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Trading Dive Fins for Hiking Boots in Waikolu Valley

       

I was bushwhacking through the Hawaiian jungle, clothes still wet from the day before. The sweet yet pungent smell of fermenting guava permeated the humid air, and my boots squished as I stepped on one of the overly ripe yellow fruits littered on the ground. As I trudged, I looked closely at the overgrown trees and bushes, occasionally plucking a white ginger flower and sucking the sweet nectar from its stem. Slowly, the sound of running water grew louder and louder. We were almost there. 

It was my second week in Kalaupapa National Historical Park, and I was taking a break from dive operations and marine surveys. This week, I was helping the NPS Inventory & Monitoring (I&M) Pacific Island Network (PACN) with freshwater stream surveys in the steep forested Waikolu Valley. I&M has monitored Waikolu Valley’s water quality and freshwater habitats since 2006. Freshwater ecosystems are quite vulnerable to anthropogenic impacts (eg. land-use change, invasive species, eutrophication (i.e. excessive nutrient richness), and temperature changes). Collecting data provides insight into long-term trends in water nutrient levels and population dynamics of freshwater fish and invertebrates, some of which are endemic species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. 

A view into Waikolu Valley from the mouth of the stream, where freshwater meets the ocean.

The opportunity to work with the I&M crew for a week meant trading out my fins for hiking boots and my Halcyon BC for a Kelty 50 liter pack. We were heading into the backcountry. I looked forward to the opportunity to see Kalaupapa from a different perspective. I didn’t have much idea of what to expect for the week, but I knew that I was in good hands. Glauco, the Biological Science Technician at Kalaupapa, also works with the I&M crew and had done the Waikolu Valley surveys many times before. Joining us was Anne Farahi, the Lead Aquatic Biological Science Technician, and two additional I&M technicians, John Benner and Esaac Mazengia. 

Glauco, Anne, and Esaac work on packing and prepping equipment in the office. With the unpredictable weather in Waikolu Valley, waterproof bags and sealed plastic crates are essential to keep things dry.

Rather than packing all of our gear, food, and surveying equipment out to our campsite, we had most of our belongings dropped off via helicopter. Kalaupapa NHP occasionally uses helicopters to complete park operations, and this week, they were used for gear drop off and to remove several massive super sacks of marine debris from one of the park’s beaches. On the first day of the project, Glauco and I hiked down to the beach with the debris and waited for the chopper to meet us. When it approached, Glauco caught the strap hanging from the chopper and secured a sack. Within seconds, the chopper lifted the sack and flew away to the other side of the peninsula. After a few repetitions, the beach was finally waste-free. Afterward, the rest of our crew — Anne, Esaac, and John — met us and we began the trek across the rock and pebble-dominated beach to our campsite at the mouth of the Waikolu Valley. 

Glauco, dressed in bright yellow to make him more visible for the helicopter pilot, watches the chopper fly in to pick up the large white super sacks of marine debris.

After heli-ops, we set out on our hike across the very rocky beach to Waikolu Valley. I only faceplanted once!

—  

The next morning, I awoke to the rhythmic sounds of waves crashing ashore and the slow trickle of sunlight into the valley. My 40-degree sleeping bag was plenty to keep me comfortable overnight, and I relished the warm air as I rolled out of my tent — a much more enjoyable experience than waking up shivering in the Colorado mountains (the backpacking experience I’m used to). I emerged from my tent and began my morning routine: breakfast, packing my daypack (and shaking the ants off of it), and getting dressed for a day in the forest and streams. By 8 a.m., we started our hike up into the valley. 

Our gorgeous campsite at the mouth of Waikolu Valley. In the mornings and evenings, we’d watch as wild goats played on the red cliffs.

The hikes to our survey sites were the epitome of bushwhacking

I already knew that Kalaupapa was rich with living resources. In the settlement, there were banana and mango trees on practically every corner. The sweetest, juiciest oranges could be plucked from trees on the outskirts of town, and on the avocado trees were some of the largest Haas avocados I had ever seen. On top of that, Kelly had shown me how to process coconuts to collect their meat and milk, and Glauco had shared his freshly caught venison with me during my first week in the settlement. Still, as we hiked through the Waikolu backcountry, Glauco and Anne opened my eyes to even more that Kalaupapa had to offer. Red ginger plants lined the trail and produced a fragrant, soapy liquid when their pinecone-shaped bulbs were squeezed — a perfect alternative for hand soap or shampoo in the Hawaiian backcountry. White ginger quickly became my favorite, as it reminded me of the honeysuckle bushes in my childhood neighborhood. The ginger roots, scuffed down to the yellow by wild pig and goat hooves and our own boots, peeked out of the ground as we walked through the forest. It seemed like everywhere I turned, there was something edible to be found. Coffee plants, guava and strawberry guava, taro, kukui nuts, bamboo, tea plants — they were all growing happily in the forest. 

John (left) and Esaac (right) try a Jamaican vervain flower. They really do taste like shiitake mushrooms!

The smell of fermenting guava will forever be ingrained in my sensory memory. It was great to pull one off a tree for a midday snack, though.

Glauco passes by an ancient mango tree alongside the trail.

Anne had done enough surveys in Waikolu to know each survey site by sight, and Glauco had a GPS to use for secondary confirmation that we were surveying the correct spots. Since I had never been in the Waikolu Valley before, I never really knew exactly where we were going or how long it would take to get there. In the mornings, the unawareness was nice — the hikes felt exciting and exploratory. Once we reached a survey site, the five of us would drop our bags on the side of the stream and get to work. We had a number of surveys to do at each site. Some were to assess water conditions, such as nutrient levels and streamflow. Other surveys involved assessing the Hihiwai population — Hawaiian freshwater stream snails. 

Glauco (left) and Esaac (right) use a FlowTracker to measure the water velocity of the stream. The FlowTracker is a highly precise tool that requires careful handling and lots of focus.

The lives that these tiny freshwater snails live are remarkable. Eggs about the size of sesame seeds are deposited by adult snails onto the sides of rocks in the freshwater stream, where they remain until they hatch. Once hatched, the larvae are quickly washed downstream and into the open ocean. Months go by as the larvae grow, and after about a year the young snails begin the pilgrimage of a lifetime — a march, in single file order, upstream and back into the valley. Their strong muscular foot allows them to cling to rocks and withstand the force of waterfalls as they move into the current of the stream. 

At each survey site, we would stretch a transect tape 30 meters downstream. Then, we would conduct surveys at certain points along the site transect.

John (left) and I conduct snail counts and measurements. John would hold a small square quadrat down on the stream bed and remove any snails he found in the quadrat. Then, I would measure each one and record the data. The trickiest part was placing the snails back in the stream. If they weren’t secured properly, the rushing water would quickly flip them over, leaving them susceptible to crayfish predation.

John conducts a pebble measuring assessment. Sometimes we were measuring large boulders or bedrock instead, as pictured here.

