Author Archives: Katherine Newcomer


Hello all!

So its officially been three weeks since my internship ended, and I thought I would do a final update to reflect on the whole experience and talk about my last few weeks as the AAUS Summer Intern. I think it took me this long to write my final post because of the wealth of activity that went on this summer; from earning four different scuba certifications, to working on three different scientific projects, and transforming my scuba knowledge into a teachable skill, the ways that I’ll practice scientific diving have been forever changed. Moreover, being the first experience I had post graduating from Williams College, it was formative in the way that it pushed me into the real world while still allowing me time to refocus in the beautiful Maine setting. Now in Boston, I find it hard to tell people exactly what I was doing between graduating from college and starting now as an intern at the New England Aquarium. It definitely was an amazing and educational experience for me, and proved that science diving is exactly what I hope to do with my life in the future.

Me inbetween two dives for lobsters.


Not only did I have a great time learning and working there, but I met some amazing people who inspired me to continue on in the hopes of becoming a working marine biologist. In a field that can be at times competitive and at times isolating, its great to meet others who push forward with their work and enjoy it as well. My many coworkers and fellow students really helped shape my experience. Not the least of which include my two mentors / bosses for the summer Chris Rigaud and Rick Wahle. I also received generosity from those outside my immediate campus in Walpole, including Jenna Walker and the OWUSS staff who led me through the summer, the AAUS community who supported my continued stay in September, and USiA, who provided me with a drysuit to learn from.


Before a descent to go lobster suction sampling at Damariscove, ME.


Wahle Crew throwing Ws before heading out on the Turnstone II for the morning.

In my last few weeks at U.Maine my main occupation was helping to teach the Science Diving course. This experience was one of the most influential of the entire experience, because it acted as a refresher and summary course for all of the work I did over the summer to earn AAUS certification and Divemaster. I heard once that the way to learn something is to “See it, Do it, Teach it” and this class gave me the opportunity to really see all of the lessons at once. Whether it be ensuring hoses are hooked up, knowing the exact inner workings of your gear incase something goes wrong – especially how to lace a BCD strap – or knowing your body so that the constant ascents and descents required to test a class don’t interact with a lingering cold. You’re own kit and preparation have to become second nature if you’re preoccupied with making sure everyone else around you doesn’t forget to turn their air on.

Here are some photos of me on the job, just to prove it really happened!




This photo was taken on the bowsprit of the boat I took to our Monhegan Island dive trip.


Now I’ll be in Boston working at the New England Aquarium as a Giant Ocean Tank Intern, so if you want more updates just drop by some weekend and wave at me through the glass! At the aquarium I prep food and help maintain the health of the inhabitants of the faux coral reef tank. The 200,000 gallon tanks hosts dozens of different species of fish, four turtles, four sharks, and four rays. The animals eat approximately 40lbs of food every day that I help prepare in the mornings. I dive approximately twice a day in the tank, and with my training this summer I quickly passed my check-out dives and have begun hand feeding a few of the species in the tank. My increased buoyancy control helps me navigate the small pathways carved through the exhibit and my summer in 40 degree saltwater has me now spoiled in the 75 degree tank. Many of the skills I learned this summer transfer beautifully into the tank, including the suction sampling which will help me learn to vacuum the sand at the bottom of the tank. My increased understanding of gear helps me feel comfortable wearing aquarium gear instead of my own, who also prefer the harness style BCD instead of the normal jacket. And nothing can diminish the benefit of feeling comfort in the water that I attained this summer in Maine, which helps me keep calm and stoic when so many visitors are watching!

Maybe I’ll see you sometime in Boston but until then, thanks for the great summer.



Maine-ly Amazing, for another month!

Work has proceeded along and we still do much of the same projects. Lobster and scallop collections are still going strong, and lobster dissections continue throughout this month and next. Rick and Chris have asked me to stay on as a diver through September, in order both to help finish out the collection season and to help with classes that start at the Darling Marine Center soon. My Our World Underwater Scholarship Society funds will have run their course – providing me with an excellent summer of experience – but UMaine and AAUS have been generous enough to help extend that grant through to the new ending date. I am very excited to be able to stay and help, as I have never had the opportunity to dive as frequently or for as so many varied purposes as I have here at the DMC! I’m extremely excited to stay at the Wahle lab and begin my own scallop predation project as well as continue lobster collections, but I am equally excited to get to help out with the Scientific Diving class hosted here by the Semester by the Sea.

