitoring at the Beautiful and Haunting Kalaupapa National Historic Park

It’s two o’clock in the morning at my house in Santa Barbara, CA. All of my housemates are asleep as I milk the last bit of internet I will have for the next week while I’m on the R/V Sea Ranger with Channel Islands National Park (CHIS). I’m trying to book my flight into Kalaupapa National Historic Park (KALA) on the island of Molokai after having no internet at back to back to back stops.

Seems simple enough, there is only one airport listed on the island. I book a flight to O’ahu and then a second over to Molokai and a sense of relief kicks in. I can now peacefully catch 4 hours of sleep and drive to CHIS headquarters.


One of the first sites you see at Kalaupapa is this art piece done by a patient that has since passed.

6 days later and I’m at my mom’s house in Los Angeles checking my email. I see an email from Eric Brown, the Marine Biologist at KALA.

Shaun, you will want to book your flight to KALA (LUP airport code) rather than topside Molokai (MKK) also known as Hoolehua. Otherwise you will have to hike the trail with your dive gear. Not an easy task.

Apparently there is more than one airport on Molokai after all. Several phone calls later, I get on the line with Makani Kai airlines. “You know not just anyone can fly to Kalaupapa. What are you doing there? Who is your sponsor?” the airline representative asks me. I give him the information he needs and 12 hours later, I’m on an 8 passenger plane flying over the highest sea cliffs in the world on the north shore of Molokai.

The view from the plane coming into KALA is the stuff dreams are made of.


One of the airline employees based at KALA comes to open the side door, “Ooooh! Looks like we’ve got all the kids on the school bus today!” He proceeds to say hi to almost everyone on the plane. I didn’t have a chance to thoroughly research KALA before I came due to lack of internet. I can tell it is smaller than I thought it was.

Taken from the front row, the planes going into KALA are small-9 people including the pilot!

“You must be Shaun!” Eric picks me out of a very small “crowd” coming off of the plane. I can tell Eric has been in Hawai’i for a long time. His grey hair contrasts with his dark tan and his mismatched flip-flops scream, or rather mumble, that he is an easy going guy.

We hop in his truck and he shows me around “the settlement,” or Kalaupapa. KALA is located on a small northern peninsula of Molokai. The history behind its current form is that it was founded as a place to send people that had contracted Hansen’s disease. Hansen’s disease is more commonly referred to as leprosy, but as this name brings many negative connotations for the remaining patients at KALA, I will refrain from using it in the blog.

No one really knows why these holes are in the floor inside of the original Catholic church at KALA. Many believe it was for the afflicted to drain fluid from open wounds that they often had.

When Hansen’s disease hit Hawai’i in the 19th century, King Kamehameha V exiled all afflicted to KALA. More often than not these were children, younger than 12 years old. Children are the most susceptible to contracting the disease. They would be ripped from their families and sent to die at KALA since there was no cure. Their families would frequently disown them as well. Hansen’s disease was thought to be genetic and it was taboo to associate with someone who had the disease.

If families wanted to visit their children, it would happen here. Families would be with armed guards on the left and children would be on the right. There was a chain link fence that ran down the middle of this table before Hansen’s disease was cured.

If the families did want to visit, they would do so accompanied by armed guards and speak to their children through a chainlink fence in a small room. Remnants of this intense segregation between patients and everyone else is all over KALA. KALA staff had their own seating sections in any shared space, all staff housing units were fenced in and patients could not enter. During this time, over 8,000 people died at KALA. Many graves are marked, but many more are not. In the 1940’s, a cure was discovered. The remaining patients at KALA were given a choice: stay at KALA and have all of your living and health costs covered forever, or leave and be on your own. Most decided to stay. Not only was the price right, but the community at KALA was the only family they’d known. As a society, we came to find out that Hansen’s disease is one of the least communicable diseases in the world and only 4-5% of the human population is even susceptible.

Here in the social hall, the kokua (helpers of patients) sat in the back section, separate from the patients in the from.

Today, KALA is very small. There are about 10 patients and 80 NPS or state employees that live in the settlement. You must be sponsored by a settlement resident to enter. Though small, it is semi-self sufficient by necessity as the settlement isn’t connected to the rest of the island by road. There is a small store (emphasis on small), gas station, hospital/care center, and garden.

Over 8,000 people have died at Kalaupapa, most of which have been buried in unmarked fields.

As I am getting settled into my new abode, Eric invites me over for dinner, “I’m vegan, special needs child if you will, so there won’t be any meat. Hope you don’t mind!” This is actually music to my ears. My diet is mostly vegan as well and it’s nice to not be a burden on the person cooking for you sometimes.

Eric at dinner with his cat that doubles as a neck pillow.

After consuming a massive stir fry, Eric takes me to the backyard. “You like apple bananas? These are ready to go and I can’t eat them all,” he says pointing up to a banana tree. I tell him that bananas would be great, especially since I don’t have food in the settlement yet.

Banana trees only fruit once and grow incredibly quickly. To get the bananas off a tree, you simply cut down the tree. Some equate banana trees to weeds that produce delicious fruit. However, I’ve never actually seen one being cut down. Eric uses what is essentially a butter knife. “You can use anything really, the trunks are real soft, it doesn’t take much!”

I am still surprised that these big trees come down so easily.

After we mind the banana resin (a stain nightmare for clothing) and grab the bananas, we game plan for the next day. “You need to go get food tomorrow. You’ll have to hike up the trail topside. It takes about an hour each way and you gain a little more than 2000 ft in elevation. Do you have a good backpack?” Eric asks me. “Yeah, I’m all set on a backpack. I just need to know where the trail is,” I tell him. “Ok, that won’t be too hard. Once you’re up there though, you’ll need to get into town. Do you know how to drive stick?” Ahhh, manual transmissions come back to bite me again. This is probably the one skill that I’ve gone the longest without learning when it comes to useful travel skills. “Regrettably, no” I respond. “That’s ok, I believe there is a bus that goes into town now too!”


The hunt for groceries starts at 5:30 AM. After choosing the wrong trail twice, I’m on the right one and half way through my switchbacks up the sea cliffs. “Hey bruddah, howsit?” a local says as he passes me. I haven’t heard “howsit” in a while, I must be back in Hawai’i!

Morning light hits the KALA cliffs.

I get to the top of the trail, hop on the bus, and get into town. Kaunakakai is a funny town. There aren’t many people, but there is always traffic because every car stops in the middle of the road to talk to their friends on the street. It feels like a glimpse into what the rest of Hawai’i was 70 years ago.

Downtown Kaunakakai feels like my grandfather’s Hawai’i.

After I buy what I need, wait for a few hours, and hop on the bus back to the trailhead, I’m on my way back down. There is an abundance of strawberry guava on the trail and I pick as much of it as I can without slowing down. I’ve never even seen it until now and it is so much better than normal guava.


We have a transect laid out on the ground and I am taking photos with a camera on the side of the transect. “This is exactly it! Keep you’re a constant distance from the ground using your monopod. We will analyze all the photos post-hoc (later) to figure out bottom composition and coral cover,” Eric informs me.

What we are doing is part of a long-term inventory and monitoring project in the park. Eric has a few sites that he goes back to year after year and a few others that are randomly chosen every year. We will be doing benthic surveys using the camera at each of these sites. This portion is my responsibility, while Eric does fish surveys. Once those tasks are complete, we will measure rugosity of our site (how complex the sea floor structure is). Topside, we will be taking water samples and using mechanical equipment to measure specific water quality parameters.

What Kalaupapa lacks in phone service, it makes up for in views.

All of these measurements give a complete picture of how healthy a site is and why it might be that way. More rugose sites (more complex structure) tend to have more fish. Sites with worse water quality will have less coral. These types can only come through long-term projects. One observation could be an anomaly. If the data is the same year after year, we know that it isn’t an anomaly. Furthermore, if the data is changing, we need to look at why and what can be done about it. Why is there better coral growth at this site this year? Is it because of a management practice put in place by the park?

Eric Brown takes a water quality sample with a niskin bottle.

Eric, more than anyone, understands the importance of this. He is a true scientist, whose mantra is “data or die!” He has the motivation of someone half his age. His determination to get the data is exactly what is needed at KALA, where he is on his own and doesn’t really have a “staff” underneath him. He’s a data cowboy of sorts, on a wild frontier where he works with whatever equipment he can get. He is the marine team here and it’s because of him this study has been happening.


“Our truck has good drainage, eh?” a park employee says as he points to the eroded truck bed. The constant exposure to salt at KALA is brutal for the vehicles. Eric washes the truck with freshwater after every dive day, but the space between the bottom of the tuck bed and the side walls is completely gone.

Laurene filtering sea water for a sample.

We load up the truck with all of our gear for the day and head out. Laurene, a park intern from France, is coming out with us today since her focus is mostly on water quality. This is her second tour in Hawai’i after working in O’ahu last summer. She is entering the natural science field after a stint in business management and is pretty giddy about it. Though she gets sea sick, she has an infectious laugh that keeps the crew in good spirits.


“This is going to a beautiful site baby! I can just tell!” Eric exclaims as we pull up to our dive site. We grab our gear and descend on a very boulder-y site with sporadic coral and excellent visibility. Things go smoothly underwater and we work through small kinks here and there. I see a couple umilo (blue fin trevalley), which I immediately anoint as my second favorite fish (the first being the Hawai’ian state marine fish, humuhumunukunukuapua’a).

One of the only boats we saw all week. There isn’t much traffic at our survey sites.

Back on the boat, we take several water quality samples to send to USGS, who partners with NPS and analyze the samples in a lab. We also use a sonde to measure local water quality. This machine has three probes that measure temperature, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll, and many other water quality indicators.