In addition to the snail population, we surveyed the freshwater fish populations at each site. In Hawaii, there are only five native species of freshwater fish. All five species are gobies — adorable little fish with huge upward-pointing eyes that spend most of their time resting on the bottom of the stream and looking for food. Between the fish, snails, and the crayfish that also called the stream home, there was a lot going on in such a relatively small amount of water. 

 

John holds a crayfish from the stream. These guys were curious — they loved climbing on our shoes or nibbling at our hands while we were working in the stream.

 

After each day of site surveys, we would pack up around 16:30 and trek back down to the mouth of the valley. As magical and enchanting as the morning hikes were, the afternoon hikes back to camp often made me feel like I was a character in Jumanji, trapped in the jungle and trying to find my way out. Mostly, I was just ready for dinner. Before I knew it, though, we’d get back to the campsite just in time to watch the sky turn pink and orange as the sun went down. And of course, dinner was always fantastic. 

Anne works her way through a very overgrown section of trail.

I’m not sure how a car got so far up into the valley — needless to say, it never got back out.

Jurassic Park vibes, anyone?

When it rains, beautiful waterfalls pop up all over the steep sides of the valley.

Sunset views from camp.

— 

The end of the week brought mixed feelings. I would’ve loved to stay at the campsite for a few more days — it truly was one of the best spots I had ever camped. At the same time, I desperately longed to put on dry clothes and shoes. Thankfully, the crew’s collective energy helped me push through the last day of surveys. After checking off four more sites, we packed our bags and trekked back across the beach. All in all, the week of surveys was a success. A huge thank you to Anne Farahi for leading our crew and sharing her immense knowledge of Hawaiian aquatic ecosystems with me. To John and Esaac — thanks for sharing your snacks (I’m a Belvita convert now), keeping the jokes flowing, and being awesome crewmates. Glauco — your venison mac n’ cheese is one of the best camp dinners I’ve ever had. Thank you for showing me all the incredible resources of Kalaupapa and for keeping crew morale high with great food and evening card games. Great crews make for great field projects, and I was lucky to be able to work with such fine folks during the week in Waikolu. 

Packing out after the end of a successful week of surveys. Falling rocks were a hazard as we crossed the beach, hence the hard hats.

Gotta end things with a crew selfie!

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Gaining Perspective in Kalaupapa National Historical Park

In some way or another, Covid-19 brought isolation into all of our lives. It’s been begrudgingly endured by some, greatly appreciated by others — but entirely unavoidable for everyone. I handled it much like everyone else probably (?) did… with some good days, when I reveled in the quiet comfort of my home, and some bad days, when I stared out the windows of my house feeling as though I was trapped in a fishbowl with my life on pause. Despite all the ups and downs, I hoped that experiencing so many months of pared-down social life would somehow benefit me when I began my internship. After all, I was scheduled to travel to some of the most remote national parks on the map. 

Kalaupapa National Historical Park is one of those parks. On the Hawaiian island of Molokai, the Kalaupapa Peninsula sits at the base of a 2,000 ft. sea cliff wall (“pali” in Hawaiian), separating it from the rest of the island. “Topside” Molokai is only accessible from Kalaupapa via boat, aircraft, or a steep 2.5 mile hike or mule ride up the sea cliffs. The history of the area is replete with vibrant Hawaiian culture and beautiful, bountiful land. However, due to its remote geography, Kalaupapa Peninsula’s history also has a dark side — one involving exile, disease, and forced isolation. 

An aerial view of the Kalaupapa settlement.

In the mid 1800s, Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy, spread to the Hawaiian islands. With no treatment for the rapidly spreading disease, King Kamehameha V took drastic measures: the establishment of an isolation site on Kalaupapa Peninsula. Thousands of leprosy patients, primarily native Hawaiians, were ripped away from their lives and banished to the remote peninsula. After being dropped off on the rocky shores, the sick and exiled were left to their own devices. Facilities were minimal, resources were limited, and isolation was never-ending. 

One of Kalaupapa’s iconic viewpoints. This shoreline was where some leprosy patients were dropped off by boats in the mid-1800s.

By 1969, leprosy treatments were developed and patients were no longer contagious. After over 100 years, mandatory isolation laws were lifted and residents could choose whether or not to remain in Kalaupapa, which became a National Historical Park in 1980. Currently, there are less than 10 remaining patients in the Kalaupapa Settlement. State Department of Health and NPS employees make up the rest of the settlement’s population, which is typically around 80-100 residents. However, the park is particularly quiet nowadays, with closer to 35-40 residents. Due to current federal and state Covid regulations, visitors have not been allowed into Kalaupapa for over 18 months, and residents are not allowed to host visiting friends and family. As I packed my bags in the Virgin Islands and prepared to fly to Kalaupapa, I felt lucky to have the opportunity to work in the park, especially in the midst of the pandemic. 

The main road from the airport into the Kalaupapa settlement.

— 

After a full day of flying, I landed in Honolulu at 6:30 p.m. local time — 12:30 a.m. in the Virgin Islands. Sleep was brief (thanks, jet lag), and I rose early the next morning to start what I expected to be a hectic day. First, I dropped off my bags at a cargo transport company. The planes that fly passengers into Kalaupapa are small Cessnas, so I didn’t want to risk showing up for the flight with my 100+ pounds of luggage and not being able to load everything. After that, I rushed to the other side of town for a Covid test, which was required to enter Kalaupapa Settlement. My last errand before flying into the park was to visit the grocery store. Kalaupapa has a tiny grocery store, but it’s fairly limited and meant for residents only. Stocking up at Safeway before my flight was the best option. At this point in my travels, I was pretty tired of lugging around heavy bags and needed to watch my budget a bit more closely. I stuck to “backpacker style” ingredients in order to keep things light and cheap — beans, rice, tuna packs, you get the idea.

Errands were completed and I caught my flight to Kalaupapa with no issues. I had never been on such a small plane, nor one with so few people — just four humans and one dog. Jet lag was hitting hard, but the excitement I felt as we flew over Oahu and Molokai provided enough of an energy boost to keep me from falling asleep during the short flight. Slowly, the signature green sea cliffs that line the Kalaupapa Peninsula came into view, and I looked on in awe as the plane descended into the park. 

Onboard a Cessna 208 — much smaller than the planes I usually fly in.

When I landed at the airport — a quaint open air shelter and single landing strip — I was greeted by park dive officer / marine ecologist Kelly Moore and biological science technician Glauco Puig-Santana. After thanking them for picking up my three cases of gear and luggage that had been dropped off at the airport earlier, we drove into town to the NPS Natural Resources office. Glauco pointed out some of the buildings as we drove through town — the multiple churches, the patient care facility, and the post office, to name a few (admittedly there aren’t too many more). Once we arrived at the office, we immediately started discussing logistics, rules, and the diving plan for the week. 

A morning rainbow above town from my front yard.

