Hi everyone, my name is Pike Spector and I have the honor and privilege of being the 2015 National Park Service (NPS) Our World Underwater Scholarship Society (OWUSS) Intern.
I can still remember the day I received the call with this momentous news. When feverishly applying for this internship (for the fourth time) I didn’t think I had even the slightest chance, and yet here I am.
My week began late last Sunday night (5/3) when I flew into Denver from my home in Los Angeles. A storm was rolling in and I remember being astounded at how flat the landscape looked, the mountains were obscured by clouds, which mimicked my distracted mind. When I left LA I frantically packed everything I thought I might need for 3.5 months of traveling. My journey will take my from Denver to America Samoa, Hawaii to Arizona, California to Oregon, Miami to the Keys, and the US Virgin Islands to DC. How on Earth could I plan for all that knowing I will be armed to the teeth with SCUBA gear?
All of these thoughts, and more, were buzzing around my in head as the plane landed in Denver. I was nervous, as Dave Conlin, the Chief of the Submerged Resources Center, had offered not only to pick me up, but to also host me for my week in Denver. I didn’t know what to expect of my time in Denver, let alone the staff of the SRC. However, Dave and I immediately fell into a groove of conversation as we headed back to his home, where I got to meet is wife Michelle and his very energetic dog Luc (my new best friend for the week).
The next day I carpooled with Dave to the SRC’s headquarters where I got to meet the team and tour the facilities. Everyone was incredibly accommodating, kind and helpful. I really didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing, and felt shy about asking for help. However, everyone made me feel right at home. After a casual lunch, the pace was set for my week in Denver. Brett Seymour, the SRC Deputy Chief and Diving Safety Officer would be my “handler” for the next few months connecting me with NPS divers, researchers, and incredible opportunities as I travel through the NPS. Over the next 4 days I rushed around the city, from doctor’s appointment to medical testing center, all the while getting my files straightened out. The National Park Service and the SRC takes SCUBA diving very seriously, and they want to make sure that their divers are in perfect health before they are allowed in the water.
Which leads me to my first big challenge in Denver – skills and fitness testing. Unlike many training agencies, the NPS has a slough of swim and fitness tests along with stressful SCUBA skills that are evaluated before divers can be certified with an NPS Blue Card and cleared to dive. I was apprehensive; I knew the altitude (nearly 5,500ft) would affect my performance and I wanted to make sure I did my best. And no added pressure, but others in the SRC would be joining me in the pool to do their annual recertifications! The first thing that caught my attention was how cool the team was about diving. In my experience an air of arrogance can occasionally accompany diving professionals. None of the SRC batted an eye or looked down upon me for asking questions about their diving repertoire or their gear. However, I have never seen a team of divers look more comfortable in the water, or more at ease during the “stress-testing” procedures of the NPS’s Blue Card exam. Everyone made the skills look easy, and I know I have a lot to learn before I am on their level. As for the immediate future, I passed all my Blue Card tests and am cleared to dive with the NPS.
With so much travel in front of me, I knew I was going to be loaded down, but the SRC goes through great lengths to make sure that their divers have the utmost safety equipment at their disposable. While the SRC might take on an air of casualness in and around the office, they take diving operations very seriously.
In the past, previous interns have come into this program with a little bit of underwater photography skill. Let’s just say that my photography skills, aquatic or otherwise, are passable, at best. So this year I was given a GoPro to use for the summer. In order to test my action-cam skills I got to close out my week in Denver at the Downtown Aquarium on a dive with Brett and an instructor in the 400,000 gallon shark tank. What an incredible experience! To date, my diving history has been written in the kelp forests of California; never before have I seen such magnificent creatures in person in the water. I look forward to *hopefully* seeing some of these magnificent sharks, sawfish and bony fish in the Parks I will be visiting this summer.
But for now, I will have to find creative ways of repacking my gear for streamlined travel. Tomorrow, 5/11, I will leave behind Denver (and its late season snow storm) for the tropical waters of American Samoa.