Though visibility is incredible around KALA, the ocean is generally not calm. As we begin to take big swells, it becomes harder and harder to take water quality samples and filter our samples into small bottles. Especially since we are working from the bow- the place on the boat that experiences the most movement.

The sea cliffs around KALA are majestic and top 3,000 feet.

Eric then drops an empty sample bottle with a big swell. As we hear the bottle hit the deck, he shouts, “just how I planned it! Constant supervision!” We quickly finish our sampling after that and one more survey dive to call it a day.


After two more days of diving, today we may have time for one fun dive. We have spent the last two days diving on the far side of the peninsula around a few small off shore islands. One of the islands has a crack in it that starts at the surface and goes all the way to the bottom of the ocean at 80 ft. “The crack is huge, it’s like a giant swim-thru arch that you could drive a double decker bus through,” Eric tells me. He lets me bring my camera on board today as well, knowing we might squeeze a dive in at that site.

I was hoping to dive the arch all week. I’m so grateful that Eric allowed it!

After two survey dives, we eat lunch and decide that we have enough time to do the arch. When I get in the water, I almost have to put a hand over my regulator to keep it from falling out of my mouth. My jaw drops at the majesty of this arch. It is massive and so unique. I have never seen anything like it. I feel like I’m entering an underwater holy palace in a fantasy world.

Perhaps the craziest thing about the arch is the air pocket inside. Here you can see the entrance to the arch and above it, the air pocket.

After swimming as fast as possible to get in front of the other diver with me, I take some shots to try to use him as a way to scale the arch. It’s tough since he doesn’t really know this is my plan and I’m quite a distance from him. We then decide to surface in the airpocket at the top of the arch. The air pocket is inside the island and does not connect to the ambient air outside. This is my first experience surfacing inside of a giant rock before. It’s so bizarre. I take my regulator out and try to take a breath. Bad move. Let’s just say the air in there is not the best.

Best to keep your regulator in- the air in here isn’t fun to breathe.

We then swim back down and out the other side of the arch where Eric picks us up. I am elated. I have done a lot of incredible diving this summer, but this dive is on a very short list of dives that have blown my mind.


It’s the famous Friday night movie night at KALA tonight. I accompany Eric and his wife to see Gaurdians of the Galaxy 2 at Tim’s place. Tim is the chef for the remaining Hansen’s disease patients. A bunch of people from the community come and bring a plethora of delicious food- mostly vegan to include Eric in the festivities. Tim is the ideal host. He goes above and beyond for his guests and never stresses out about it. I have spent most of my days on the boat, so I haven’t gotten to experience much before now. However, this is a glimpse of the community at KALA. It is a tight-knit group where everyone knows everyone and everyone contributes. I can see why Eric has stayed here so long.


It’s my last night in the settlement before Eric, Laurene, and I go into the backcountry to do stream surveys next week. I can hear a large and blissful crowd inside a large well-lit historical hall. It’s the banquet for the annual KALA fishing tournament.

Not a bad venue to kick off the fishing tournament.

There is a NOAA team at KALA as well that helped put on the fishing tournament. I was lucky enough to see their speech at the start of the tournament, in which they tried to get the fishermen to use barbless hooks. I was really impressed at the stance that the team took and the rhetoric they were using with the locals.

“These hooks, they still catch fish. Hooking a turtle is illegal. We aren’t going to report you guys, that isn’t our goal. Please tell us though, it is important that we know when a turtle is hooked. If you use the barbless hooks, it’s so much easier to unhook a turtle or a seal. I use these hooks, all these guys (points behind to photos of fishermen with 100 lbs + fish) used these hooks. You’ll still catch fish and the marine life will be happier.”  

– NOAA Representative from the Barbless Hook team

They offered free barbless hooks and a special prize to the fishermen who caught the biggest fish on a barbless hook. Ultimately they got a couple fishermen to switch over to barbless. While their method isn’t inspiring rapid change, it is inspiring change and they have an extremely good relationship with the locals. In my mind, they are doing outstanding work and maximizing their effectiveness in their situation.

Eric Brown with the biggest catch of the tournament, a 35 lbs ulua.

The banquet concludes with a massive meal of all the fish from the tournament and local Hawai’ian food like poi (mashed taro to the point of liquid). As I chat with some KALA residents and take in the Hawai’ian music played with a ukulele, spoons, and a traditional instrument, I reflect on an incredible week of diving and a big week of backcountry hiking and surveying awaiting me next week.

At the banquet, special prizes were given out to fishermen using the barbless hooks.

To be continued…

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The Finale

The following day (9/19/17), Marybeth and I drove to the office. First, I dropped my stuff off at the house I had been staying in prior to the hurricane evacuation. It was a Tuesday so we had our usual weekly staff meeting. However, today also happened to be my birthday. The office very generously had surprised me by getting a cake and singing happy birthday. I am thankful to have been taken in by such a welcoming group of people for the majority of my internship. After the staff meeting and the birthday celebration, I took a trip to the grocery store since I had lost all of my food due to the power outages during Hurricane Irma. After I had gotten myself resettled in at Skidaway, I returned to the office and began working on my GIS maps again!

The remainder of my week was spent working on different GIS maps. My major project for the week was creating visitor use and lionfish sightings maps to be used in presentations for the Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC) meeting. I created multiple different versions of each map in order to determine the best way to represent the data.

The SAC is “a community-based advisory group consisting of representatives from various user groups, government agencies, and the public at large” (Gray’s Reef). They have periodic meetings, some of which are in person and others through conference calls. Members of the SAC are spread around throughout the country. The purpose of these meetings is to update the group about the current state and conditions at Gray’s Reef, as well as bring up any concerns that may affect the sanctuary. The SAC meeting was held on Friday (9/22) at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography campus. I was able to attend the meeting, which let me see firsthand the different user groups interact with each other. It was interesting to see what issues/concerns people brought to the table.

After the SAC meeting, the “A Fishy Affair: Malicious…but Delicious” event was held the same night. A Fishy Affair is an annual fundraiser that is organized by Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation (GRMSF). The mission of GRMSF is “to support and strengthen Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary as a unique and vital landmark for the community and nation through charitable and educational purposes” (GRMSF). This is the biggest event GRMSF’s puts on all year with tickets purchased ahead of time. On the night of the event, everybody arrives at The Landings Clubhouse where there are raffle tickets and lionfish cookbooks for sale. I volunteered to help sell raffle tickets during the event, which also came with the duty of wearing the lionfish mask. There were four chefs competing against each other to see who prepared the best lionfish. All attendees were allowed to try the different lionfish appetizers prepared by the chefs.

Lionfish is an invasive species native to the Indo-Pacific. It is believed that lionfish were first introduced to the Florida Keys and the Caribbean by the release of a broken beachside aquarium during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Since the initial release, lionfish have spread north and have been spotted in Georgia waters and at Gray’s Reef. For more information on lionfish please click the link here.

Next, we had a full dinner that consisted of prime rib, chicken, scalloped potatoes, green beans, etc. Also there were a variety of dessert options, but the best one had to be the cookies decorated to look like lionfish.

The night ended with an auction of 10-15 different items. The auctioneer was extremely entertaining and people ended up bidding more than the listed value of the auction items! Some of the items included a weeklong trip for a cabin in Utah, a week in a beach house on Tybee Island, a trip on a shark research vessel (only available at the auction, otherwise cannot be purchased), a Savannah porch swing, etc.

Throughout the summer, I was lucky to have a bunch of different visitors while in Georgia. My last weekend in Savannah a friend of mine that I had not seen in three years was able to visit. He is stationed at King’s Bay Naval Base, in Kingsland, Georgia. It was really nice to see so many familiar faces this summer.

My last week at Gray’s Reef started off with AIS vessel tracking. I found an interesting track of a ship entering/exiting Gray’s Reef multiple times, so we did some research to find out the purpose of this vessel and if further action needed to take place.

On Tuesday, I attended my final weekly staff meeting and we went out for my farewell lunch.

After lunch, I helped Captain Todd begin to put the GROUPER back together after the hurricane. The GROUPER holds all of the gear for dive operations and is located on the dock near our boats. Therefore, when there is a hurricane all of the equipment is moved into a more protected warehouse. We also took this opportunity to clean the GROUPER and reorganize the dive gear. This ended up taking two days in order to get everything back together.

On Wednesday, I worked on fixing my GIS maps so they can be used in the future. I took the suggestions from the SAC meeting and made appropriate edits. I also taught Marybeth how to create these maps so this resource and knowledge is not lost once my internship has ended.

This week, I also learned how to create a dive plan. A dive plan is exactly what it sounds likes; a plan for your dives, how many dives are to be completed that day, departure and arrival times at the dock, etc. This information needs to be recorded prior to leaving for dive operations so that everybody is informed. In the case that an emergency occurs or the boat has not returned according to plan, the on land person responsible for monitoring the dive plan can take the appropriate actions in these events.

My last day at Gray’s Reef ended on a perfect note; I got to spend my last day diving! We had been watching the weather since our return from Hurricane Irma and the conditions were finally optimal for dive operations. Our normal routine began at 6:30am with Marybeth picking me up and loading the dive gear. The dive plan for Thursday was to reassess and retrieve hydrophones. We needed to determine if there was any damage from the hurricane in addition to continuing our previous hydrophone assessment. Luckily we did not find any damage from the hurricane, but we did find a variety of different hurricane debris. We found a trashcan lid, window blinds, a large piece of plastic, etc.

The visibility was still greatly decreased from the hurricane stirring up the water. Even with this added challenge, we were able to find each of the intended hydrophones! However, the dives did take a little longer than at the beginning of the summer.

With my last four dives in the books, we headed back to shore. I spent the rest of the evening packing my suitcases for the last time for a little while.