The first order of business during my stay was to help Kelly and Glauco complete long-term sub-tidal monitoring surveys and water quality sampling of fixed and temporary sites around the peninsula. At each site, we were to first deploy a YSI water quality meter — it would be placed at depth for the first 10 minutes of the sample, then sent to the surface to collect an additional 10 minutes of data. During each dive, we would mark a 25 meter transect with a tape measure and take photos of the benthic substrate at each meter. For temporary sites, an additional rugosity survey needed to be done. This involved laying out a metal chain marked with meter measurements along the transect line and shaping it to the contours of the benthic substrate. If a site had a large number of boulders, that would equate to a higher rugosity measurement than a site that was purely sand or flat rock. Collectively, all of this data helps provide insight into the health of the reefs and water. The data are also used for identifying any significant ecological changes over time. 

A critical part of surveying involves assessing water quality. This YSI water quality monitor is weighed down at the survey site to collect data at depth, then sent up to the surface to collect a second round of data.

Kelly Moore takes benthic photos along the transect line of one of our survey sites. The long rod attached to the camera ensures that there is a standardized distance between the camera lens and the benthic substrate.

A number of people had expressed their excitement when they heard I would be working with Kelly. It took me very little time with her to realize that she is a powerhouse of a worker and a wonderful, genuine person. Our other team member, Glauco, is a jack of all trades who was constantly darting between dive ops, helicopter ops, visiting the patients in the care home, and helping with whatever odd things came up around the settlement. For such a small team, they got things done. They had a good rhythm — ideal when your team is normally only two people strong. I was eager to help, but their routine was so dialed in that it was initially challenging to know how to best assist. As the days progressed, we developed a steady flow to each morning. We’d load survey and dive equipment into the truck, make the necessary calls to initiate our dive plan and confirm that the hyperbaric chamber nearby was operational, and sit down for a group discussion and safety briefing. 

Glauco and Kelly go over dive sites and operation plans in the morning.

The isolated nature of Kalaupapa impacts every aspect of daily operations in the park, especially when dive operations are ongoing. Safety briefings are part of any NPS dive operation, but they were especially detailed in Kalaupapa, and for good reason. There are no medical services on-site, little cell service, and very few, if any, other boaters in the nearby waters. If anything were to happen while we were out, we would have to depend primarily on radio communication, which isn’t 100% reliable in the area. 

The steep sea cliffs towering over the settlement don’t exactly help when you’re trying to get cell service in Kalaupapa.

Once we talked through all things safety-related and confirmed that we were feeling good to dive, we drove down to the wharf where the NPS boat was moored. Because of the frequent swell and wave action, it usually wasn’t possible to tie up to the wharf without seriously risking damage to the boat. The best alternative was mooring the boat farther out in the water. This also meant taking an early morning plunge and swimming out to the boat, then driving it up to the wharf to load our gear. On particularly “swelly” days, we used large bins to float equipment out to the boat, pushing them in front of us as we swam. It sounds a bit ridiculous (and looked very ridiculous), but the NPS boat was to be protected at all costs!

The NPS has one boat in Kalaupapa NHP. It is treated like royalty! In such a remote area, it’s critically important to take good care of what you have — you don’t know how long it’ll take to get a replacement if something breaks.

Gear set up and ready to go on the boat — and with a stunning view in the background.

Before Kalaupapa, I had never been diving in the North Pacific. Honestly, I hadn’t done much diving in water below 80 degrees (I’m spoiled, I know). After our first day of surveys, I learned that staying warm throughout a day of Kalaupapa diving meant layering up with a long sleeve rash guard and leggings, a 5 mm wetsuit, and a hood. It was chilly, yes, but I welcomed the new dive experiences. After months of diving in the Caribbean, I was surprised to see so many different fish species and such a vastly different underwater environment. The seafloor was composed primarily of bedrock and massive boulders, along with scattered cauliflower and antler corals. Unicornfish, trumpetfish, and bright yellow tangs caught my eye as we worked underwater. I couldn’t help but feel thankful that I didn’t have to identify, count, and measure each one. As much as I enjoyed all the Caribbean fish surveys I’d done earlier in the summer, I greatly appreciated the change of pace. 

A batch of colorful cauliflower coral in the light.

A small school of chubs — “nenue” in Hawaiian — swim by. Sometimes you’ll see a bright yellow chub intermixed with the grey ones — the result of a recessive trait. Hawaiians believe the rare yellow chubs (referred to as queen nenue) are good luck.

A Crown-of-Thorns starfish overtakes a cauliflower coral.

The scenery both above and below water was absolutely amazing in Kalaupapa.

— 

When we weren’t diving, Kelly and Glauco were eager to help me feel at home and show me all that Kalaupapa had to offer. There weren’t many people around and we were certainly isolated, but there was a strong sense of community in the tiny settlement. By my second day, my fridge was stocked with groceries and freshly picked fruit from Kelly and a large bag of deliciously marinated venison from Glauco (the deer on the settlement are an invasive species, so the community consumes the by-products of permitted animal control efforts). In the evenings, people would get together for walks on the beach, snorkeling, or volleyball. Covid made it slightly more difficult to do things in groups, but everyone seemed to find a way to stay connected and keep spirits up. 

An evening past time: cracking coconuts! Kelly (left) uses a machete to whack off the outer husk, and Sydney (right) stabs the coconut onto a rebar pole in the ground to pry off the rest of the shell.

Getting to the actual coconut is not an easy task!

Another Kalaupapa activity: exploring the other side of the peninsula with Kelly and her water-loving dog, Thule.

I did my best to watch the sunset every evening.

As I adjusted to my new environment, I found myself constantly thinking of Kalaupapa’s storied history. It’s impossible to ignore when you’re there. Cemeteries, monuments, and memorials dispersed throughout the settlement encourage one to take a pause and think about the significance of the area. As Kelly pointed out during one of our evening hikes, the isolation of being in Kalaupapa during Covid could be difficult at times. But, it was incomparable to what the thousands of leprosy patients before us experienced. Each day, whether I was watching the sunset on the beach or enjoying the stunning views of the lush green cliffside, I appreciated the fact that I was in the patch of Hawaiian paradise by choice — a luxury that so many before me were not afforded. Curious to continue learning about and experiencing the park, I prepared for my next Kalaupapa adventure: freshwater stream surveys in Waikolu Valley. 

Father Damien is known for his dedication and devotion to the patients on Kalaupapa. He arrived on the island in 1873 and built houses, planted trees, organized schools, and most of all, provided hope, care, and support to those exiled to the remote peninsula.

A number of cemeteries have been established around the peninsula.

 

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An Unexpected Return: Coral Reef Monitoring in Virgin Islands National Park

One of my favorite pieces of advice I’ve received during my internship so far is to “maintain a rigid state of flexibility.” The cleverly paradoxical phrase, told to me by Brian Lariviere, serves as a reminder to wholeheartedly embrace a mindset centered around adaptability. It was a particularly useful piece of advice for the last two weeks, as I made an unexpected return to the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). This time, instead of flying to St. Croix, I ventured to St. John — home of Virgin Islands National Park. 

