Category Archives: Internship Journeys

Fin

A week has passed since my last day at REEF and I am home reflecting on all the fins I got to see during my three months in The Keys.

Turtle Fins:

I was able to help trained NOAA volunteers by going out on turtle walks. During the months of June and July, Loggerhead sea turtles come ashore in Islamorada to nest. On our Sea Oats Beach, we had 21 nests and 15 false crawls this season. A false crawl is a marked incident where it looks like a turtle has come ashore to nest but there was no nest dug; this usually happens if the turtle gets spooked or the conditions are unfavourable.

After 60 days since being marked, nests are checked regularly for signs of hatching. I was able to help excavate 3 nests this summer and released 3 baby turtles that were trapped in a nest. We collected data on the number of eggs and which of those were hatched/unhatched. Then we open the unhatched eggs to record if they are fertilized or not. All this information is important to monitor the turtle population in the area.

Fish Fins:

Since getting to know more fish species, I have started to appreciate seeing rare fish. For example, finding these Papillose blennies was a real thrill.

I spotted them during a dive with Allison and Carlos Estape who are established REEF members and fish ID experts. Carlos was very excited by my find as this was the first time they have seen this species in the keys or otherwise. It is an especially rare find because it is not listed in the Alligator Reef and Evirons paper which is the most comprehensive list of species of the area to date; it contains 618 different blenny species!

Another set of small fins belongs to the Mangrove blenny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amy Lee, REEF Trip Program and Communications Manager, informed us that she had seen a Mangrove blenny while snorkelling through some dock pilings. This was surprising news because Mangrove blennies have only been described to be in Cuba. So, we organized “The Great Bayside Blenny Hunt”. The group of us pictured below went out to find this far from home fish.

After a couple of hours snorkelling, we were able to capture two live specimen and obtain in situ pictures. The specimens were sent out to a lab for DNA sequencing and we received word that our predictions were correct: this was in fact a Mangrove blenny. Thanks to our efforts, it was the first time its DNA had been sequenced and the first specimen captured in Florida since the 1960s.

Human Fins:

A high percentage of my summer consisted of helping with educational programs. A specific one that I will always remember is Force Blue. Force Blue is a program that unites Special Operations veterans and marine conservation professionals to create a team of conservation warriors. Force Blue employs these veterans’ highly trained diving skills to assist in conservation efforts which accomplishes two missions: helping to assimilate combat veterans to civilian life and supply aid and bodies to citizen science initiatives.

REEF participated in this program by training The Blue Force team to contribute to our database by surveying fish. We also educated them about the lionfish invasion and trained them to properly remove lionfish. It was an amazing opportunity to dive with these men and to learn a little bit about their world. For some of them, this was the first time they had seen a coral reef despite being trained divers for many years.

……

As far as the question I asked in my first blog, how REEF’s extensive database can be used to engage a wide audience on ocean conservation, I have decided to answer that by staying on past my internship to help with the Fishinar program. Fishinars are REEF’s brand of interactive webinars designed to teach the finer points of identifying fish. They are meant to be an aid for those already involved in our Volunteer Fish Survey Project and an introduction to fish surveying for those who are not. Fishinars can also be on relevant topics of ocean conservation.

I will be helping to grow this program by sourcing different advertisement opportunities and creating topics to deliver a Fishinar myself. Speaking, as a form of science communication, is a passion of mine and I am excited for the opportunity to grow that skill.

My time here at REEF gave me first hand experience in the world of marine conservation. Because of this experience, I now have a better understanding of where I want to contribute in the future. The connections I made and the chances I had to grow my skill set were invaluable. I have many people to thank but especially my supervisor, Ellie Splain for giving me the trust and encouragement to accomplish my goals this summer. As well, thank you to the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society who without, this experience would not have been the same.

Best Fishes,

Ronnie

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Goodbye Summer, Hello Future.

Over the past couple weeks diving has been spotty due to the high seas and busy schedule of Doug. However, the Rasher Lab did go out for a few day trips to the southern coast of Maine by Casco Bay. Unfortunately, kelp has seemed to up and disappear from these previously inhabited sites. Remnants of small horsetail and sugar kelp plants are scattered infrequently. The fleshy red seaweeds that are warm water toleratant comprise a majority of the hard rock substrate that kelps usually thrive on. Morale on the boat is always a little lower when the dive sites are seemingly barren, a situation that was happening at every site in Casco.