One of the most helpful parts of being at Gray’s Reef was being able to talk with different staff members about future career plans. Specifically, Marybeth Head and Kimberly Roberson were extremely helpful. With their support, I have officially accepted a position as a Hydrologic Technician with the United States Geological Survey in Honolulu, Hawaii!

On Friday morning, I headed to the office to say my final goodbyes then Marybeth and I headed to the airport. Until my next adventure (Hawaii) in January, I will be headed home to Massachusetts. This summer has been quite the adventure, especially with having so many unknowns thrown at me. Even with all the curve balls, I would not trade this experience for anything in the world. It has definitely been helpful getting me to where I want to go. I cannot thank everyone enough for their continued support for making this internship possible! Until next time…

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From here to there to Everywhere

The past two weeks (9/5/17-9/18/17) have definitely been one for the books; it has undeniably been eventful to say the least! This week started by being given the opportunity to write the weekly WOW. Each week, a weekly WOW is written to inform others about what each sanctuary has accomplished. They are distributed by email throughout NOAA. The main focus of the weekly WOW was the VIP dives with Aria and the continued receiver work. Each weekly WOW is accompanied with a couple pictures showing us in action.

The following day, I was off on my first of a string of adventures. I had the opportunity to visit and tour two of the NOAA ships; the Nancy Foster and the Thomas Jefferson. Both of these ships were in port in Charleston, South Carolina and I was able to drive up from Savannah before they left. LGJT Marybeth Head set up a tour with a NOAA Corp officer prior to my arrival. Once I arrived (about a two hour drive), I met the NOAA Corp officer and was shown around both ships, from the engine rooms all the way to the bridge and everything in-between! Many of the NOAA Corp officers were bustling around the ship during the tour, preparing to head out of port.

I learned that NOAA ships often have a previous purpose, such as use in the Navy. Once a NOAA ship, each usually has a specialty or is geared towards a specific task. The Thomas Jefferson works on mapping of the ocean floor, while the Nancy Foster is a little different than most NOAA ships. The Nancy Foster is a more general ship that can accomplish many different tasks. This ship travels around to different areas throughout the year, with scheduled stops such as Gray’s Reef. The Nancy Foster usually spends about two weeks in the summer working within Gray’s Reef to help gather a bunch of different data. They have smaller boats on board that are launched each day from which the diving effort takes place. Members of the Gray’s Reef team go out on the Nancy Foster and help accomplish these diving efforts; NOAA volunteer divers have also helped. Within the NOAA Corp, each officer is assigned to a ship for a period of two years. After this, they then have a land assignment for three years. This rotation continues while in the NOAA Corp. These NOAA Corp officers aboard the Nancy Foster help according to their training.

You may be thinking right now, how exciting! However, the excitement was just beginning. After the interesting turn in events at the beginning of my internship, the first half of my summer has followed suit.

As we intently watched the weather each day, the forecast seemed clear. Hurricane Irma had other plans and we were about to make an unplanned journey from Savannah, Georgia. We hurricane prepared the office, which consisted of packaging all the valuable/important items and electronics in plastic and bags, moving the dive gear out of the GROUPER, boarding up the windows and doors, and moving the vehicle’s to a safer location. Overall, it took about a day and a half to fully prepare. Once the office was prepped, I began preparing myself. Since we did not know the extent of the storm, we decided that I should bring all of my belongings with me in case I had to fly home from a different location.

The next morning, September 8th, Marybeth and Erin picked me up at 5am and we began the drive to Fort Benning, in Columbus, Georgia. We decided it was better to leave early so we would miss the traffic. Marybeth’s lifelong friend is currently at Fort Benning and we stayed with them while we outwaited the hurricane. To make things a little more interesting, we had eight chickens, a cat, and boat in tow. Upon arrival at Fort Benning, we unloaded and made the chickens a makeshift pen out of a kiddie swimming pool and netting.

  

We then took a nap before the “circus” began. Including us, the house we were staying at had a total of five adults, a five-year-old boy, two 16-month-old twin girls, a dog, three cats, and eight chickens.

For the next few days, we hung out and explored the area. We visited the National Infantry Museum and Solider Center as well as a Wild Animal Safari. A Wild Animal Safari is a drive thru animal park. I had never heard of such a thing and did not really know what to expect. You are able to buy bags of food before you enter the park. The animals, such as bison, elk, deer, zebras, and cows, will literally stick their heads inside the windows of your car. It is definitely fun to see the reactions of people when there is a large bison head basically in their lap, drooling waiting for you to feed them.

The National Infantry Museum and solider center had different sections for each war. It was neat to see the different artifacts from varying time periods. My grandfather was part of the 10th Mountain Division and they had an entire section about them.

To make things a little more interesting, while evacuating for the hurricane I received an email about interviewing for a job that I had submitted an application. I responded, stating I would love to interview however, I am currently evacuating for Hurricane Irma and think I will be available at these times, but I am not really too sure.

Monday was the day the storm hit. We hung out at the house all day and thankfully did not lose power. On Tuesday afternoon, September 12th, we were able to return to Savannah, Georgia. This also happened to be the same day that my phone interview was scheduled. On our drive back, we stopped at a gas station with a dirt parking lot. Here, I completed my phone interview with the eight chickens in a dog crate in the back seat.

While driving back, we noticed damage fairly close to Fort Benning and all the way to Savannah. Thankfully, the damage mostly consisted of down trees and no major damage. Marybeth even had power by the time we returned. I was not able to return to Skidaway Institute of Oceanography where I had been staying prior to the hurricane (due to power outages), so I stayed at Marybeth’s house until I left for the AAUS symposium. Luckily, we were able to return to Savannah before my flight departed for the conference on Thursday morning.

I spent Wednesday preparing for the conference and re-packing my suitcase once again. I also explored the area surrounding the office to see if there was any damage. Everything looked all right however, we still did not have power at my previous housing or the office. I am not sure how, but a dishwasher ended up in the front lawn of the house I was staying at prior to the hurricane.

I received the Kevin Flanagan Travel Award, which allowed me to attend the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) symposium as well as present the story of my internship at the conference. Therefore, I traded in my bathing suit and shorts for dress pants for the next four days.

Pictured here is the other recipient of the Kevin Flanagan Travel Award, Elisabeth Maxwell.

Early Thursday morning, I was up and en route to the airport once again. This year the AAUS symposium was held at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Michigan. I was excited since this would be my first time visiting Michigan. I arrived in Michigan around 2 pm and entered the smallest airport I have ever seen. Only one plane (with 11 rows of seats) comes in and out each day! They did not even have gates; the plane landed on the tarmac and the steps were let down. We then walked on the tarmac, grabbed our carry on bag, and walked inside. The inside of the airport consisted of 4 rows of seats to wait for the plane and one security line. There TSA security has a total of four full time employees. To top it off, the check in line was the same as the baggage claim!

Luckily, I came in on the same flight as John S. Pearse, who received the Scientific Diving Lifetime Achievement Award and was being honored at the AAUS Symposium. I hopped a ride with him to Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where I would be staying in their bunkhouse for the duration of the symposium. I found out quickly that the town of Alpena is the appropriate size for its airport.

The conference officially started on Tuesday with different workshops throughout the first couple days. The first event I attended at the conference was on Thursday night, which was called ‘the bubble breaker.’ It was essentially a meet and greet of a bunch of people attending the conference as well as a raffle and auction to raise money for AAUS internships and scholarships. I was extremely thankful to meet some of the people that have helped support my internship/travel award this summer. It was a fun filled night, where I was able to catch up with a bunch of people I had previously met during the OWUSS annual weekend in New York City, in addition to meeting a lot of new faces. I was able to catch up with Jenna Walker, the OWUSS Internship Coordinator, George Wozencraft (previous Vice President- OWUSS Internships), Heather Albright (AAUS), Vin Malkoski (OWUSS/MA Division of Marine Fisheries), and Christopher Rigaud (AAUS/University of Maine). I was also excited to see one of my mentors and the Assistant Director of Marine Sciences from my college (University of New England), Addie Waters, at the conference.

Over the duration of the conference, I had a lot of opportunities to speak with multiple Dive Safety Officers from potential graduate school options in the future. In addition to graduate school options, it was helpful to speak to people currently in this field about job opportunities and other helpful tips and suggestions.

Friday and Saturday consisted of presentations in the morning and afternoon. Friday morning, I was scheduled to present about my internship.

Other talks included scientific diving class programs and scientific research such as the use of underwater scooters effects on surveying, use of rebreathers, free diving in Japanese culture, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, etc. I was most interested in the talk about the use of scuba diving within the United States Geological Survey and the National Park Service.

On Friday evening, I went out to dinner with a group of people from the conference in downtown Alpena. Alpena is a very small town with not much around the area, except a strip of restaurants right near Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

The conference ended on Saturday evening with a banquet dinner where awards were presented, such as the Diving Lifetime Achievement Award given to John S. Pearse, best student presentation, Kevin Flanagan Travel Award recipients, etc. The diving community definitely fits the definition of “It’s a small world.” At the banquet dinner, I met a fellow former employee of where my diving career began, The Florida Seabase.

The majority of people returned home on Sunday morning, however some stayed for the dive field trips the next few days. I was unable to leave on Sunday since the only plane that left sold out. Therefore, on Sunday I had an additional day to explore the area. The glass bottom boat captain from Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary showed me the surrounding area of Alpena. We saw a small fishing town, the large mine, and a state park that used to be an old mine. The mines are enormous and you definitely feel very small when a dump truck looks like the size of an ant.

I spent the afternoon walking through downtown Alpena and visiting the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary visitor center. TBNMS visitor center contains many different artifacts recovered from shipwrecks. They even have a replica of a ship that you can walk through inside the visitor center! It is filled with history of the Great Lakes.