I was immediately intrigued by the USVI when I visited St. Croix for my first internship project — reef surveys for the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program (NCRMP). Nostalgia hit me as soon as I landed, and I found myself reminiscing about my island days on Koh Tao. I missed the slowness of island time. I missed palm trees. That feeling of constantly being sticky from humidity? Surprisingly enough, I missed that, too. The two weeks on St. Croix passed quickly, though, and I didn’t have a chance to explore the other U.S. islands — St. John and St. Thomas. When I left at the end of June, I didn’t know when I would return. Soon, I hoped, but it wasn’t initially in the cards for the remainder of my internship. 

five people on bow of boat in front of sandy beach smiling

The St. Croix NCRMP crew (from left): Jeff Miller, me, Kaya Carrión, Kristen Ewen, and Mike Feeley

The opportunity to return to the cluster of Caribbean islands arose when I was working with the NPS South Florida Caribbean Network (SFCN) crew during a recent project in Dry Tortugas National Park (DRTO). Coral biologist Jeff Miller and marine biotechnician Lee Richter mentioned a need for more divers to complete NCRMP surveys around St. John and I was already trained and eager to return to the USVI. It didn’t take long until I was testing my “rigid state of flexibility” by rebooking flights, changing car and Airbnb reservations, and preparing to leave DRTO a little earlier than expected. 

 


 

A few days later, I departed DRTO on the MV Fort Jefferson with the SFCN crew — Jeff, Lee, marine biologist Rob Waara, and intern Brandy Arnette. After the five-hour cruise back to Key West, we quickly shifted into scramble mode. The SFCN crew was trying not to exceed a 10-hour workday, but they’d already lost half of that to the ship journey alone. We still needed to unload gear and transfer it to our two vehicles, pull the SFCN boat out of the water (it had been towed by Fort Jeff), load it onto the trailer, and then drive up to Miami to store the boat. It was going to be a long day no matter what. To make matters more eventful, a torrential thunderstorm rolled through as we were transferring gear from the ship to the cars, leaving all of us soaked to the bone by the time we started the four-hour drive to Miami. I rode along with Lee and Rob in the truck pulling the SFCN boat. Traffic was surprisingly clear up the Keys and we were having a grand ol’ time, rapping to 90s hip hop and reflecting on the last week in DRTO. We were making good time — that is until Rob glanced at the boat trailer in the rearview mirror and announced, “looks like we’ve got a flat.”

Photo of boat on a trailer with two people standing next to it on the side of a road

Lee (left) and Rob (right) assess the damage.

Two men, one bending over and one kneeling, holding and inspecting a damaged car tire on the side of a road

“What could possibly be wrong?”

Up-close photo of a damage car tire.

I associate the word “shredding” with surfing, sensitive documents, and skateboarding — preferably not tires.

Fixing a flat tire on a loaded boat trailer is no joke. Two jacks, both raised to their max, provided barely enough lift to remove the shredded tire and replace it with the spare. Still wet from the rainstorm and now covered in dirt and grease, I think it’s safe to say that all three of us were pretty done with the day at that point. Despite our fatigue, with some coffee, snacks, and more 90s hip hop, we were able to finish the day in relatively good spirits (and without any further mishaps) and make it back to our respective homes for the night.

A day and a half later I found myself staring out a plane window, taking in the views of St. Thomas. Steep, rugged hills ran east to west across the island and colorful houses stood scattered throughout the hillside. The bright orange-red flowers of flamboyant trees provided further contrast against the island’s bright green foliage. Paired with the warm sunshine, turquoise waters, and pervasive humidity, it was a true slice of Caribbean paradise. I spent a bit of time on the island to catch up with friends, but my final destination was six miles across the water on the neighboring island of St. John. 


St. John’s white-sand beaches and warm blue waters caught the public eye in the 1930s, causing the tourist industry to take off on the sleepy paradisial island. By the 1960s, Virgin Islands National Park had been established, encompassing 60% of St. John and nine square miles of offshore waters. Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument protects an additional 20 square miles of open water and coral reefs around the island. Above water and below, Virgin Islands NP is a tropical wonderland, absolutely teeming with natural beauty and cultural history. 

The house I stayed in had a fantastic view of the main harbor in Cruz Bay.

Wonderland turned to wasteland on September 6th, 2017 — the first day of Hurricane Irma’s violent ravage directly through the USVI. For six days, Irma’s raging Category 5 winds and torrential rains ripped roofs from buildings, sunk boats, and washed away roads. After six days of Irma’s destructive spree, St. John’s landscape was not only in ruins, it was denuded of greenery. If a tree miraculously still stood, the leaves had blown away, altering the overall hue of the island from a lush green to a flat brown. Whatever remained was further battered by Hurricane Maria, another Category 5 storm that roared through only a week later. 

The damage was unquantifiable. People, infrastructure, forests, mangroves, coral reefs — everything suffered from the twin hurricanes’ devastating blows. Within the national park alone, 25 NPS facilities were markedly damaged or destroyed, including employee housing. Sections of shoreline around the island were significantly eroded. 90 vessels sunk or washed aground within the park’s waters and the coral reefs were smothered by loose sediment and debris. Additionally, the brute force of the hurricanes dislodged entire coral colonies — some of which weigh hundreds, if not thousands of pounds — and ripped apart corals that were hundreds of years old, killing them overnight. 

The national park’s reefs were in the very early stages of hurricane recovery when Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) was first spotted within park boundaries in 2019. SCTLD is a rapid, lethal waterborne disease known to infect at least 20 scleractinian (i.e. hard) coral species. It’s exactly what you don’t want to show up when a coral reef has only just started to stabilize after a devastating natural disaster. The resulting compounding damage has severely stressed the national park’s reefs over the last few years. 


Monitoring and surveying efforts are essential to understanding how Virgin Islands NP’s valuable reef ecosystems are responding in the wake of such severe stressors. For two weeks, I set out with Jeff, Lee, Natural Resources Manager Thomas Kelley, and Park Dive Officer Devon Tyson to conduct NCRMP surveys around St. John. NCRMP was established in order to collect data on reef composition, fish biodiversity, and coral cover. In the USVI, it’s a collaborative effort between NPS, NOAA, and the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI). The data collected from NCRMP provide collaborators with a comprehensive picture of Caribbean reef condition and are used to inform policymakers and researchers. 

Procedurally, the surveys were identical to what I did in St. Croix back in June. Not only that, we were working off of the same boat, Eddie Boy, and it was my third time working with Jeff and Lee. I still had lots to learn about the park and plenty to explore, but it was nice to be familiar with the workflow and some parts of my new environment. Plus, I always learned a lot and had a great time with the SFCN crew. 

Within a few hours of arriving at the park, we were out on the water and back to the NCRMP grind. Like the St. Croix surveys, our assigned sites were randomly selected GPS points based off of benthic maps. There was supposed to be hard bottom (suitable foundation for coral) at each site, but occasionally we’d dive down and see fields of seagrass or barren patches of sand. In that case, we’d head back up, climb onto the boat, and take off to the next site. Those dives aside, we managed to drop onto some super interesting patches of reef. We went all over — from shallow (sometimes too shallow) sites in protected bays to 90 ft. sites on the mid-shelf reef. This was an exciting aspect of NCRMP dives — you never knew what you were going to survey. 

View of ocean with multiple sailboats in the water

A view of the busy St. John marina as we ventured out for the day.