The highlight of the last couple weeks was when Chris took our dive class to Monhegan Island on a dive charter. I had previously dived Monhegan with Doug and Thew earlier in the summer; however, I was still excited because Monhegan is known for its steep mountain cliff faces and sheer drop-offs. Small swim throughs between rocks and mega-fauna like seals abounded, while Mola Mola greeted us as we approached our dive site. This wasn’t at all like the 5 and 10-meter kelp collection dives. Our first dive had a deck (depth limit) of 120 feet, Chris wanted us to experience and see first-hand how inversely proportional depth and remaining bottom time were as a person went deeper. At 120 feet, we had 13 minutes at depth before we would run into decompression obligations. We also were given the opportunity to don a redundant gas supply, a small 20 cubic foot pony bottle, which I was eager to opt for, both for safety and to practice carrying the gas.

     

In a tropical setting with over a 100 feet of visibility, diving to depth of 100 feet seems almost effortless. Little thought and worry crosses a person mind (although maybe it should) when conducting such a dive. Here though, in Maine, in 50-degree water with less than 40 feet of visibility, and over 30 pounds of weight, drysuit, and a redundant gas bottle – there was a lot to think about.  

When looking at my dive computer while descending it seemed like feet turned into inches; 90 feet down, seconds later, 100 feet, 110 feet. We slow our descent by becoming neutrally buoyant. At 120 feet you begin to feel the onset of nitrogen narcosis affecting your judgment. You get a sense of euphoria and lose some of the sharp mental acuity you may have had at the surface. Personally, I thought to myself, “what in the world am I doing at 120 feet with all this stuff on me.” I was sucking through air and usable bottom time like no tomorrow and signaled to my buddy to ascend to a more suitable depth. Besides, there’s nothing to see at 120 feet anyway. The dive was successful with everyone returning to the boat safely. After a quick lunch break, we drifted around the island to a dive site reminiscent of some of our sampling sites.

After the dive trip, there were few opportunities to dive. My last classes of AAUS consisted of water rescue skills and a DAN Pro first aid course. In the past, I’ve found that CPR/general first aid classes have been mainly lecture and some hands-on work – a boring afternoon with little information retained. Yet, Chris completely flipped my past experiences upside down. Broken up between two weeks, the DAN Pro CPR and first aid course was a hands-on opportunity to learn, review, and discuss different methods of life-saving and patient care.  What made the class helpful was that it was a discussion, Chris was obligated to teach the DAN standards, yet after, he would give his advice and wisdom from his years of experience in situations he’s been in as a volunteer firefighter.  He would also ask if we’ve been taught differently from other organizations or know something different. This dialogue made the class blow by and actually improved the retention of information, for me at least.  At the end of class, Chris provided the class with small rectangular slates with general CPR guidelines, how to providing emergency oxygen, how to assembly a DAN oxygen kit, and a neurological assessment slate. These will be stowed in my save-a-dive dive kit; hopefully the only time they will see the light of day is when I renew my CPR certification!

My last dives with Doug and Thew couldn’t have been much better. We had an overnight trip planned around the Mount Desert Island region. We took the Silver Sides and started the two-hour boat ride north toward Acadia. It was a perfect day with calm seas which spared our spines from the usual waves of the Gulf of Maine. I was particularly excited for this overnight trip because we would be camping on an island instead of getting a motel room or just driving back to Bigelow. The only downside to a long day of cold water diving is you want a warm shower when you get back, a luxury we were not afforded on an island in the middle of the ocean. However, what this small island lacked in amenities made up for in beauty.