On Monday, I had a long day of flying ahead of me. I left Alpena early afternoon to fly back to Savannah. Ironically, Reed Bohne the Regional Director for National Marine Sanctuaries at NOAA was arriving in Alpena the same time I was departing. Reed’s office is at Gray’s Reef and he is also a colleague of my advisor Susan Farady from the University of New England. Susan had introduced us when she learned that I was heading to Gray’s Reef. There was also a group of people from the conference at the airport that were taking the same flight out.

My flights went smoothly, and my final flight had a large group of young men and women that were heading to basic training for the Marines. After two connecting flights, I arrived in Savannah at 10:30pm and made my way to Marybeth’s house to crash for the night. After all my adventures these past two weeks, I was ready to stay in Savannah for the remainder of my internship!

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To Eclipse and Beyond

Excitement was in the air. All the news channels were focused on the same upcoming event; “The Great American Eclipse!” This Eclipse was a special event because it spanned across the contiguous United States, with totality passing over 14 states. The eclipse started in Oregon and ended in Charleston, South Carolina. We were planning on heading back to Gray’s Reef on Monday, however, due to technical difficulties we were on unable to go out. Our plan was to film underwater while the eclipse was happening since there is very little research on the effects on animals during an eclipse. We wanted to see if our observations were consistent with the previous studies on animal’s behavior.

Since we were unable to do this, after a quick nap I spent the day in the office. I worked on my presentation for the AAUS symposium that I would be attending in September (More details to follow on this adventure!). The whole office kept up to date on the eclipse through the NASA online media.

The eclipse ended up following the same path as the beginning of my summer. About an hour before the eclipse was supposed to pass over Savannah with 97% totality, the clouds began rolling in. At about a half hour prior to the eclipse, it began raining.

Thankfully, it slowed to a very minimal sprinkle right as totality was passing over Savannah. The clouds cleared the slightest bit and we were able to see the light at the end of the tunnel! We were able to see the moon crossing paths with the sun, however we did not experience darkness. We believe this is due to the clouds reflecting back the light.

The rest of my week was spent in the office due to boat malfunctions. I attended the weekly staff meeting as well as updated the diving effort excel spreadsheet. I worked on my Presentation on both Tuesday and Wednesday to finish it up for the conference!

On Wednesday, I created a shopping list for a new Divemaster kit for the R/V Sam Gray. The Divemaster kit contains an array of different scuba and dive gear that could potentially end a dive if it breaks or is forgotten. Each boat has their own Divemaster kit and it is part of the essential equipment that has to be taken on the boat each time. In addition this week, I was able to finish assembling the R/V Joe Ferguson First Aid kit since we were waiting on supplies that needed to be ordered. I have learned that each of these little pieces, that although tedious, are essential to dive operations. It is especially important to think ahead at Gray’s Reef since it is such a long boat ride to the sanctuary!

For the remainder of the week, my time was split between many different tasks. I learned about AIS vessel tracking as well as began using this tool. AIS vessel tracking helps Gray’s Reef know when a boat enters/exits the sanctuary and when a boat enters/exits the closed (science only) section of the sanctuary. AIS vessel tracking also gives details about the boat such as where they left from, the type of boat, where they are headed, etc. This data is useful to help understand how the public is using the sanctuary in addition to any potential red flags that the sanctuary is not being used properly.

I was also able to organize the receiver data and photos that we had collected from last week. Kim, Marybeth, and myself met to review the receiver data and ensure that everybody understood and was on the same page. It is helpful to meet and ask any questions about data collected when it is fresh in your mind. This way notes can be taken for future reference. We were also able to assess which array needed the most immediate attention and rank them accordingly. Once the receivers are back in the office, Kim has been working on downloading the data and contacting each scientist. The hydrophone picks up signals of animals that have been tagged and are within range of the array. Therefore, each scientist that has a tagged animal that has been recorded needs to be able to have access to this data. In addition, I also continued my work with GIS. Marybeth and I have been working on learning how to add xy coordinates onto a map of Gray’s Reef. We seem to be really close, but have not been able to figure out the final steps!

I have been very fortunate this summer to have so many familiar faces pass through Savannah, Georgia. This weekend once again my friends Taron and Charis came and we spent the day in downtown Savannah.

We were able to walk through all the little shops as well as tour Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts of America’s, house. We got to walk through the house where Juliette grew up and learn about the history of Girl Scouts. One of the most interesting and entertaining facts that I learned was that Juliette was deaf by the time she started the Girl Scouts. In order to stop people from telling her “no,” she would tell people what she was going to do and then turn and walk away because she would not be able to hear them object!

After an eventful weekend, I began the week by continuing my GIS mapping and AIS vessel tracking projects. I receive an email from AIS vessel tracking each time that a boat enters/exits Gray’s Reef. I have been compiling this data into an excel spreadsheet to be used for future studies. It is important to log this data each day because the vessel’s track line is only available for 24 hours after it passes through the sanctuary.

This Tuesday began a little different than most. Instead of beginning the day by attending the weekly staff meeting, Marybeth, Aria, and myself woke up early and headed to Hunter Army Airfield Base at 6 am. Aria needed to complete her checkout dives in order for us to bring her on VIP dives. The checkout dives consist of preforming different skills to ensure that the diver is capable of diving the conditions at Gray’s Reef.

Photos by NOAA, Erika Sawicki

Aria is the acting superintendent at Gray’s Reef and is on assignment from NOAA headquarters in Silverspring, Maryland. In addition to completing the checkout dives while at the pool, I was able to have a little fun and try something new! We were able to test out one of our pieces of dive equipment, an underwater scooter. Underwater scooters are helpful in scientific diving by minimizing a diver’s effort as well as are helpful with getting places quicker. It has been suggested that Gray’s Reef should use underwater scooters to get from drop to drop instead of being picked up on the boat each time. This would reduce the amount of times ascending and descending as well as overall time getting on and off the boat. This would streamline the diving procedures and hopefully more data could be collected each day.

Photos by NOAA, Erika Sawicki

Once we were done at the pool, we headed back to the office for the weekly staff meeting. This week was special since we were celebrating ENS Marybeth Head’s accomplishment of becoming LTJG Marybeth Head. After our celebration, I set back to work on GIS. I have been working diligently to learn about ARCGIS with my time at Gray’s Reef. Before this summer, I had no prior experience with GIS. But since arriving in Georgia, it has been my goal to learn as much as possible with my time here. And today, I have finally accomplished one of my goals!!

I have successfully created a GIS map with xy coordinates of Gray’s Reef. I created a map that shows the sighting locations of lionfish throughout the sanctuary. I found different YouTube videos very helpful to learn the different features of ARCGIS. I also learned that sometimes it is better to start with a clean slate then keep working on the same project that has not been successful. As well, sometimes it is helpful to spend time clicking around the program, familiarizing yourself with the different features even if they are not particularly useful to your specific project.

The following day was mostly spent preparing for dive operations. I created the Float Plan for the day and helped launch and prepare the R/V Sam Gray. We cleaned up the boat and did an inventory check before we used the crane to launch the boat back in the water. It had been taken out for repairs (a reoccurring story this summer). Besides preparing for dive operations, I continued updating the diving effort and AIS vessel tracking data.

Thursday’s dive operations were slightly different than the usual dive operations. We were conducting VIP dives with Aria. Since Aria is not a certified NOAA diver, there are different rules that apply for the amount of dive buddies in the water. Therefore, instead of the usual two-three people in the water, on this day we had five divers in the water. Chris Hines and myself were conducting assessment, inventory, and retrieval of the hydrophones, while Aria and her two buddies were able to observe the work we were completing. As well, on this day we did not use bounce dives, instead after our work was completed we continued the dive. All five divers swam together around the reef, exploring the area and showing Aria different creatures. We completed two VIP dives and one additional scientific dive for a total of three dives for the day. On the scientific dive, Kim and myself were the only two divers in the water.

Photos by NOAA, Erika Sawicki

The conditions were not the best we have seen at Gray’s Reef, but it was still a successful day diving! We accomplished our goals and were able to get Aria diving at Gray’s Reef before she left to return to Maryland. That evening, we had a going away party for Aria at a local restaurant. It was nice to be able to talk to different members of the Gray’s Reef team outside of the office.

This week ended in the office where I completed multiple different tasks. I began by organizing the remaining receiver data and photos that we have been collecting this summer and continued working on my AIS vessel tracking data. Similar to the First Aid kit inventory, I was also tasked with organizing the new Divemaster repair kit that had been ordered.

I had a relaxing weekend, catching up on laundry and other things that I had not finished during the week. I took a bike ride down to the grocery store, which is the closest thing to Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. Although it is the closest thing, it is still 5 miles each way.

On Labor Day, Marybeth and I went out on her boat, launching on the boat ramp off Skidaway Island. It was a bit comical because once we got down the river/marsh, the boat would not accelerate. We spent the rest of the day, idling down the river/ocean. Even just idling down the river/ocean was still a lot of fun — listening to music and looking at all the houses. I have learned to make the best out of unexpected changes in plans this summer. We ended the day by getting pizza and getting ready for the week ahead. Who knows what is to come next!

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Atlanta, here I come!

This week started off with a slow start. I completed some office work for the first two days of the week; along with attending the staff meeting and helping Marybeth bring the used tanks to the dive shop to be refilled.

Throughout the summer, Gray’s Reef holds “Gray’s Reef Tuesdays” where a ocean related media production is shown. I was able to attend the final Tuesday showing with Marybeth.

On Wednesday, I began off on a new adventure. I was headed to Atlanta on the bus to visit the Georgia Aquarium.