We covered quite a bit of ground (or should I say water?) doing NCRMP surveys. We saw St. John from practically every angle. As we boated from site to site, long-time St. John residents Thomas and Jeff regaled me with facts and stories about the island’s history, the establishment of the park, and some of the ongoing park issues, like removing large pieces of debris and boats that sank during hurricanes Irma and Maria. The conversations were eye-opening but short-lived, because before we knew it, we were at another survey site. We geared up, rolled off the boat (Jeff did an occasional flip), and descended underwater once again. The surveys were fast and intense. I was doing fish assessments, which entailed recording all observed fish species, their quantity, and their sizes. Once I finished recording fish data, I also recorded data about the benthic habitat, like the percentage of coral cover and whether or not any coral disease was present. Since SCTLD hit this area of the USVI a while ago, a lot of coral colonies were in the later stages of the disease or had already been killed. But, long-term monitoring efforts like NCRMP help track further spread of SCTLD and inform researchers about which reef sections around the island are most heavily affected.

Man laying facedown on a boat

Long days on the boat meant finding creative ways to sneak in a power nap. I preferred laying on the pile of warm aluminum tanks at the bow of the boat, but Lee opted for this comfortable (?) spot.

An important balance: filling out data sheets and fulfilling caloric needs.

The weather was splendid for the majority of our dive days, but it was the middle of hurricane season, so a storm here and there was to be expected. One night, I tossed and turned in bed while I listened to the wind howl and rain hammer on the roof as a small tropical storm came through. By the morning, the weather hadn’t totally cleared up, but the team was determined to try to survey a few sites — weather permitting. Jeff and Devon selected survey sites that were relatively close to the marina and we headed out on the choppy waters. We had just arrived at the first site when the rain and winds picked up and surface visibility became a concern. Our best bet was to wait it out for a bit and see if the conditions resolved. We checked the weather radars and snacked until the weather cleared up enough for divers to jump in.

A stormy day on St. John.

During the storm, Jeff (left) and Devon (right) kept an eye on the weather radar while we waited it out on the boat.

NCRMP dive days kept everyone busy. Devon, our boat captain, was always plugging site coordinates into the boat GPS, navigating to the next site, or keeping an eye out for surfacing divers while surveys were underway. For us divers, having a small crew meant that oftentimes all four of us were needed for each dive. If we went to a site that only needed one of the two assessments done (benthic or fish), two people would stay topside and provide support to the divers doing the survey by helping them with their gear and handing them the necessary equipment before they jumped in. A short 20-30 minutes later, the divers would surface and we would boat over to them, help pull their gear onto the boat, and get their take on the site condition and anything interesting they saw. Even if a site was algae-covered and generally non-exciting, Jeff, Lee, and Thomas would jokingly marvel at the end of the dive. “That’s some fantastic pavement down there,” Jeff sarcastically enthused. “Just incredible.” “Pavement” was the term for flat rocky hardbottom, often with a thin layer of sand and sparse coral coverage. Not the most thrilling, but still important to survey!

A brief detour on the boat ride back to the marina — one of the park’s channel marker buoys broke free and washed ashore on one of the beaches. We carefully boated close to shore and Jeff retrieved the stranded buoy.

Thomas (left) and Jeff (right) get the rogue buoy onto the boat.


In addition to monitoring projects such as NCRMP, NPS biologists are hoping to pursue more direct mitigation efforts in order to preserve and rescue select coral species that are threatened and/or highly susceptible to SCTLD. Last year, a proposal was submitted to collect samples of target coral species (ones known to be endangered and susceptible to SCTLD) within five NPS boundaries in the South Florida/Caribbean region. Once collected, the samples would be analyzed for their genotype (i.e. their unique genetic makeup). Having this data would open many doors for coral rescue and conservation efforts and provide insight into which coral species are more or less resilient to disease and other environmental stressors. 

Just last month, samples of pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus) were taken from colonies in DRTO to be genotyped and preserved at a Florida museum. Pillar coral is a rare species that is currently listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. It is quite susceptible to SCTLD and has nearly been wiped out from Florida’s coral reefs. During all of my dives around St. John, I only encountered the species once. I remember Thomas enthusiastically beckoning me over to the small pinkish-tan colony protruding from the reef. Pillar coral is a hard coral, but during the day its polyps extend and sway in the water, giving it a soft and fuzzy appearance (it’s pretty cute if you ask me). I inspected the colony closely and watched the polyp tentacles grasping for tiny critters in the water while Thomas flagged down Jeff and Lee so they could also see the rare species. Once we surfaced from our dive, it was quite the topic of conversation. 

Interestingly, the pillar coral samples taken from DRTO came from a newly discovered colony within the park and could have a unique genetic makeup. An increase in pillar coral genetic diversity may improve the chances of successful restoration efforts in the future. Scientists could facilitate reproduction between colonies with greater disease resiliency and potentially replant samples back onto the reef. In places like Virgin Islands National Park, this type of mitigation may be necessary in order to help the coral reefs survive after such impactful disease and hurricane damage. 


I finished up my two weeks on St. John feeling thankful to have been involved in another round of critically important reef monitoring efforts. On top of that, I was inspired by the resiliency of the Virgin Islands National Park employees and the St. John community. The island has been through some immensely difficult challenges over the last few years, to say the least. Despite that, there’s a communal sense of perseverance that I really respected. 

Thank you to OWUSS, the SRC, and everyone else who helped make my trip the Virgin Islands National Park a success. I definitely couldn’t have pulled it off without the generous help finding accommodation from Lee and Devon. Thank you both! Thomas and Jeff — it was a pleasure diving with and learning from you both. And to all of the Virgin Islands NP staff who welcomed me, thank you for being such kind and supportive hosts. I hope to return soon. Now, it’s time to leave the Caribbean for real and check out the West Coast. Next time you hear from me, I’ll be writing from Kalaupapa National Historical Park. Until next time!

Off to the West Coast!

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Diving into the DAN Internship

The second half of my internship here at DAN has been packed to the brim with events. I have been able to complete my pilot study on the hydration status of scuba divers. In this observational study, I collected urine samples from divers pre- and post-dive and compared them to control samples with no dive in between. I then analyzed these samples for urine-specific gravity and osmolality in order to see how hydrated divers are entering and exiting a dive. I compared these changes to any changes that would normally occur during the day. I obtained great data from divers here at DAN, but the majority of the data came from our trip to West Palm Beach, Florida, for Lobster Mini Season. Here, we joined charters to take measurements on divers including urine samples, neurocognitive performance, subjective fatigue, skin conductivity, electrocardiograms, and more.

Here is a picture of me on the Pura Vida charter analyzing pre-dive urine samples while the divers are in the water.

We not only took measurements during this trip, but we also got to dive! Our first day on the road consisted of stopping in Charleston, South Carolina, to dive the Cooper River, where we hunted for prehistoric shark teeth and fossils. Our next stop we didn’t dive at, but we got to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. We then stopped in Blue Grotto in North Florida to dive the crystal-clear cavern on our way down. Finally, we also dove on the beautiful reefs in West Palm, which are some of the best that the Atlantic side of Florida has to offer.