I'm also excited to stay in Maine for another month because of awesome places like this.

I’m also excited to stay in Maine for another month because of awesome places like this.

Lobster experiments have become more focused on collecting young-of-year (YOYs), which are particularly evasive this season but generally difficult to find. These less than 1cm long lobsters are difficult to find among the rocks at our sampling sites, which makes hand collection practically impossible for those who haven’t been collecting them for years. Suction sampling – the art of collecting lobsters with large, tank-run PVC pipe – has become easier for me since the start of the summer, but even this process doesn’t guarantee their collection. Holding them in the lab is even harder, as they escape easily from well ventilated (read holey) containers. Dissections and measuring continues as well, and a larger in-field project will start once we have enough lobsters to deploy!

Measuring small lobsters at the Department of Marine Resources is part of our long-term growth study.

Measuring small lobsters at the Department of Marine Resources is part of our long-term growth study.

The DMR also breeds some pretty cool species in their tanks, including this two color lobster!

The DMR also breeds some pretty cool species in their tanks, including this two color lobster!

One of my formerly least favorite dive sites was redeemed this week on one of the most gorgeous summer days Maine has had so far. Of course we didn’t bring the GoPro to grab pictures but it was an extremely calm day that let us explore some underwater swim throughs and partially exposed boulders on the point at Rachel Carson. I’ve included the map below so you might begin to understand how this site treats swimmers in rough conditions (badly) but that its many nooks and crannies are amazing once you can gain access!

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Everything is moving forward up here in Maine and I’m excited to see the start of fall. I’ll probably become more dependant on my USiA drysuit in the future, so I’m glad that certification was one of the first that I completed this summer. Water temperatures still remain around 50 degrees and visibility is highly variable. Sometime this week I’m hoping to put my newfound search and rescue techniques into use combined with my recently gained knowledge about runoff and seawater visibility to find my lately-submerged sunglasses. Other than that no problems to be found!




Scuba Education

Maine is still beautiful as usual.

Pemaquid Point is still gorgeous even on a dreary day.

Pemaquid Point is still gorgeous even on a dreary day.

August has brought with it two of my greatest accomplishments so far during the internship: AAUS Scientific Diver Standing and PADI Divemaster certification! Its been great working up to the two exams and underwater tests throughout the summer, and many of my personal experiences helped me through the questions. One in particular stands out,

A diver comes to you after a few days of diving, feeling tired, sore, and achy. What do you think is wrong with the diver, and what should you do?

Well, although the first answer is Decompression Sickness, one of our divers this summer discovered in this same scenario that she had lyme disease. I encouraged her not to dive due to her then mysterious illness, and was not surprised to find out something was actually wrong! DCS is similarly evasive, but whenever a diver feels poorly, the best choice is to discontinue diving. You never know what could be the result.

By being able to associate the questions with my experiences from this summer, the tests felt like I whizzed through them. Definitely the more challenging aspect of the two exams are the in-water skill tests. Since I did the two courses simultaneously, its difficult to extract the skills that were specific to one or the other – and the two courses seemed entirely complementary to me. Where AAUS would test your own buoyancy control for scientific studies, Divemaster would ask you to know how to help an out of controlled buoyant ascent. Where AAUS wants you to be able to distinguish different ocean qualities for experimental design, Divemaster training requires you to be familiar with current patterns and drift in order to better plan dives for students. While you have to complete basic dive skills for AAUS, you have to demonstrate dive skills for Divemaster. The two courses helped me become an all around better diver, and by doing them at the same time I learned more about dive physics, physiology, and oceanography that I would have separately. I also experienced the class from both sides of the coin, as student and teacher, which helped define my teaching style and refined my practice as a student. I would recommend to anyone hoping to do either, to do both!

One of the most enjoyable – and the most helpful – parts of my training was the role-playing aspect. My DSO Chris would become “other Chris” and act the part of a new or inexperienced diver. Most often this meant that his gear would be put together incorrectly or that he wouldn’t stick with me throughout the dive, but once or twice this meant real underwater accidents. He bolted to the surface, had his air turned partially off, and even unstrapped his tank from his BCD. These tested my own ability to identify and solve problems (hopefully out of the water first!). It also solidified the need for each step in the preparation and check-out dive process. I will never not check to see if a diver’s air is on, or if he didn’t connect his inflator hose. For me the most disconcerting underwater problem is actually when my buddy does not stay with me. Then, I imagine all possible problems being wrong and if he is not around I cannot even begin to attempt to fix them. This changed my own diving by making me uber aware of my buddy’s location during working dives – both for my safety and theirs.