My friend Zach’s family was visiting Atlanta, so it worked out well that I would be able to stay with them. Thursday we spent the entire day at the aquarium. The Georgia Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in the world. It has over 10 million gallons of water within its tanks. The aquarium is split up into different sections according to climate such as the cold water quest, tropical diver, river scout, etc. We also saw the different shows such as the the seals and sea lions that had been rescued. My favorite part of the aquarium was the touch tanks. You were able to pet the sting rays in one of the exhibits!

Besides the aquarium we also were able to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, which is run by the U.S. National Park Service. They have a museum of different artifacts, along with a memorial site outside.

 

Saturday, August 12th was the day we finally got to dive the Georgia Aquarium. We woke up and arrived at the aquarium in the morning. First, we were brought back stage to the top of the aquarium tank that holds the whale sharks.

There were four divers in our group since we signed up for the Rebreather dive. We were given the chance to ask the Divemaster’s any questions that we had about the aquarium before we were brought into the classroom. This classroom session is used to explain how a Rebreather works since it is different than scuba gear. Rebreather’s recycle the oxygen, instead of being released into the water. This is a more efficient use of air, and therefore you are able to stay underwater longer. In addition, when you are using a Rebreather your buoyancy control is affected. With a Rebreather you essentially have an extra pair of lungs on your BC that you are breathing the recycled air from. Therefore, you are unable to control your buoyancy by using your lungs and breath. When using a Rebreather you also have to remember that you cannot take the mouthpiece out of your mouth because of the closed circuit. This will allow water to enter the system and it will keep recycling through when you breathe. If you need to take the mouthpiece out underwater, you just have to remember to change it to open circuit.

After we learned about the Rebreathers in the classroom, we were brought back out to the deck of the aquarium tank where our equipment was waiting for us. We were shown the different parts of the Rebreather on the actual system we would be using and then were shown how to complete the safety test. This is a test done by the Rebreathers computer that checks to see if all the equipment is working properly; the test has about 35 different steps. The final step is breathing off your unit for 5-minutes on dry land. This is done because if any problems were to occur, the greatest possibility is within this time frame. After this exercise was completed, we went to the locker rooms and got our wet suits on. Finally, we were ready to get in the water!

Besides buoyancy control, the biggest difference about the Rebreather is when trying to descend. You essential have to suck all the air of your secondary lungs that are attached to your BC. When you get to the last bit of air left, you have to take a deep breath to overcome the pressure difference. Once on the bottom, you adjust your BC to compensate for your buoyancy and then it does not have to be adjusted for the rest of your dive.

We swam around the tank surrounded by many different sharks, rays, fish, turtle, and the most popular species in the tank, the whale sharks! There are four whale sharks in the tank. When they swim over your head, it looks like a giant cloud is blocking out the light. We swam throughout the entire tank, lead by our three Divemasters. One of my favorite parts was swimming over the tunnel and in front of the large window. When we swam over the tunnel, the fish were literally hitting us in the face because there were so many of them. The rays would also swim very close to you.

 

Another one of my favorite parts of the experience was waving back at and interacting with other people visiting the aquarium. This little boy in particular, maybe about two years old, became very excited that I was interacting with him. He was even blowing kisses back and jumping around extremely excited!

Altogether, we spent a total of 73 minutes underwater. Once our dive had ended we got out of the tank, took a shower, and changed in the locker rooms. We spent a little more time in the aquarium and then went back to the house for the night.

On Sunday, I made my way back to Savannah; it was a fairly easy bus ride and Marybeth picked me up from the bus station.

Monday, I was back to work in the office. I worked on the diving effort and sea turtle sighting excel spreadsheets. Diving effort data is collected to help explain different data results. For example, if there is an increase in sightings of lionfish one year it may be due to a higher diving effort that particular year instead of an actual increase in sightings. This is important to take into consideration when looking at data. In addition, I continued working on my GIS training and mapping.

I attended the weekly staff meeting on Tuesday as well as worked on organizing and inventorying the first aid kits. The first aid kits need to be inventoried periodically to make sure nothing has expired or has been used. Each boat (Sam Gray and Joe Ferguson) has their own first aid kit. As well, the office has their own additional first aid kit. This job ended up taking two days to complete because we had to go purchase some new items that had expired. This is a tedious task, but one that needs to be completed so we are prepared in the case of an emergency.

I continued the week with updating more safety protocol. I updated the office layout map with additional labeling for fire, first aid, and AED locations. In addition, I also created an Acoustic Telemetry Array Data sheet that we would be using on our dives the following day.

Thursday, we headed back out to Gray’s Reef. Marybeth picked me up early in the morning and we began loading tanks and our gear. We were headed out on the R/V Sam Gray. Our goal for the day was to assess and retrieve hydrophones. We completed a total of 6 dives and found each hydrophone we were looking for! The dives were not very long, especially if we had a good drop location, ranging from a total of about 12-15 minutes total time from descent to being back on the surface. Each dive consists of one person taking notes on the data sheet (my job) while the other person takes pictures of each piece of the array. These pictures are helpful resources to look back at when we are in the office. We also headed back to Gray’s Reef on Friday to continue assessing and retrieving hydrophones. We finished the remaining four dives that we had planned for the week.

Photo by NOAA, Erika Sawicki

One of the best parts of the long ride to Gray’s Reef (approximately 2 hours), is that there is always time for a nap on the way out and back! Each day, I found myself a spot in a beanbag.

         

Over the weekend, I was lucky to have another friend, Taron, passing through the area. He is a fellow scuba diver who I had met while working in the Florida Keys last summer. We met up and headed down towards Brunswick, Georgia. We explored the area, visiting Saint Simon and Jekyll Island. On Saint Simon Island we explored all the different little shops. They were also having a craft fair with different handmade jewelry, signs, decorations, etc. It is a very quaint little beach town.

We then headed to Jekyll Island, where we visited driftwood beach. This beach has large driftwood trees that have fallen over into the ocean. It is one of those places that you cannot really picture until you have visited. It is like nothing you have ever seen!

I have had a very eventful last two weeks and am excited to see what is on the horizon!

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Welcome to Georgia

July turned out to be a crazy month, even though my internship was on a brief pause. Throughout July, I spent each week in a different state from Massachusetts to Oklahoma to Rhode Island and finally arriving here in Georgia to resume my internship duties!

I was not the only one exhausted after my trip in California. My suitcase went on its last journey and only made it home with some help from the tape holding it together.

          

My first order of business once arriving home from California was to get fingerprints. In order to get computer access and an email address, I had to go to the police station to get my fingerprints and mail them to Gray’s Reef.

                              

Nonetheless my internship was back on track and rolling me the punches, just like before. I booked my flight to Georgia exactly two weeks before it left. About 9 days before departure day, the paperwork requests started rolling in. NOAA loves their forms and paperwork and I spent a plane ride completing the paperwork. There is never a dull moment and my flight seemed to want to remind me once again. Upon landing, we were told to stay seated and then three police officers got on the plane and arrested one of the passengers. Everything seemed good to go and I was getting excited to start diving again! Then the email came on Thursday evening about additional medical tests that I needed completed in order to be cleared for diving.

With some panic I started sending out emails about how to get this resolved since I was leaving on Tuesday morning and doctor appointments are not always easy to schedule, especially on such short notice. Friday morning, I woke up to a text “Hello!!! Can I give you a quick phone call to discuss medical? I promise it’s good news.” A feeling of relief was sent through my body, probably the easiest fix so far. I would be able to get all the medical tests done once I arrived in Georgia, however if I could get a CBC blood test done before I left since those results take a couple of days.

Saturday morning my mom and I drove home from the beach in Rhode Island and headed home to Massachusetts. Well, actually right to the doctor’s office. I got my CBC blood test done and we were on our way. I had two and a half days at home before I was headed to Georgia. Those two days were spent repacking my suitcase for this new adventure, attending the annual Polish picnic at my church, and visiting my friends Bill and Ethel. Each time I come home I update them on my travels and share all my new stories.

Quickly, departure day approached and I was still headed to Gray’s Reef. Thankfully, my site had not changed again! The suitcases were packed once again, not without a struggle to meet weight requirements. On July 25th, my Dad, or rather my personal taxi diver, and I are were heading back to the airport in Hartford, Connecticut. Lucky for him, the flight did not leaving until 10:25 am, which meant we did not have to leave our house at a ridiculous time in the morning.

This time, the whole airport trip went a little smoother; the airport was not busy at all, I did not have to wait in a single line, and nobody was arrested off the plane! However to my wonderful surprise, the overhead bins did not fit carry on suitcases. They checked my carry on suitcase at the gate and we were off. I arrived in Washington Dulles for a quick layover and boarded another plane that arrived in Savannah, Georgia. ENS Marybeth Head, the Vessel Operations Coordinator, met me at the airport.

The first place I got to see in Savannah was the Doctor’s office. We headed from the airport right to the doctor’s to finish the remaining tests for my medical paperwork. After what seemed like forever we left the doctor’s, made a quick pit stop at the grocery store to pick up some food for dinner, and then headed to Skidaway Institute of Oceanography located on Skidaway Island. This is where my housing is located for the remainder of my internship. Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary’s office is located right next to Skidaway Institute and only a 10 minute walk from the house I am staying. For the first three days I was in Georgia, I had one housemate. Now, I have the whole house to myself!

After a long day, I ate dinner and crashed. The next morning Marybeth graciously let me borrow her car so I could do a more thorough grocery shopping trip, then I met her in the office that afternoon where I was introduced to the whole team. Lots of names were thrown at me at once. I met and talk with Kimberly Roberson, the Unit Diving Supervisor. I will be working closely with Kim and the diving operations while at Gray’s Reef.