Shark teeth I found in the Cooper River.

Above the Voyager pool at the Georgia Aquarium that houses whale sharks, manta rays, and many more species of fish and aquatic life.

At the bottom of the 100-foot cavern of Blue Grotto.

Myself and two other interns descending on the reefs of West Palm Beach.

Another project that I have been involved with recently is serving as a research subject at the Duke Hyperbaric Medical Center. I am involved in a study that is looking to see if a ketogenic diet is protective against oxygen toxicity in divers. For this study, I will enter their hyperbaric chamber two times; one time on a ketogenic diet and one time on a normal diet. For each round, I will be breathing 100% oxygen at a depth of 35 feet of sea water while hooked up to an electroencephalogram, electrocardiogram, IV line, electrodermal activity sensors, and expired gas monitors while peddling on an underwater ergometer and playing a flight simulation game. I will do this task for two hours each round, or until I show symptoms of oxygen toxicity. Another study that I have already completed is looking to see how we can automate the detection of venous gas emboli in divers. For this study, a Doppler device was used to listen to my heart sounds and the information is being used to train a device to listen for bubbles in the vasculature.

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Divers Alert Network Research Internship Kick-Off

My time here at Divers Alert Network started with meeting and learning about the different departments including research, medical, marketing, and operations. We spent a few days taking a research field operator workshop, learning how to operate the various devices we use in data collection. The other interns and I then got briefed on the projects we would be working on over the summer and began doing literature review on them.

One project we started for the summer includes a neurocognitive battery test designed to measure mental fatigue in divers. This test involves a series of 10 “brain” games designed to test working memory, reaction time, dexterity, etc. Another project involves assessing the hydration status of divers by collecting urine samples pre- and post-dive and measuring markers such as specific gravity and osmolality.

Some of DAN’s ongoing projects that we jumped in on include an ultrasound comparison study where we take ultrasounds of divers with three devices to see if they all give comparable results. One is a larger ultrasound device with a computer, one a smaller ultrasound device that can hook up to an iPad or iPhone, and one a small doppler device that records sounds. Another project we jumped in on is the cardiac study where ECG leads are hooked up to divers to measure the electrical activity of their heart before, during, and after a dive.

We decided to clean out the DAN library as we try to make all of the diving-related literature virtually accessible.

This is a picture from our field operator workshop when David Le from UNC came to talk to us about the physics of ultrasound and how we can use it to manipulate microbubbles.

Here is a picture of my heart under the Vivid q ultrasound computer after a dive. We were able to see small venous gas emboli flowing through the right side of my heart. These bubbles are produced when inert gas comes out of solution during a high to low pressure change and can get lodged in the body and produce symptoms of decompression sickness. Most of the time they are benign. These gas bubbles are the reason divers do safety stops at shallow depths so they can decompress.

This picture is from our first ultrasound comparison weekend at Mystery Lake in NC (credit Dr. David Charash).

We have also done some fun dives at quarries around the area including Fantasy Lake and Blue Stone Quarry.

Over Memorial Day Weekend, we found an old American flag during a dive under a bunch of silt and thought it was only right to haul it back to the surface.

We have gotten to tour two hyperbaric chambers so far where divers become patients when they are struck with decompression illnesses. These chambers are used to treat a variety of other diseases and conditions, too. During the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society annual conference, we learned about how these chambers operate and recompress divers to various depths and on various gas mixes.

Duke University’s hyperbaric chambers. There are 7 chambers here that house patients, hyperbaric technicians, and research participants.

Smaller chamber at Bluestone Quarry.

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OWUSS is Back! Virtual Event Series coming soon.

OWUSS Virtual Event Series June 3-5, 2021

The Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society has some good news to share! We are emerging from our year-long COVID hiatus and will celebrate our Scholars and Interns with a virtual event series June 3-5, 2021. It is more important than ever that we celebrate success while we recognize the challenging times we are all facing.

Scholar and Intern Symposiums – June 3 & 4

Similar to the morning symposiums we traditionally held at The Explorers Club, the first two days of the event will feature the final presentations of our returning 2019 Rolex Scholars and Society Interns. This is a chance to hear a bit more in-depth about what they did during their scholarship and internship experiences.
 

Awards Ceremony – June 5

The awards ceremony will celebrate the returning class of Scholars and Interns as well as announce the new 2021 Rolex Scholars and Society Interns. This year the ceremony will feature the world premieres of the year-end films for the 2019 Rolex Scholars, the announcement of the DAN Rolex Diver of the Year, the introduction of the 2021 Society Interns, and the awards presentation of the new 2021 Rolex Scholars.
 

Plan Ahead

To maximize the number of viewers from around the world, the initial viewing for each event will air at the following days and times:

Scholar Symposium – Thursday, June 3
Intern Symposium – Friday, June 4
Awards Ceremony – Saturday, June 5

 

  • 4pm EDT – New York
  • 3pm CDT – Chicago
  • 1pm PDT – Los Angeles
  • 9pm BST – London
  • 10pm CEST – Berlin
  • 6am AEST – Sydney (June 4, 5, and 6)

Visit the Event Page for More Details

Visit owuscholarship.org/2021Event for links to the events plus more details.

Also, keep watching your email as well as the Society website (www.owuscholarship.org), and social media sites — Facebook and Instagram.

Return to the Field

With a new cadre of Scholars and Interns, the Society is working with hosts and sponsors to safely introduce our new Scholars and Interns to the field. The decision to reinstate scholarship and internship activities for this year was not taken lightly. The Society recognizes the ongoing seriousness and continually changing nature of the pandemic. With input from all three scholarship regions and the internship program, the Board has agreed to move forward cautiously with, as always, the safety, health and well-being of the Scholars and Interns of utmost concern. 
Given the differing travel and stay-at-home restrictions, vaccination schedules, and COVID protocols for North America, Europe, and Australasia, there is expected to be considerable variability and flexibility to the schedules and experiences for the Scholars and Interns. Our coordination teams will do everything they can to ensure the recipients maximize the available opportunities.

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OWUSS and DAN Announce New Internships for 2021

The Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society® (OWUSS) and Divers Alert Network® (DAN®) are pleased to announce two new internships for 2021. Applications are now being accepted for the Dr. Glen H. Egstrom DAN Diver’s Health and Safety Internship and the DAN Diver’s Safety Internship.

The Dr. Glen H. Egstrom DAN Diver’s Health and Safety Internship is named in honor of one of the Society’s founding directors. Dr. Egstrom was an avid diver and brilliant scientist who dedicated a significant portion of his career to diving safety by improving diver and instructor training, diving equipment, fitness to dive, diver conditioning, and underwater performance. This internship, with a special focus on the health and safety of divers, will be flexibly tailored to the recipient’s interests based upon the available experiences and research being conducted at DAN. The selected intern will have the opportunity to participate in continuing education courses, gain a deeper understanding of diving physiology and current diving research worldwide, learn to prepare, plan, and conduct scientific experiments, and learn techniques of physiological data acquisition and analysis. The intern will be interacting with divers during field research events, collecting physiological data, and communicating DAN Research endeavors to the diving community at large.

