Category Archives: 2021 Somers AAUS

Amanda Ho

Seagrass sampling using quadrats in Estero Bay, FL.

At Florida Gulf Coast University there were a few ongoing research projects I helped with including seagrass collection. I joined a grad student and some undergrads on a day of seagrass sampling out in Estero Bay right behind the Vester Marine Station. The sampling was your basic randomized quadrat counts. I had done seagrass sampling before but either in freezing northern California water or in 1-3m deep sites without scuba gear. So sampling in sites of 1.5m max depth in a warm bay was a nice change. We worked really fast and managed to do (an almost record) 20 sites by the afternoon. 

Amanda Ho collecting halimeda algae off the east coast of Florida.


Our next dive training session was done on Florida’s Eastern Coast at a reef site called Ant Mounds off Deerfield Beach. Here is where I did my first ever nitrox dive with a 32% oxygen mix. We analyzed our tanks and calculated our dive based on dive tables to hone our skills from the e-learning. On the first dive, we once again collected halimeda and dictyota samples followed by on-boat processing. Then we switched our tanks and did a nice fun dive along the southern portion of the reef. This site had dozens of barrel sponges and a visiting loggerhead sea turtle.

Our last day of diving was probably my favorite, despite having to wake up at 3:00 in the morning for it. Although I set 15 alarms, none went off, but somehow, I miraculously awoke at 3:20 in the morning. We all successfully met at the dock shortly after 4:00 in. the. morning. to load up the vessel and depart on a 3 hour boat ride to the first sampling site 80 miles off the coast of Ft. Myers, FL. Thankfully, the conditions were smooth and it was surprisingly relaxing to be so far from land.



A Mako shark adorned with sargassum spotted 80 miles offshore in the gulf c/o Alex Donnenfeld.

Once there, a few went on a tech dive to evaluate a potential site for red tide research, while me and my buddies snorkeled around the boat looking at small schools of fish and a curious barracuda in stunningly crystal clear blue water. We made our way back to the tech divers once they surfaced only to see they had made a new friend: an unwavering, adequately-sized, silky shark. We definitely needed a bigger boat. A little further from that initial point we noticed another dorsal fin in the water which turned out to be a mako shark. I was stoked; I’d only ever seen nurse or black-tip sharks until then. 



Amanda Ho deploying a sediment trap.

After gawking for the requisite amount of time, we carried on with research. We took YSI and CTD readings, along with water samples at 6 sites in the gulf. The data would be sent to Fish and Wildlife for an ongoing red tide monitoring project. At the final site, we geared up our tanks to deploy sediment traps at an artificial reef consisting of cement structures. After 14 hours at sea we got back to the marina at 7:00 pm only to begin the long process of unloading and washing the boat.



AAUS Somers 2021 – Part 1

After over a year of waiting, I was glad to finally be the 2021 Dr. Lee H. Somers AAUS Intern with the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society (OWUSS). I was originally supposed to participate last summer, but COVID got in the way. Before the pandemic, I graduated with a degree in Environmental Science and Oceanography and I thought I should earn my AAUS certification. I’ve been diving for a few years, but up till now, only had my Advanced Open Water certification. 

The goal with AAUS is to complete a minimum of 12 dives geared toward scientific diver training, but as a bonus I got my rescue, nitrox, and diving first aid for professional divers certifications, as well. I spent hours on the e-learnings before I arrived at my internship’s host university in Florida. Once there at the Vester Marine Station of Florida Gulf Coast University in southwest Florida, I started by practicing rescue skills in their massive swimming pool. Before this, I had never actually dived in a pool — not a lot of wildlife, but I must say the vis is great. 

Test tube containing a turf sample.

The following week, I got to join the DSO (Calli Johnson), Vester’s research coordinator (Adam Catasus), and research assistant/divemaster (Alex Donnenfeld) on a sampling trip to the Keys, where we were met with rough conditions. My buddy and I made sure to take lots of bonine after that. Our days there were spent collecting samples of halimeda and dictyota algae from various sites. After each dive, we would process the samples to gather the epiphytes growing on the algae to later be tested for ciguatera, a potent toxin that seafood-eaters would do best to avoid. We had to process the samples quickly on the rocking boat to preserve the cells. With only a small portion of sample water lost to the deck, we shook up the samples and poured them through sieves until we had enough epiphytes isolated to separate into test tubes.

Amanda Ho sporting the new inside-out wetsuit trend.

When we returned to the Keys Marine Lab where we were staying, we continued our rescue cert requirements by doing a standard CPR/First-Aid course, which was convenient since it had been two years since my last renewal. But the day was not over yet. After a day on the boat, we got right back in the water for some night dives to deploy screens that would collect more epiphytes. That was easy enough, except that my flashlight hardly worked and I was so exhausted I put my wetsuit on inside out.

The next day, we did the exact same thing: algae collection, on-boat sample processing, and night dives to collect the screens. My buddy and I went by ourselves for the screen recovery, and with some spotty navigation, we finally arrived at the screens and successfully recovered them on our own. On the last day, we did, surprise, the same thing, but finished with performing our open water rescues from depth and officially completed the rescue diver certification.

Amanda Ho (center), Sam Ainsworth (left), and Alex Donnenfeld (right) headed out on a night dive.