Although my scuba education is not yet finished – is it ever really? – I do feel like I’ve accomplished a lot this summer. I would’ve never been able to neither afford nor have time for these classes on my own, so the internship experience has been vital. Now I’m off to use my new minted Divemaster training to help teach Discover Scuba!



Science Diving Projects

Besides learning about diving techniques and training, I spend half of my time working on research projects at the Darling Marine Center. Between diving for collections and working in the wet lab I’m getting a lot of experience on fisheries growth studies and population monitoring projects.

Maine as a whole continues to amaze me with the many faces of summer. Thankfully I have never experienced a Maine winter so I can continue to live in blissful ignorance. Working with the Darling Marine Center I’ve been able to see the labs at Bigelow and soon I’ll visit the Maine Department of Marine Resources, and I’ve learned a lot about how large institutions share information. Lobsters or scallops we collect might end up in an experiment somewhere else! My name graces more than a few collection permits these days and that part of my job is quickly becoming a favorite.

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Views of the Darling Marine Center at various points throughout the summer.

Research wise I’ve been very busy with the Wahle fisheries lab doing lobster and scallop collections. We dive once or twice a week to do either basic scallop collection for gonad indices or lobster suction sampling. After going diving in the mornings on the Turnstone 2 – still waiting on the Turnstone 3 yacht – we collect lobsters and whatever else ends up in the sample bags and bring them back to the lab. We sort for Jonah crabs and lobsters and pick out brittle stars and urchins for the DMC touch tank. We’re hoping to get around 250 young of year lobsters to do growth studies. I’ve also done a fair bit of sorting scallop young of year from spat bags. We dissect out hundreds of small scallops (below in photo) between the sizes of 2mm and 15mm.

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The last project I’ve worked on pushes my limits of science work. As a vegetarian I try my hardest not to kill too many animals for research, but recent projects demand dissection. We hope to find growth bands in the gastro-intestinal mill of lobsters, that indicate either the age or the number of molts of that particular lobster. This information would be invaluable to the fishery, but is a mentally difficult task to say the least. I’m learning a lot about how to balance the science aspects with my own personal choices.

Thats all for now, as the summer continues I’ll have updates on dive classes and how our research projects are going. Until then, fair winds!


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Dive Days Updates

After a day of sea bass surveys I’m thankful to have my USiA drysuit!

Hi all!

So I’m now fully underway in the internship here at the Darling Marine Center and throwing myself into the ongoing projects and my dive studies as well. So far I’ve started a Nitrox course, the AAUS Scientific Diving course, my Divemaster course, and almost finished with Drysuit training. With everything I’m learning these days it feels like being a new diver all over again! I’ve reviewed skills like Search and Recovery where I played a retrieval game with some of my coworkers and also retrieved a lift bag I dropped myself. The recovery game asked us to retrieve four painted golf balls after a fellow buddy team dropped them on the bottom. I got the opportunity to buddy with a friend I met in Australia studying abroad but who attended U.Maine for her own undergraduate career. Hilariously, we also were sporting the same wetsuit.


Glad to get to dive with a friend.


Diving doing the search and recovery game – I’m on the right.

I’ve also been out now a total of seven times in my drysuit! My composite drysuit was loaned to me by USiA for the summer to help acclimate me to the Maine diving temperatures, which believe me are much colder than what I’ve previously dove in the Caribbean and Great Barrier Reef. Skills wise, drysuit training has so far been my biggest challenge. Relearning buoyancy control in the drysuit is difficult but I can absolutely tell the difference in my own comfort in below 50 degree Fahrenheit waters. I’m still working on being comfortable enough in the suit to use it during scientific dives where resting upside-down is highly likely, but hopefully I will be ready to use the suit once these “summer” water temperatures drop back below 45. I’m thankful for the chance to learn to use the suit without the pressure of buying or renting one on my own. Thank you Kim Johns and USiA!!


Chris and I found a spare pair of undergarments in the Dive Locker which are better than any pajamas I’ve ever had.


Diving in the drysuit doing Sea Bass surveys.


Another great shot of Maine visibility.