 

 

 

The dives in this region were kelp dominated especially at the five-meter depth. In the past, our dives had little kelp for me to collect, and when there is little kelp, I usually can complete my collection process just as Doug or Thew is done collecting percent cover estimates. Not on these dives. On one occasion, there was such an abundance of kelp that Thew was so used to me being finished when he got done with his job he started reeling up the transect line and handing his quad to me to carry back to the surface. After about 30 seconds of me trying to get his attention and communicate that I was only halfway done, and still had two more full square meters to harvest. He then re-laid the meter tape and he held the bag and stuffed the kelp as I cut the stipes by the handful. When we got back to the boat we had a pretty hardy laugh about the incident as he said, “Yeah, I was reeling in the tape and saw you signaling me, I thought we were done… nope, you were only halfway.”

 

 

 

After our dives, we headed to the secluded island to camp for the night. One thing about pulling up with a boat was the whole shoreline was rocking, and with nine-foot tides, we couldn’t just park the boat on shore or even very close. Thew had to anchor the boat offshore and swim to the island in his dry suit. A job that Doug and I concluded would be best for the previous division one colligate swimmer.  We set up our tents and then ate dinner on the rocks, a Pad-Thai dish Thew made the night before. After dinner, we sat on the rocks eating some cookies and watching the sunset. It had been an amazing summer with incredible experiences and even better people culminating in a beautiful last moment, as dusk turned into night and the stars appeared one by one – a place to reflect on my summer and think about my future. Doug and I stayed up talking about my next steps in the immediate future, and his plans for his research.  The peacefulness of the night faded away as daylight approached. The lobstermen were out in force or it seemed like it at least. The engines in those boats produce the most ridiculously load noise at 5 a.m. It doesn’t help that sound travels on water, but you would swear the U.S. Navy was conducting some operation with the noise that was produced by these boats.

The next day was my last AAUS class of the summer. In the morning, we went to Pemaquid Point for a fun dive. Chris asked to be my dive buddy citing “It’s my last dive here” a bittersweet moment, I’d accomplished so much over the 100-hour class and the summer as a whole, which I could be very proud of, yet after this, it’s was coming to end. I asked Chris to take the lead on the dive because for the last dive I just wanted to enjoy myself, not worry about navigation, and let the professionals worry about that! The dive was a good one, we saw fish! Yes, there are actually some fish in the Gulf of Maine! I also saw the biggest lobster by far of the summer hiding in a crack. I swear the claws were bigger than my hands. After our first fun dive, it was back to the DMC to concluded our rescue exercises and put them to a test in a simulated live rescue.

Class ended on a high note, after we got done diving, cleaned and rinsed our gear, we head to the air condition library at the DMC to take our pictures for our AAUS certification cards. We also got to learn our dive class nickname, a tradition Chris has been doing ever since his first class at UMaine. The class will get their class picture framed and hung in the dive locker with the nickname below. We were gifted with the name “the lone divers.” Being there was only three of us we also were given specific names, “Tonto, Lone Ranger, and Silver.” Somehow I was relegated to Silver, maybe a more fitting name then I truly realized at first. Chris even signed off on his last email to me “Hi-Ho Silver,” he always knows how to make a person laugh and keep it lively.

My Internship was a complete success. I earned my AAUS dive certification and got a lot of hands-on research with Doug at Bigelow. I also made friendships that will last a lifetime and made connections that will indefinitely help me in my future search for underwater science exploration. My plan at the moment is to go back to school at Lawrence University to complete my senior year. I will graduate early — this Thanksgiving — and I plan to come back to Maine and continue to help Doug and Thew with diving in the winter months. I hope to continue my education in a Ph.D. program studying inter/intra-species interactions in either kelp forests or coral reefs. Thus, if you’re reading this and know of — or have — an open spot and funding for a PH.D student I’d love to get connected with you!