The following day, I was shown the boat, R/V Joe Ferguson, and we completed a gear check on all my equipment. This is done to make sure there are no problems with my gear and that they meet the NOAA standards. Once this was done, we loaded up the gear in the truck and gathered everything we needed for the pool session so it would be ready once my paperwork came through. That afternoon Kim, Marybeth, and I discussed my interests to find some projects that I can work on when we do not go out on the boat. We decided that I would focus on Geographic Information System (GIS) training and then use these skills to map invasive species. We also set up my computer access and email on my computer in the office. I had to complete a thrilling security training to gain access to my NOAA email.

On Thursday evenings, the graduate students at Skidaway Institute show a documentary. This week Chasing Coral was shown, which many people from the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society helped to create, such as Danny Copeland and Stephanie Roach.

We were going to go to the pool on Friday, however all of my medical paperwork had not yet been approved, so I spent the day reviewing PowerPoint presentations about NOAA diving and their practices. I also started some of the GIS online training courses. Friday afternoon I received the email that I was officially cleared to go diving!

I had a pretty quiet weekend, relaxing and settling in. On Saturday evening, my best friend and roommate from school was passing through Savannah on their way to drop her sister off at college in Florida. They stopped by for dinner and we also got to explore downtown Savannah. Downtown Savannah has a lot of history and is bustling with lots of people. The roads by the river are either brick or cobblestone.

               

Monday morning, we loaded the truck and headed to Hunter Army Airfield to use their pool and completed my swim test and confined water check out dives. On our way back to the office, we stopped for a quick snow cone (Because even NOAA divers have to eat lunch). Then Marybeth and I met Todd, the Marine Operations Coordinator, at the dock to clean the hull of the boat. We jumped in the water with snorkel gear and began scrapping off the barnacles.

        

Tuesday morning we went back to Hunter Army Airfield where I finished the last component of my swim test, a 500 meter snorkel in under 12 minutes. After this was completed, we arrived back in the office for the staff meeting. I met the rest of the staff members and became up to date with everything happening at Gray’s Reef. For the remainder of the day, I worked on GIS training and we prepared for dive operations for Wednesday.

Wednesday was our first day out on the boat and my first time at Gray’s Reef! Gray’s Reef is approximately 20 miles off shore, which amounts to about a 2.5 hour boat ride, meaning an early start to the day. I arrived at the dock at 7:30 AM, helped load the remaining gear and then we were on our way. My NOAA diver paperwork had not been signed off on yet, so I had to remain top side on the boat for the day. Top side I helped with getting the divers in and out of the water, logged dives, and experienced their dive procedures.

Gray’s Reef has multiple partnerships and one of these is with Dr. Danny Gleason from Georgia Southern University. Danny is conducting research on long-term monitoring plots in Gray’s Reef to study benthic invertebrates. There are a total 52 plates and every third one gets cleaned in late July/early August each year. Their were two components to their dives; one, is getting pictures of each plate and two, is scrapping every third plate clear and collecting the invertebrate samples into a bag for further sampling back in the lab. This data educates us about invertebrate recruitment over over different time scales. As well it informs us how the invertebrate benthic community changes over time. This was completed in three dives and were accompanied by Dr. Danny Gleason’s graduate student.

Before heading back, we stopped at the NOAA buoy to take pictures and try to figure out why none of the carbon dioxide sensors were working. The NOAA buoy transmits a bunch of different information about the weather and conditions in Gray’s Reef. You can find this information here.

My final clearance and paperwork came through on Wednesday and I am officially a NOAA diver! We planned to go back to Gray’s Reef on Thursday, however we got the call at 6 AM that weather was not good and we would try again tomorrow.

I went back to bed for a little while and then headed into the office. Thursday I continued my GIS training and completed my first course, “Getting Started with GIS”.

Friday was the day I finally got to dive Gray’s Reef. I woke up at 5:55 AM and Marybeth picked me up at 6:30 AM to get our gear and tanks for the day. We loaded everything up on the boat and everybody else arrived. The goal for today was to complete Gabe Matthias, a University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography diver, and my checkout dives and to retrieve two hydrophones, or underwater microphones. The data collected from the hydrophones is used for studies on ocean soundscapes. I completed two of the three dives on Friday. On the second dive, we saw a bunch of sea life from nurse sharks, turtles, flounder, eels, barracuda, etc. The third dive, Kim and Marybeth completed to find the hydrophone that we could not find on the previous dive.

      

Once we got back, cleaned, and put everything away it was already 6:30 PM. I ate dinner and did not make it past 10 PM. Saturday I caught up on things from the week and did some laundry. I met a few other students at Skidaway; we went out for dinner and walked around downtown Savannah. I had a lazy Sunday and prepared for the week ahead!

I cannot wait to get back out to Gray’s Reef and do some more diving. Some exciting things are coming, stay tuned for more adventures!

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First Days and Fish Surveys

A month after I sat sleepily on a plane bound for NYC, I enter REEF’s Headquarters in Key Largo, Florida. REEF HQ is an adorable yellow house in the median of the Overseas Highway and the oldest house in the Upper Keys. Nearby stands a restored wooden cistern, which was used in the early 20th century – back before freshwater was transported to the Keys from the mainland – to collect rainwater for use by the house’s residents. The white picket fence ornamented with brightly colored fish and corals adds to the charm of the place.

I arrive at REEF HQ with 2 of my 3 wonderful new roommates and fellow interns, Lawrie (no, that is not a typo) and Ashley. At 9 AM, the office is already bustling, and the six full-time staff members and two leadership interns gather in the main room of the house/office to introduce themselves. I am excited to be working with such a small team, and looking back, I think this made learning the ropes in the office easier. Still, I am surprised at how much there is to learn and remember, even for such an intimate office space. There is certainly plenty to keep us busy!

Me, Lawrie, and Ashley on our first day in Key Largo

Me, Lawrie, and Ashley on our first day in Key Largo

Before I talk any more about my experiences here, I want to go big picture for a moment. REEF’s overarching mission is to conserve marine environments through citizen science and education, and they have three major projects that serve this goal. One project, the Grouper Moon Project, aims to monitor, study, and protect one of the still-thriving Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations off the coast of Little Cayman. Because many spawning sites such as this one have been overfished, protection of remaining spawning sites is important. Unfortunately, not much happens with this project during the summer months, so it’s not a part of my internship. But I do have the privilege of being able to get involved with REEF’s two other projects: the Volunteer Fish Survey Project (VFSP) and the Invasive Lionfish Project.

The VFSP was developed in 1990 as the foundation of REEF. The goal? To enlist volunteer divers and snorkelers to collect fish species richness and abundance data by identifying and counting the fish they observe. These data are collected using the Roving Diver Survey Method, which allows divers to swim freely while surveying. Divers then enter their data into REEF’s online database, which is now the largest marine sightings database in the world.

And last but not least: The Invasive Lionfish Project. I am sure most (Many? Some? Not totally sure who my audience is here) of you know that lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, are invasive in the Atlantic; they were first spotted off the coast of Florida in the mid-1980s, and aquarium releases are theorized to be the cause of their arrival. Their lack of predators and rapid rate of reproduction (they spawn about every four days after they reach sexual maturity at one year old) enabled lionfish to rapidly populate the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and East Coast of the United States, where their numbers are now far higher than in their native range. Their overabundance, along with their voracious appetites and ability to eat as much food as they can swallow, means that they cause damage to coral reefs by consuming copious amounts of local reef fish. REEF works to control the lionfish population by hosting events such as Lionfish Derbies, Lionfish Collecting and Handling Workshops, and Lionfish Jewelry Workshops. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself – more on those later.

Working at REEF is refreshingly different from my previous jobs and internships, which have always required that I focus all of my energy on one project. As a Peer Writing Tutor at Indiana University, my only job for any given hour was the student and the paper in front of me. On various independent research projects, I would chip away at the project for twelve weeks or a semester or a year. Things might go wrong, new pieces might be added, but I was still working towards one goal. My goals at REEF are less linear. Occasionally I’ll begin chatting with an eager high school student or a friendly vacationing family on a dive boat, and they’ll ask me, “So, what is it that you do, exactly?” This question always makes me pause for a moment while I gather my thoughts; I still have not come up with a sound bite to concisely describe my mixed bag of intern duties. Many days are spent working in the office, but even those aren’t uniform. Usually, tasks stack up in every shape and size – sometimes I’m doing computer research, sometimes I’m helping out with an education program, and sometimes you can find me rinsing out coolers or weed whacking in the yard. By helping me learn how to prioritize and efficiently complete many different projects, working on such varied jobs is filling holes in my skillset that I did not even know existed. I am happy to take on this challenge; I would be naïve to think that every position in my future will involve a goal that is neatly packaged into one large, digestible task. In fact, most of them probably won’t.

When I’m not in the office, you can probably find me underwater.

A perk of being an intern at REEF is being able to dive for free with an assortment of dive shops on Key Largo to conduct fish surveys for the VFSP. Somehow, this piece of information slipped by me when I was preparing for my internship in the spring, so I was stunned to be met with this news during my first day at work. We are allowed to take half of a workday to do a two-tank dive and a couple fish surveys, and we can dive outside of work whenever we want. Most weeks, we try to do at least one night dive and a half-day of diving on the weekend in addition to a couple weekday dives.

Because I studied abroad in Bonaire my junior year, I was already familiar with the most common Caribbean reef fish, but I was excited to brush up on my fish ID skills and start learning some new species. On our first Wednesday in the Keys, we go on our first dive as REEF interns with Ellie, REEF’s Education Program Manager (and former OWUSS REEF intern!). I immediately start noticing some differences between the fish life on Bonaire’s reefs and the fish life here. Fewer smallmouth grunts, but more white grunts; many more large, boldly-colored parrotfish; far fewer goofy-looking porcupine fishes and stoic trumpetfishes.

[Unfortunately, I am having some technical difficulties with my SeaLife and cannot pull photos off of it onto my computer. But hopefully I will be able to post some fish pictures soon!]

