Return from American Samoa – Diving Completed, D.C and New York in April!

Around the time that the Submerged Resources Center intern was to be announced last March, I was sailing upriver deep in the Amazon Rainforest, completely unreachable by the outside world. I made my way to the only internet connection for many miles and made some hurried, overdue calls from a borrowed satellite phone to accept this position. Clearly, I was aware that this internship was something special.  However, in retrospect I can see that, at the time, I really could not possibly have grasped what was being offered to me. Currently, I have completed this whirlwind of diving adventures and hands-on training, and I really could not have imagined what a life-changing, deeply enjoyable, and truly unique experience this has been!

With lots of new experiences under my belt, I recently flew back to the mainland after three weeks in American Samoa. Before I left, I went on one of the biggest adventures of the internship! Although the majority of The National Park of American Samoa is located on Tutuila (American Samoa’s largest and most populated island), it’s actually spread over several islands that are separated by day-long boat rides. After our dive operations were completed (which included rebreather training and working on fish-tracking receivers), I jumped at the chance to visit Ofu, a tiny island in the South Pacific with only a few hundred inhabitants. In the early morning darkness while being pelted by heavy tropical rains, I scrambled aboard a ferry/cargo ship and began the ten-hour journey to Ofu. During my brief, eighteen-hour visit to the island, I snorkelled on some amazing reefs within the park and rested on one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. After another boat ride back to Tutuila, I packed up my gear, gave many well-deserved thanks to the incredible park staff, and headed back to the mainland. I may have finished all below-sea-level action with this internship, but I can look forward to presentations and conferences in Washington, D.C. and New York that are coming this spring!

On the 5,000 mile journey back to California, I had plenty of time to think about all the incredible experiences I’ve had over the last three and a half months. After meeting the SRC folks in Denver, I logged my first NPS dives in the murky water of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the Arizona-Utah border. I was really impressed with my first NPS diving experience, as the Glen Canyon Underwater Recovery Unit introduced me to efficient search techniques in zero visibility conditions. We ended up removing more hazardous wreckage and trash from Lake Powell than I could’ve imagined.

Next, I flew up to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon and experienced a quick drop in temperature and a shift from red-rock canyons to evergreen forests. We spent several days collecting water samples from one of the most unique bodies of water on Earth: an ancient, water-filled volcano that is among the deepest and clearest lakes in North America.

After some chilly dives in a neighboring lake, it was time to head down Channel Islands National Park for a week of fantastic diving off a bustling liveaboard.  We stayed very busy throughout that week as there was much to be done; the Kelp Forest Monitoring crew is happily tasked with accurately surveying the kelp forests overflowing with marine life around the islands that make up the park. I was happy to learn about the colossal efforts that are put into monitoring our nation’s marine treasures, which is one of my primary interests.

At this point, I ditched my drysuit and headed down to Biscayne National Park in South Florida. The majority of our efforts were devoted to studying and removing the invasive lionfish, which poses a large threat to the marine biodiversity of the Caribbean and southeast United States. I was lucky enough to work on a diverse group of projects as well; I’d spend some mornings combing desolate beaches for sea turtle nests, and others maintaining mooring buoys over historic shipwrecks.

After I left Florida, I spent nearly two months diving in tropical National Parks! This leg of the journey began in Kalaupapa National Historical Park on the island of Molokai.  Kalaupapa was the first of several tropical parks with unbelievable histories, as it was originally founded as the mandatory enclosure of individuals affected by Hansen’s disease, or leprosy. The stunning sea cliffs, remote beaches, and healthy coral reefs made working on a coral recruitment project with the marine team all the more enjoyable.

After I flew to the Big Island of Hawaii, I saw that the natural beauty of the Big Island’s parks was also balanced with powerful histories. A few days on the Big Island flew by as I toured the National Historical Parks of Kaloko-Honokohau and Pu’uhonua O Honaunau. At these locations, captivating stories of the Hawaiian culture are preserved in stone remains of traditional Hawaiian structures. I was happy to join in efforts to locate additional archeological structures underwater, which let us take in beautiful reefs while working to preserve Hawaiian history.

My final experience in Hawaii took place at Pearl Harbor in the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. We set out to locate the GPS coordinates of dock anchors alongside the USS Arizona, which gave me one of the most powerful underwater experiences of my life. Silent moments next to the underwater graves of American soldiers left me with soaring levels of patriotism and gratitude. With that, I began three weeks of diving on the reefs of American Samoa.

I have often described this internship as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but that description actually falls short; this has been a collection of once-in-a-lifetime experiences that have taken place in locations as diverse and incredible as the people who made them possible. Every individual leg of this journey has shown me a beautiful part of our nation and a family of hardworking, talented National Park Service employees. I am so grateful that I was quickly and consistently welcomed into this family everywhere I went. From frosty, mountainous lakes to lush tropical islands, this internship has shown me places and people that make me proud to call the United States my home. I want to give a massive thank you to those incredible people at every park, the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society for helping to create this dream internship and larger network of passionate divers, and every single member of the Submerged Resources Center, who allowed me to proudly share their unit’s name throughout these travels.

Offering thanks is a great first step for someone who has been provided such a bounty of mentorship and experience, but of course it can’t end there. As I figure out the exact road ahead of me, I know that I’ll be repaying this opportunity throughout a lifetime of preserving our nation’s underwater resources and passing along the collected wisdom of countless mentors. Thank you all so much!


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