This is my last blog for my internship summer, and I have many people and organizations to thank. Thank you, Dr. Lee, Somers and Martha Somers for your extreme generosity. A special thank you to Chris Rigaud, Doug Rasher, and Thew Suskiewicz. Chris was an incredible host, he was a great mentor that was willing to go above and beyond to make my internship enjoyable and fruitful, whether it was loaning me gear or being on call if I ever had a problem. Doug went above and beyond as a co-host. He gave me every opportunity possible to dive, was willing to give me advice and mentor me in the realm of graduate school, and made me feel at home in his lab. Thew, was a great teacher and mentor. He was extremely patient with me when I was first identifying seaweeds and taught me all about good dive practices. His methodical attention to detail kept me in check and productive the entire summer. Thank you to Our World Underwater Scholarship Society, American Academy for Underwater Sciences, and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. Thank you OWUSS and AAUS for giving me this opportunity and supporting me throughout the process and in the future. Thank you, Bigelow, for housing me and making me a part of your world renowned scientific community. Thank you, Katherine Newcomer, for your wisdom and guiding me through this internship. Jenna Walker and Stephanie Roach for all your hard work behind the scenes, coordinating these wonderful internships and coordinating with USIA. Thank you USIA for letting me use your amazing drysuit, without it I would have been one frozen popsicle. Thank you to everyone else at OWUSS, AAUS, and Bigelow, for your hard work which makes internships like this possible. I had a blast and I look forward to sharing my experience at Lake Tahoe at the AAUS symposium, and the OWUSS annual weekend in New York.

 

With that, Chris – I look forward to diving with you again in October! Doug – be ready for more hipster music when I come back in the winter! Thew – congratulations on the new baby!

Signing off for the last time, your Our World Underwater Scholarship Society 2018 Dr. Lee H. Somers American Academy for Underwater Sciences intern.

 

-Shane

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A Bittersweet Goodbye

After 2½ months of living the dream, I have to say goodbye to lovely Durham this week. This summer was definitely not enough time to accomplish everything — I would need about a year to finish the multiple dive safety programs and test them out. That being said, I did accomplish quite a bit in this short time, from “saving” the online seminars to starting a module for DAN First-Aid instructors looking at effective teaching practices. It was a hard-working summer that I wouldn’t change for the world.

As I am packing, I have been reflecting on this wonderful experience, full of new people and opportunities. From the other interns in Research to the people who make up DAN, everyone has been a pleasure to meet. I am so blessed to have been able to see first-hand how this company functions.

I would really love to thank DAN, for sponsoring this internship and allowing me to be in this environment; Patty, for being an amazing mentor and teacher these months; and lastly to the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society for creating this internship with DAN.

This summer was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I am so happy that I was able to experience it.

Now I am on to my next adventure: senior year at Old Dominion University!

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Behind the Scenes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lionfish & Shipwrecks

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Farm to Table — Kelp to Processing Table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loading the Silver Sides for our trip to Hurricane Island.

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

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

Hurricane Island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time – Shane

 

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Counting Kids not Fish

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The end of my Alaska adventure

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

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

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

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

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

 

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New Adventures Start Here.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

-Shane

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Life on (semi) Permanent Vacation

The Keys are not what you call a bustling metropolis. Most metropolitan dwellers come to the Keys to escape their everyday, busy city lives. For most people its just that, a vacation. But for me, and the other three interns for REEF’s 2018 summer semester, its our current home. I am not in Nova Scotia anymore, that’s for sure.

I am fairly familiar with the area as I have been coming down to dive it the past six years. But since I’ve started at REEF, I have gotten the opportunity to know the community better. My supervisor, Ellie, set up meetings for me and the other interns with other organizations in the area over the course of our first couple weeks. This included the History of Diving Museum, The Coral Restoration Foundation and The Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center. Each of these organizations is filled with passionate people who are dedicated to spreading the good work of environmental conservation across the Keys. Its an exciting place for me to be as I explore the potential pathways for my career.

For those who don’t know, REEF has four main categories of focus: The Grouper Moon Project, The Invasive Lionfish Program, the Volunteer Fish Survey Project (VFSP) and the Explorers Education Program. I will talk more in depth of each of these categories in future posts. As an intern here, I have the opportunity to add to or take on a project that is in line with REEF’s focus. I am particularly interested in the VFSP because since its beginnings in 1993, it is now the world’s largest database on marine fishes! I plan to contribute to its database while I’m here by diving as much as possible. Being able to identify the fish in the area is giving me a greater sense of appreciation for everything I see, big and small.

The VSFP is a great way to encourage already ocean concerned people, like scuba divers, to participate in the bigger picture of conservation. It is also a great resource for scientists and researches. But what about those who don’t have a background with the ocean? How can the REEF database be used to engage the rest of the public on issues of conservation? Stay tuned as I try to answer this question over the course of my internship.

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