Hm. Me, REEF, first days, fish…I think that’s about all. But I want to end this post the same way my time with OWUSS began: with a collision of worlds. IU does a week-long field school in the Florida Keys, and during my second week here, I once again found myself hugging Charlie and Mylana hello. Armed with a laptop, pole spear, and Zookeeper, Lawrie, Ashley, Marie (one of the two leadership interns, Roommate Number 4, and marvelous human being) and I climb the stairs to the living quarters above Quiescence Diving Services. There, we take a deep breath and do our first presentation for REEF while the IU students eat Key lime pie.

The Saturday before the IU crew heads back to the Midwest, all the IU alums in the Keys gather for a Saturday night barbeque. These faces, which I had seen often in IU’s classrooms, my lab meetings, and the familiar 1920s-era pool in the Wildermuth Intramural Center, color a new landscape with familiarity.

It is a warm and lovely way to begin the summer.

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Getting settled

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What an exhausting week this was.

But first, over the weekend, I got to stay a night at my co-worker’s condo on Lake Maitland, which was really nice. It had a pool, too, which I was more than happy to check out.

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On Saturday, I had the pleasure of having dinner with the editor-in-chief of Scuba Diving and Sport Diver, Patricia Wuest, and her husband. They were very helpful, and shared some good local spots and restaurants for me to check out during my stay. Patricia also shared some alternative bike routes I can take to work to avoid the busy streets, which proved handy.

On Sunday morning I went to check out a farmer’s market Patricia and her husband told me about at a lakeside park nearby. However, as I arrived, police were sectioning the place off. I later learned that they were closing the place down after someone found a body in the water! An interesting first weekend, without a doubt.

I found another place to have breakfast, and that afternoon I took a dip in the pool, which was nice.

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After the weekend, week two started off a little more slowly than the first. Which is not to say that I didn’t have plenty to do- I’ve just started to settle in more at the office.

On Monday, I learned how to post content from the print magazine onto the Scuba Diving website, and published a story on the website about turtle conservation & marine pollution. I also began research for a new story about Goliath groupers in Florida.

Homesickness started to kick in this week, which made it a little hard to focus at the office the first few days. After struggling a bit Monday and Tuesday, I took a mental health day on Wednesday to catch up on sleep. Nonetheless, I worked a bit from home, where I watched the Netflix documentary Chasing Coral, and wrote a review of it the next day.

Some minor medical issues on Thursday put me behind on my work, so the Goliath Grouper story I was supposed to finish on Friday ended up carrying over to the next week, as did the Chasing Coral review.

I wanted to get caught up over the weekend, but in my tiny Airbnb room, it just wasn’t happening. I decided weekends are for resting and having fun, so I went out and saw the new Spider-man movie.

After a weekend of rest, I’m looking forward to starting next week fresh. I’m a little disappointed that I’m starting the week behind on my work-especially since I have a fairly large story due on Friday that I haven’t started. But I’ll make do. The editors here seem to be pretty understanding, as long as I keep them posted.

One last thing- I also got to see one of my pieces published in the magazine, which was really cool. It was only a tiny summary I wrote, but still. Here’s a picture.

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Far away from home

Preface: My name is Chase. I’m the 2017 recipient of the Bonnier publishing group internship. I graduated from the University of Maine in 2016, and it’s my goal to write about marine science for a living. This internship is a sweet opportunity for someone like me.

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Well, my first week in Florida has come to an end, and I’m tired. It’s been a full one.

I landed in Orlando Sunday morning at 2 AM, feeling tired and a little disoriented. I took an Uber to the place I would be staying in Winter Park and crashed.

On Sunday, after sleeping most of the day away, I received a warm welcome from the Bonnier Dive Group. I was invited to a cocktail party at a Condo overlooking a lake, where I met most of the people I’d be working with, and got to know everybody a little bit. There were a lot of new faces at once, and many of the names I would mix up for at least a little while after. After lots of chatting and a few drinks, I went home feeling excited and nervous for my first day.

I woke up Monday morning, after fitful sleep. There are lots of strange sounds to get used to here- mostly the highway located right next to the house I’m staying in. Still, I got up early and got to work well before 9 AM. A good start to my first day.

Except when I got there, I couldn’t find the entrance to the building. Google maps lead me to the employee entrance, which was locked. After searching around for another entrance, I called the Bonnier secretary, and just then some men came by, headed for the door. I awkwardly explained that I was there for an internship, and they let me follow them in. One of the men was kind enough to lead me to where Bonnier Dive Group works. Before long, I ran into one of the editors I met the night before, and he showed me where I needed to be.

I get a quick tour of the building, and get to see some of the different magazines that publish here. I’m shown the desk I’ll be working at, and get settled in for a brief time. During the day, I tag along for a few meetings, where the magazines discuss production details. It’s a nice, slow first day, and when I’m not attending meetings, I spend most of my time reading the magazines and getting a feel for the kinds of things they write here.

On Tuesday, I get my first assignment, which is to write some short blurbs for the next issue of sport diver. I also get to fact-check a few of the longer articles.

By Wednesday, the assignments start to pile on, and by Thursday I’ve got enough work to keep me occupied for a while. I also get a bike, borrowed from one of my editors, which means I can stop paying for Uber and start biking around the city. After work, I explore the area on my bike.

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Friday I publish a full-length news piece on the Scuba Diving website about the marine conservation documentary Chasing Coral. I love writing about films, so this is an enjoyable first longer-piece for me. I go to more meetings. Attending the meetings is interesting, because I get to see how ideas get thrown around and get to learn the dynamics of how the team works. It’s a diverse team; some of the members are very vocal, while others are more reserved. It shows me how different personalities can work with each other. At this point I’m more of a fly on the wall during the meetings, but as time goes on I can see myself contributing more.

Then it’s the weekend, which goes by quickly but mostly consists of me riding my bike around a lot, exploring the area around Winter Park.

It’s taken me a little while to get settled in, but now that my first week is over, I’m starting to feel more comfortable here. Nearly every day I am learning something new, either about working here or about the local area. I’m excited for what the rest of my time here will hold. I miss Maine just a little, but I am starting to warm up (literally- it’s pretty hot here) to this place.

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OAHU – WWII VALOR IN THE PACIFIC NATIONAL MONUMENT

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When I landed in Honolulu on the night of Friday, August 12, it was great to be greeted by the familiar face of SRC Archaeologist Jessica Keller. As we drove to where we’d be staying, Jess and I had a chance to catch up on how things had been going for the past two months. It was clear that I hadn’t been the only one having fun traveling the country and diving. After working with minority youth in Biscayne National Park to document a shipwreck with the Youth Diving With a Purpose program and a trip up to Grand Teton National Park for her EMT-B refresher course, she arrived in Oahu last week to help Brett out with a documentary filming project on the USS Arizona Memorial. When prompted about how her first dive went on the shipwreck that sparked her interest in marine archaeology, she struggled to find the words to describe the experience. Her response made me that much more eager for the week ahead!

The following day, Brett, Jess, and I headed over to Pearl Harbor to get some underwater filming done, but first we needed tanks. As I am not a federal employee, I couldn’t get on to the joint Navy-Air Fore Base where the park gets their tanks, so they dropped me off at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center to wander the museum exhibits and displays.

Outside, missiles, bombs, anti-aircraft artillery, and other artifacts were on display along an interpretative walking tour route that paralleled the harbor. I stopped at the Waterfront Submarine Memorial and walked past the anchor from the USS Arizona on my way to the galleries, Road to War and Attack. Timelines and newspaper clippings pieced together the events that lead up to the Attack on Pearl Harbor, while personal possessions, hand-written letters, and other artifacts brought life to those that were there that day and dioramas, photographs, and audio-visual recordings evoked a series of emotions from those of us not present on December 7, 1941. I am really glad that I got the opportunity to walk through the galleries prior to my time out on the memorial in order to gain a deeper understanding of the significance of the work we would be doing that week.

When Brett and Jess arrived with tanks, we met up with Scott Pawlowski, Chief of Cultural and Natural Resources for the monument, and headed over to the USS Arizona Memorial. As we approached the memorial, the American flag fluttered in the wind. Pieces of the ship were visible protruding from the surface of the water. The modern memorial straddled the mid-deck of the USS Arizona, like a bridge, connecting the past with the present. Its sleek white design gave the memorial an air of serenity while still demanding solemn respect.

The USS Arizona Memorial straddles the mid-deck of the ship.

The USS Arizona Memorial straddles the mid-deck of the ship.

Inside, the entry opened up to the assembly room with a series of seven windows on either side, reminding visitors of the date of the attack, and allowing viewers to look out toward the bow or the stern. A viewing well cut through the floor offering a view of the sunken decks that sit just below the surface. At the far end, a marble wall bore the names of the 1,177 sailors and marines who lost their lives on the USS Arizona during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Leis and flower arrangements lined the floor, placed by visitors and family members to offer their respects for the fallen. With nothing to give, I sat on the floor of the shrine and read off each individual name engraved on the wall as my way of paying tribute to the men who lost their lives that day.

The United States flag flies high over the memorial.

The United States flag flies high over the memorial.

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The shrine room.

Drops of oil, considered the tears of the fallen, continue to trickle out of the vessel and leave a colorful slick on the surface under the memorial.

Drops of oil, considered the tears of the fallen, continue to trickle out of the vessel and leave a colorful slick on the surface under the memorial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back on the dock, we geared up for our dives. Brett and Jess were going to dive the stern of the ship to film some video clips, while Scott was going to lead me around the ship on an orientation dive. With a full-face mask communications system, Scott was able to talk to me as we swam around the ship’s main deck. Below the surface, the water was murky and the visibility was barely 10 feet. When the ship finally emerged into view, I was filled with a reverent sense of awe at seeing the famous vessel up close and underwater, a perspective few people get to experience.