Although my photos don’t show it quite as well, the dives here are pretty beautiful. On any dive I can expect to see lobsters, rock and jonah crabs, urchins, fish occasionally, and many different kinds of anemones – one of my personal favorites. Recently I went on a trip to Monhegan Island, where, besides the quaint village on the island and the amazing swim-throughs on the stone dropoff, I had a chance to see seals while underwater. It was a great experience to see them up close and in an environment where their grace overwhelms their tendency to flop. On this dive not only did I dive dry, but completed my Nitrox certification and dove for much longer than I would’ve otherwise been able to. I have photos from above the water but from below are still to come!

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Anyways, I’m on my way to getting my AAUS certification and Divemaster certifications so I’m also doing lots of dive physics and physiology. It makes me excited to think that one day I could be teaching someone else these things and introducing them to the underwater world. Its definitely a once in a lifetime summer to work so closely with both a great DSO and a great working dive team!

I’ll have more updates soon on the different research projects I’ve been working on soon. Until then, I hope you all get some time underwater!

-Katy Newcomer, AAUS Intern


Darling Marine Center Arrival

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Pemaquid Point

So I’ve officially arrived in Walpole, ME and settled in! Its been a busy, exciting, and already educational week for me here in the most northern state in the country. Starting with my college graduation last Sunday from Williams College, to the start of my first scientific diver check-out dives for UMaine I’ve had a productive week.

After my graduation this past weekend I drove first to Portland, where I stayed overnight in order to purchase my first 7mm wetsuit from Aqua Diving scuba shop on Commercial Street. They kindly walked me through every stage of the purchasing process, from trying on on over 5 different suits, to explaining to me the differences between fin shapes and uses. I ended up leaving the store with a full body teal and black ⅞, hood, gloves, and booties, as well as new fins – which were a huge upgrade from my previous pair, made mostly for snorkeling in warm water. Of course I also purchased “Marine Life of The North Atlantic: Canada to Cape May” so that I start learning more about the benthic system up north. After this I drove the remaining hour and twenty to the lab in Walpole and settled in for the week.

My first few days at the Darling Marine Center have already been fun and fruitful. On Wednesday Chris Rigaud, my supervisor and the DSO here,  led a check-out dive off of the dock at the DMC, practicing common skills: mask removal, 400m swim, and buddy breathing. It was also the first dive I’ve had in about five months, and my first dive with all my new gear – proving to be a good chance to sort out any new kinks. In the afternoon we finished the dive day with at Pemaquid Point, with great visibility and the most sea stars I have ever seen on a dive. We also saw an 8lb lobster, moon jellies, a branching cucumber, and various fish I’m still working on identifying. The entrance to the dive was one of the more challenging I’ve ever experienced; we carried our gear down a smallish goat path and walked fully geared over most of the intertidal zone. But having completed the walk, and knowing now how incredible the dive and the visibility was at the already beautiful lighthouse location, it was absolutely worth it! Plus, it gives me reason to be better prepared for other challenging entrances in the future.

One of the things I want to focus on this summer is really honing my dive skills. I know that I am a confident diver, and usually fully aware of myself in the water, but I’ve heard from too many divemasters that if you don’t practice your skill you can lose the factors you thought you had mastered. Buoyancy control and navigation are two skills that I know as a recreational diver and a scientific diver are invaluable. Hopefully through the many dives I’ll complete here I’ll improve throughout the summer! I’ve also begun the Dan Pro Diver First Aid course which so far is a great supplement to my PADI first aid course and I’m learning a lot about teaching from Chris. Next week is a Rescue diver review that I’m already looking forward to.

On the science side of things I’ve attended a few meetings with Dr. Rick Wahle, the head of the lab that I’m working for here at the DMC. The lab’s main focus is lobster and scallop fisheries science, including growth and age determination. I’m really excited about the projects and the kinds of population studies done by the lab, and I’m hoping to begin my own research on some function of the project. I haven’t yet figured out the area that I’m most interested in, but I’m sure as I continue to be exposed to the various experiments they’re already conducting I will be inspired to think of my own area of study.

So far amazing up here in Maine,

I’m excited to start my dry suit training later in the summer, amazingly provided by USiA. I’m hoping this summer to finish my AAUS certification, start Divemaster, and generally learn a lot about science diving and research here at this amazing lab!

Katy Newcomer

Bike exploration.