The DAN Diver’s Safety Internship will expose the recipient to DAN’s risk mitigation and dive safety resources and initiatives. The selected intern will have the opportunity to participate in continuing education courses, learn about pressure vessels such as hyperbaric chambers and scuba cylinders through training materials, seminars, and field trips, and participate in DAN’s safety and training programs by assisting in field assessments of hyperbaric chambers and other related facilities. This internship will be personalized to meet the specific interests and personal goals of the individual selected for the internship within the scope of DAN’s projects as noted above.

The deadline for applications is January 15, 2021.

For more information, visit OWUScholarship.org/Internships.

About the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society: The Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society® is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization founded in 1974 and dedicated to the promotion of educational activities associated with the underwater world with the intention of fostering and developing the future stewards of our planet. Its educational outreach has historically been directed at college-aged individuals planning careers in such fields as oceanography, marine biology, maritime archaeology, film making, or medicine. 

About Divers Alert Network: The world’s most recognized and respected dive safety organization, Divers Alert Network (DAN) has remained committed to the health and well-being of divers for 40 years. The organization’s research, medical services and global-response programs create an extensive network that supports divers with vital services such as injury prevention, educational programs and lifesaving evacuations. Every year, hundreds of thousands of divers around the world look to DAN as their dive safety organization.

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Virtual Online Memorial Event for Dr. Glen Egstrom

You’re Invited to Dr. Glen H. Egstrom’s Virtual Online Memorial Event*

Access Link: https://youtu.be/NKUyZBOhY0o

Sunday, July 12, 2020
1:00pm PDT/4:00pm EDT – 2:00pm PDT/5:00pm EDT

Premiering the Tribute Movie – “A Life Well Lived”

The family of Dr. Glen H. Egstrom humbly invites you to a virtual, online
memorial to celebrate his life and contributions. “A Life Well Lived” movie
tribute by Emmy award winning filmmaker Adam Ravetch will be premiered.

Scheduled Remarks

• Opening Remarks    James A. Corry
Director Emeritus, Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society®

 • Adam B. Ravetch    “A Life Well Lived”

 • Mark V. Bensen
Nonprofit and Philanthropy Consultant
1974 Rolex Scholar, Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society®

 • The Egstrom Children 
Gail Egstrom Clarke
Eric “Buck” Egstrom
Karen J. Egstrom

 • Elvin W. D. Leech, MBE
Chairman, Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society®

• Donna W. Egstrom

• Closing Remarks    James A. Corry

View Glen Egstrom’s Written Tribute: Dr. Glen H. Egstrom

Memorial gifts towards the Dr. Glen H. Egstrom Diving Safety Internship can be made here.
You can designate the Egstrom Internship as you are completing your donation.
Please use “Add special instructions to the seller” to do this.

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Glen H. Egstrom, Ph.D., Biography

Glen H. Egstrom, Ph.D.

Founding Director, Past Chairman of the Board, and Director Emeritus

October 16, 1928 – October 7, 2019

“A Life Well Lived”

October 16, 1928 dawned as just another day in America.  Just a week earlier, the New York Yankees had swept the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0 to win the World Series.  American troops had been home from the trenches and battlefields of World War I for about ten years. Calvin Coolidge was the President of the United States, and though Americans had no clue what was about to befall them, the start of the Great Depression was just one year away.

However, this date was going to be very memorable for any number of folks who lived in Jamestown, North Dakota, a little town perched at the confluence of the James and Pipestem Rivers–population 8,000.  Jamestown was founded in 1872 to support a major Northern Pacific Railway repair yard near its James River rail crossing.  Known as the “Pride of the Prairie,” Jamestown is home to the National Buffalo Museum.

This date started unremarkably for electrician Milford Egstrom and his wife, Emily, who managed the Jamestown Bus Terminal and provided 24/7 taxi dispatching for the town; but by the end of the day, their lives would be changed forever with the arrival of their first child, Glen Howard Ole Axel Egstrom.  The extra middle names, Ole and Axel, were airplane pilots and best friends of Milford but were quickly jettisoned by Glen in young adulthood!  The entire family was delighted with Glen’s arrival, and his eight-year-old aunt, Norma Deloris Egstrom, was especially pleased.  Within 15 years, Glen and his family would have cause to be very proud of his “Aunt Norma” who grew up to become the famous singer and actress, the inimitable Miss Peggy Lee!

Glen grew up hunting and fishing the lands and waterways surrounding Jamestown, especially the James River and its associated James Reservoir, a 12 mile stretch of three interlocking lakes that had been formed by the Jamestown Dam.  Glen became a standout high school athlete in football, basketball, and baseball, garnering all-state honors.  Glen, an accomplished swimmer, also became a very popular local lifeguard.    

After high school, Glen headed for the University of North Dakota (UND) intending to play collegiate football.  During his freshman year, he severely damaged a knee.  The university brought a renowned orthopedic surgeon from the Minneapolis Lakers into North Dakota to repair Glen’s knee, but he never played football again and turned his attention to becoming a serious basketball athlete.  In the Spring of his sophomore year, Glen was taking a physical education class and was paired in a game of badminton with Donna Wehmhoefer. They soon started dating and were married shortly after their college graduation in 1950.

The newly married Egstroms headed to Tracy, California, where they both had obtained teaching positions in the local middle school.  They started their new jobs at the end of the Summer in 1950 just a couple of months after the start of the Korean Conflict. It took only until the Spring of 1951 for the Jamestown draft board to catch up with Glen and draft him into the U. S. Army.

Glen graduated as a Private from boot camp, during which he received Trainee of the Week honors from Major General Robert B. McClure.  He was sent immediately to the first Antiaircraft Artillery Officer Candidate School (OCS) and graduated with an officer’s commission and orders to Korea to serve as a platoon leader with the 3rd Infantry Division supervising field artillery. A few months after arriving in Korea, Glen was detailed to the U. S. Air Force 6147th Tactical Air Control Squadron and flew 28 combat missions as a Forward Air Controller in a T-6 aircraft providing close air support, aerial observation, and artillery spotting.  

While Glen was in Korea, Donna moved to Los Angeles and took a position as a Los Angeles County social worker.  1LT Glen Egstrom was released from Korea, placed on inactive duty and joined Donna on October 16, 1953 in Los Angeles.  Ultimately, he was honorably discharged from the Army Reserve with the rank of Major on July 26, 1965.   Glen decompressed from the stresses of war by heading to the Los Angeles beaches every day to surf and play beach volleyball.  In January, 1954, he enrolled in a Master’s program at the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) and was quickly hired as a teaching assistant (TA).  Within a short period of time, Glen became a player/coach on the UCLA Men’s Volleyball Team eligible, because he had not played volleyball at UND.  In 1956, armed with $25 of university funding and uniforms he borrowed from the UCLA Bruins Men’s Basketball team, Glen lead his team to Seattle where they won the national collegiate volleyball championship. 