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Brett follows Jess as they head to the stern of the ship, disappearing into the murky water.

The bow of the USS Arizona

The stern of the USS Arizona

Bowls, light bulbs, Coca-Cola bottles, a shoe, and a cooking pot were scattered across the deck. Once used by those who called this vessel home, they sit there today in the same place they have been sitting for 75 years, now overgrown by algae and coral. We peeked into the open portholes, into the rooms of admirals and first class officers, into the past. I could visualize a sailor in his room – the rotary phone on the desk, the open dresser, the mirrored vanity cabinet above the sink – but a thick layer of sediment covered the floor and a fish swam casually in the cabin.

An old shoe sits untouched on the mid-deck, recalling the past and the crew of the USS Arizona.

An old shoe sits untouched on the mid-deck, recalling the past lives of the crew of the USS Arizona.

Peering down into an open hatch on the top deck, it's easy to imagine the hustle and bustle of the hundreds of men who called this ship home.

Peering down into an open hatch, it’s easy to imagine the hustle and bustle of the men who called this ship home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Brett peeks into a porthole, illuminating the former sleeping quarters for one of the crew members.

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Corals and various algae have overgrown the old wiring on the deck.

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In some places the floorboards of the deck are still visible, offering a glimpse into the ship’s former condition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One can’t help but notice the remarkable juxtaposition between life and death. Home to a plethora of marine life, the USS Arizona has become a part of the natural ecosystem. Fish swam amongst the corals. A seahorse hung on to a sea cucumber for support. Sponges and feather duster worms lined most metal surfaces.

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Smooth seahorse (Hippocampus kudos) & Lion’s Paw Sea Cucumber (Euapta godeffroyi)

Nudibranch (Hypselodoris infucata)

A Nudibranch (Hypselodoris infucata)

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Juvenile Razorfish

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Unknown Sponge

Feather-duster worm (Sabellastarte sp.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we continued to make our way towards the bow of the ship, the forward guns from turret No. I began to materialize. Staring down the three 60-foot barrels as they disappeared back into the muddy water offered a glimpse of the formidable capability of these powerful machines. Further forward, the deck suddenly dropped out and the steel hull peeled back like a banana. Known as the blast peel, this was where the bomb pierced the battleship within the first few minutes of the surprise Japanese air raid. I couldn’t begin to imagine the devastating power it took to rip apart inches of solid steel like paper, but seeing the chasm in the body of the ship and the scattered shrapnel made the tragic events of December 7 more tangible.

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The blast peel.

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Scott swims through the blast zone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite this, I came up from the dive renewed. I felt honored to have been given the opportunity to dive on such an important piece of American history and I was filled with a sense of excitement for the work week ahead.

Looking up at the viewing well from down below

Looking up at the viewing well from down below

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My first dive on the USS Arizona!

Over the course of the week, I got to be a part of the large-scale collaborative research operation coordinated by Brett and Scott. Collectively, they brought together an extremely qualified international team of engineers and scientists and hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment in an effort to learn more about the USS Arizona. With the goal of evaluating the condition of the shipwreck, the operation had several components.

Early in the week, eTrac Inc. came out to the memorial in order to map the exterior of the ship. Specializing in hydrographic surveys, Mike and Greg of eTrac Inc. brought out a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) with onboard multibeam and sidescan sonar systems to do the job. From land, Greg maneuvered the small inflatable catamaran with a remote controlled motor. Watching the live feed of the sonar data appear on his computer, Mike guided Greg as he made his passes over the shipwreck, making sure there were no sections of the vessel left unscanned. After post-processing the data, to account for wave action, wind speed, etc., the generated data will be compared to the data from a previous scan in order to see if there have been any major changes in exterior structure of the wreck. While, no visible structural collapses have occurred, the USS Arizona has a slight tilt to port and any change over the last few years could be calculated by comparing the data sets and would be pertinent to know for maintaining the structure and memorial.

 

Preliminary image following post-processing the sonar data. This gives you a great view of the layout of the ship (bow is bottom left). The light yellow area below the red of the forward guns of the No. I turret is approximately where the bomb impacted the ship, exploded, and brought it down.

Preliminary image following post-processing the sonar data. This gives you a great view of the layout of the ship (bow is bottom left). The light yellow area below the red of the forward guns of the No. I turret is approximately where the bomb impacted the ship, exploded, and brought it down.

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Mike and Greg operate a catamaran that carries the sonar equipment with a remote control while Brett films.

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Mike looks at the data collected from the preliminary pass of the shipwreck. Multiple passes are required for the most accurate data.

Dave Conlin flew into town on Wednesday and brought with him two water quality sondes for some sampling both inside and outside the wreck. With significantly different conditions, such as decreased light levels and reduced water flow, the interior of the ship would be expected to have different water chemistry than the exterior of the ship. From this data, underwater archaeologists like Dave and Jess, could estimate the corrosion rate of the structure as a whole as well as note any differences between the interior and the exterior structures. This data is extremely important for the protection of this historic place and will provide information on how best to preserve it so that future generations can continue to visit and pay their respects.

However, in order to first get the sonde inside the ship, Dave enlisted the assistance of Amanda and Sam from Deep Trekker and their portable ROV. About the size of a basketball, Deep Trekker’s ROV could easily fit in some of the open hatches on the main deck. From the dock, Dave and I watched over Sam’s shoulder as she directed the ROV, equipped with a 270-degree camera, towards the shipwreck via a handheld remote control. After a few tries, she managed to maneuver the ROV and sonde down the hatch to the 3rd and a few meters into a passageway. The sonde was then left to collect data for a few days, along with the one on the exterior.

Dave Conlin and Sam with Deep Trekker launch the ROV.

Together, Dave Conlin with the NPS and Sam with Deep Trekker launch an ROV.

Deep Trekker's ROV examines a hatch before descending.

Deep Trekker’s ROV examines the hatch before descending.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, Scott brought USS Arizona survivor Don Stratton and his wife out to the memorial. He is one of the 5 living survivors remaining. Before he walked onto the memorial, he stopped and saluted his fallen crew. Then the crowd parted, let him pass, and erupted in applause. He continued making his way to the shrine room, stopping to salute the ship every few feet. When he entered the shrine room, the memorial fell silent. He scanned the wall of 1,177 names. These names meant more to him than to any of us in the room. They were his crew, his friends, his family.

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Don Stratton, 94, stands alongside the 1,177 names of his shipmates from the USS Arizona who died on Dec. 7, 1941 during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

When he stepped away, we escorted him back to the Ranger Room where he and his wife took a seat and talked for a bit with Brett and I. We talked about the weather, the flight, his kids and grandkids. I described how it felt to dive on his ship and he told me the story of how he survived, climbing hand over hand across a length of rope suspended over the fire to a nearby ship, his body covered in burns. Before he left, Brett explained to him the project the NPS was working on and invited him to come and watch when we were going to send the ROV into the USS Arizona. He was excited for the opportunity to get to see his ship again. As we shook hands, a solemn feeling of honor rushed over me as it finally set in who he was and what the USS Arizona and December 7 means to him. It was absolutely delightful to meet and talk with Don.

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Brett converses with Don Stratton and his wife about the work the NPS is doing here at the USS Arizona.

On Friday, the main attraction arrived to the dock. Specifically for this project, Brett had commissioned the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) and Marine Imaging Technology (MITech) team of Evan, Marianne, Billy, and Mike to build a custom ROV to penetrate the USS Arizona. Previous expeditions into the battleship with ROVs had been limited because of the problem that arose from pulling a tether (the wires and cables required for operation) behind the ROV. Imagine walking around your house with the garden hose. Inevitably you have to yank on the hose because it gets caught on the corner of the house. Similar scenario here, other than the yanking can damage the tether and the shipwreck itself. To avoid this issue, the WHOI team designed the first ever self-spooling ROV – meaning an ROV that can carry its tether with it and drop it as it goes, much like a trail of breadcrumbs.

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The custom-built ROV was designed to be self-spooling in the hopes of allowing it to penetrate further into the shipwreck than anyone has ever been or seen before.

Unfortunately, during the in-water test, various technical difficulties presented themselves. Quick fixes on the deck would correct one problem but cause another. The cameras didn’t rotate, the lights didn’t turn on, the thruster wasn’t working, and the buoyancy was not quite right. Finally, after a few rebuilds and more in-water tests, it appeared that the WHOI team would be spending all night attempting to locate and fix the problem.

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Evan rewires the ROV to fix the problem encountered during the first float test.

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Evan and the WHOI / MITech team prepare for the second float test with Brett in the water filming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see, the research operation was quite complex. To add icing to the cake, a production team from Story House Media Group was filming all of the week’s proceedings for a PBS documentary they will be producing for the 75th Anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor which will air on November 23.

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Storyhouse Media Group filming the Park’s research operation for an upcoming PBS documentary.

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Filming the WHOI / MITech team troubleshooting the ROV after the failed float test.

 

Unfortunately, a Kelp Forest Monitoring cruise at Channel Islands National Park had to pull me away mid project. So I never got to see whether or not the ROV got up and running and if Don got to see his ship again. I guess I’ll just have to wait until the documentary comes out…

Sunset on the memorial.

Sunset on the memorial.

I would really like to thank my SRC family – Brett, Jess, and Dave – and Scott Pawlowski for diving with me and sharing with me your passion for the history of the USS Arizona. Thank you also to Brett’s wife, Elizabeth, and their kids, Chase and Cameron, for keeping me updated on all the Olympics happenings I missed while we were at work. And a big thank you to WHOI, eTrac, Deep Trekker, and Story House crews who welcomed my inquiries and got me involved in the entire production. This was truly a unique experience!

Brett and the WHOI team

Brett, Dave and the WHOI / MITech team.

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