Glen completed his Master’s degree at UCLA in 1957 and while he continued to be employed as a TA at UCLA, completed his Ph.D. at the University of Southern California (USC) in 1961 and was subsequently hired as an assistant professor of kinesiology at UCLA.    

During this time, Glen continued to love any activity related to the water and kept up the ocean swimming and surfing in Southern California while teaching at UCLA.   His foray into scuba diving was particularly interesting.  Aunt Peggy Lee was married for a brief period to actor Dewey Martin, who obtained some of the first regulators and scuba equipment that Jacques-Yves Cousteau sent into America via René Bussoz of Rene’s Sporting Goods in Westwood, California. These self-contained underwater breathing units he called “Aqua-Lungs.”  Dewey’s contract with the movie studio prohibited him from any dangerous activities, including scuba diving, and “Uncle Dewey” gave his double-hose regulator and twin cylinders to Glen in 1957.  While all this was happening, Glen and Donna were busy growing their family with the addition of daughter Gail (1954), son Eric known as “Buck” (1957), and daughter Karen (1961).  All three were quickly introduced to their parents’ love of the water and two became certified divers.  Gail qualified as a scuba instructor, Karen shared Glen’s love of sailing, and Buck became incredibly skilled at surfing and foil surfing.

Glen had become the faculty sponsor for the UCLA Skin and Scuba Club and asked the Los Angeles County Scuba program, considered to be the first scuba training program in the United States, to conduct a basic certification course at UCLA.  Once certified as a diver, Glen undertook the arduous Los Angeles County Underwater Instructor Certification Course in 1964 to become a certified instructor and graduated with the Outstanding Candidate Award.  He served as its President 1967-1970.  In 1964, Glen was appointed the UCLA Diving Officer, a position he held until 1992.   Glen was notorious throughout the diving community for his nine-month scuba instructor training course (ITC) at UCLA.  One observer of his ITC was quoted as saying, “Egstrom ain’t training scuba instructors; he’s training university diving officers!”  His scientific and recreational diver training program at UCLA was highly acclaimed, graduating hundreds of divers and instructors who themselves continue to make considerable contributions as part of Glen’s legacy.

In 1966, Glen became a member, instructor and instructor trainer with the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) and maintained his membership for life.  Glen served as NAUI’s president from 1970-1975 and held a variety of leadership/advisory positions from 1970-1995.

During this period, Glen served as a reserve deputy sheriff with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, their Diving Safety Officer, and an active member of the Sheriff’s Reserve Marine Company 218. Glen retired in 2004 with the rank of Captain.

Over the years, Glen provided exemplary leadership to many other organizations, especially during their formative years.  Organizations such as the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS), American College of Sports Medicine, Council for National Cooperation in Aquatics, Divers Alert Network (DAN) , Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs, Marine Technology Society,  National Spa and Pool Institute (NSPI) and the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS) all benefitted from Glen’s leadership and counsel.  The organization to which he was most committed was the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society® which he helped found.  To this special group, he provided enduring leadership and instilled within it his lifelong commitment to “investing in people.”  His natural leadership gifts allowed Glen to create, build, and serve communities that continue to help people safely experience the underwater world.  

Glen was the ultimate “people collector,” and anyone invited to his Mar Vista dining table was thrilled to be part of so many loving, thoughtful, and provocative discussions that often lasted late into the evening.  Many were additionally thrilled to have been invited to dive with Glen earlier in the day–only to discover that dinner was dependent upon what they harvested from the sea!

The reader is encouraged to read the reference material below to appreciate Glen’s voluminous awards and publications, but he was especially proud of his collaboration with his good friend, Arthur J. Bachrach, PhD, in their publication of the definitive work, Stress and Performance in Diving.  One of his greatest joys was conducting humorous and famously creative seafood cooking workshops with Dr. Bachrach.

Glen retired from UCLA in 1994 and was awarded the status of Professor Emeritus – Kinesiology in the Department of Physiological Sciences.

It is difficult to fully explain anyone’s life and contributions, especially a life so wonderfully complex and multidimensional as Glen’s.  Though deeply committed to family and friends, Glen had a singular mission in life– to introduce, share, and teach people to safely explore the underwater world he so loved and to train others how to instruct and safely conduct those same in-water activities. This personal mission helped focus his considerable talents with a clarity and passion few others ever achieve.

At Glen’s core was a huge and generous heart called to service; first in Korea as an Army officer and later, to serve so many important communities including his family, friends, academic colleagues, fellow diving instructors, his students, and indeed all those he believed had potential to make a real difference in the world. He had a primal instinct to keep those around him safe, especially those he identified as needing special help to become confident in the water.  He spent a lifetime working to understand and solve problems associated with diving fitness, performance, and safety.  He tested, analyzed, developed, innovated, and reported on nearly every aspect of how diving/aquatic equipment and aquatic facilities and locations could be made safer.  He worked tirelessly to make aquatic instruction of all varieties and the creation and review of safety standards a more scientific, professional, disciplined, and rigorous undertaking. 

Throughout his life, Glen loved being a member of a team and simply being underwater.  As he traveled the world teaching, learning, and exploring, he retained his fascination with nature and the wonders of our place in that world which he had nurtured in those boyhood explorations of the James River. To his students and colleagues, he often voiced his awe of the human capacity to create and to evolve.  He lived his life with courage and passion, and all of humankind’s explorations of the aquatic world are forever safer because of Glen’s contributions and body of work. 

Those who experienced Glen’s exemplary leadership, many of whom built their careers under his tutelage and mentorship, share a powerful image of this man in his element.  He is standing in the breaking surf, in full scuba gear, a speargun in one hand, and a “diver down” float in the other—looking over his shoulder with that familiar, compelling expression that said, “You comin’?  Follow me!” 

In honor of Dr. Egstrom, the board of directors of the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society® voted unanimously on June 5, 2020 to establish the “Dr. Glen H. Egstrom Diving Safety Internship.”

The Egstrom family is grateful for the outpouring of tributes to Glen and expressions of sympathy to the family.  They also appreciate memorial gifts to the Dr. Glen H. Egstrom Diving Safety Internship administered by the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society®.

REFERENCES

International Legends of Diving – Glen Egstrom Bio

Journal of Diving History – Glen Egstrom Tribute by Dan Orr

Xray Magazine – Glen Egstrom Tribute

Los Angeles Times – Glen Egstrom Obituary

 

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Link

Since we are unable to get together in New York City this year, we hope you will join us for our virtual event.

Saturday, June 6th,
4pm EDT – New York
3pm CDT – Chicago
1pm PDT – Los Angeles
9pm BST – London
10pm CEST – Berlin
6am AEST (Sunday, June 7th) – Sydney

We’ll have video messages from our returning 2019 Scholars and Interns.
We will also check in with some of our alumni to see what they have been working on, and we’ll hear from Dr. Joe MacInnis who will provide us with some inspirational words.

We will wrap up the presentation with an announcement of the new Society Interns and Rolex Scholars who will start their experiences in 2021.

If you are unable to join us at the scheduled time, the event video will be available following the event.

https://youtu.be/01PNRBkw3s8 

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