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.




For the last two weeks of my internship, I shed the title of “scientific diver in training” and became an AAUS Scientific Diver thanks to Diana Steller, Shelby Penn, and my fellow classmates. The first week consisted of lectures on different topics including equipment, cylinders & regulators, species identification, dive emergency & rescue, diving physics, and diving physiology. After expanding our minds in the classroom, we enhanced our skills in the water. We had our checkout dives at Breakwater Cove (where I had my first cold water dive at the beginning of the internship). Then at Hopkins Marine Station, we had our first practice on Reef Check surveys.

Left image- Diana Steller demonstrating how to conduct fish transects with a 2-meter reference, Eliseo Nevarez 

Right image- Tumbling tanks that has red rust on the inside. Thanks to Shelby Penn for showing me how to tumble tanks!

Reef Check helps ensure the long-term sustainability and health of rocky reefs and kelp forests along the coast of California. They monitor rocky reefs inside and outside of California’s marine protected areas. Reef Check also provides scientific data (which is collected by dedicated volunteers) needed to make knowledgeable decisions for the sustainable management and conservation. Reef Check California volunteers are divers, fishermen, kayakers, surfers, and boaters! I am so happy that I had the chance to get involved with Reef Check this summer and for anyone living in California interested in diving and conservation, please volunteer! Check out their website to learn more.

We learned species identification of fish, abalone, crabs, sea stars, slugs/snails, sea cucumbers, urchins, kelp, and other algae. As a dive team, we conducted four different surveys: algae, fish, invertebrates, and uniform point contact (UPC) using 30 meter transect tapes. For algae, we counted individuals (only if they met certain length requirements) and recorded number of stipes for two species: Feather boa and Giant kelp in an area of 2 m across the transect. We also had to keep an eye out for algae species that are invasive including Caulerpa sp., Undaria sp., Sargassum muticum, and Sargassum horneri. For invertebrates, we counted individuals (of certain lengths) and recorded sizes of abalone. For fish, our instructors and trained volunteers counted and sized the fish that they observe in an area 2 m across the transect tape and 2 m off the bottom (30 m x 2 m x 2 m). The goal of UPC is to characterize the habitat so this survey combined cover, substrate, and relief at 30 points along the transect.

Left image- Bull kelp with other algae on a rocky reef.

Top image- All of the students moving the zodiac into the water for our deep dive.

During the second week of the diving course, we camped and practiced more Reef Check surveys at Big Creek State Marine Reserve in Big Sur, California. Big Creek is a 14.51 square mile MPA that was established September 2007. This dive site is the perfect place to obtain our AAUS certification. There was an easy beach entry, a freshwater stream nearby to rinse off our equipment, grassy area for our belongings, and super thick kelp to explore in.

Top image- Students happily rinsing off in the stream after a long dive. 

Left image- View of the beach, bridge, and the mist during a break in between dives.

Right image- Our lovely compressor that we used to fill tanks while camping. 

Our normal day included waking up at the camp site, preparing lunch, walking to the beach, practicing as many surveys and we could on 2 dives, rinsing off in the stream, then continuing with lectures and/or exams. On our last survey day, Dan Abbott from Reef Check came to test us on our species identification skills. We then divided into 3 teams with each diver in charge of one specific survey. Each team had two transect sites to finish and luckily, we all finished them on the last day!

Top- (Left) Beautiful view of our dive entry site and our guardian, a seagull. (Right) Normal view of our swim to the temporary transects. 

Bottom- (Left) Our first snorkel/kelp crawl at Big Creek (Right) More beautiful kelp. 

I couldn’t have wished for a better way to end the AAUS/OWUSS internship. This small group of people (there were only 7 students in our class) have become lifelong friends and dive buddies. From spending time every day with each other for two weeks, we all became very close and helped build one another’s skills and experience. Through difficult and hard times, we supported each other well and lifted each other’s spirits when they were low. Scuba diving is an activity where you trust your dive buddy with your life. This allowed us to build strong relationships and work together perfectly. We trusted each other to finish surveys as a team and most importantly, dive safe. We studied hard to remember the species we needed to know to conduct surveys and we quizzed each other until we all felt comfortable and confident.

Left- Group photo of our wonderful AAUS class + Dan Abbott from Reef Check.

Middle- Fellow student, Lauren Strope, loving the kelp, water, and sun.

Right- Some locals welcoming us back to Moss Landing the day we returned. 

Deepest thanks to Diana Steller, without her there is no way I would’ve obtained four diving certifications, completed Reef Check training, helped on multiple research projects in California and Mexico, and had the time of my life this summer. I’ve learned many lessons about marine science, diving, and life from Diana. Thank you to the people from Moss Landing Marine Labs, San Diego State University, and those who participated in the AAUS Scientific Diving Course for the adventures, shared laughter, and teaching me how to be a better diver, researcher, and person. I can’t wait to see the success of future OWUSS/AAUS interns and to follow in the footsteps of past researchers and scientists. Although this is my final chapter as the OWUSS and AAUS intern, I am looking forward to dive deeper into marine science in the future.

A team (Chase McCoy, Shelby Penn, myself, Diana Steller, Mariana Kneppers) after our last dive at Big Creek.



Isle Royale – Shipwrecks and Buoys in Lake Superior

Isle Royale National Park

After the lengthy and fun-filled 18 hour drive we arrived at Grand Portage MI, our transfer point to the island. Isle Royale is an island in the Northwestern tip of Lake Superior, closer to our Canadian neighbors than Michigan. Made a National Park in 1940 to protect its wild landscape from the impact of the ever-interested logging and mining companies, Isle Royale is a remote and hard to access park boasting untainted northern wilderness, diverse wildlife, and beautiful backpacking. Its 893 square miles of woods host wildlife such as eagles, moose, and wolves. It is also home to the longest-running ecological studies of a predator prey system in the wild (61 years and counting), studying the oscillating population cycles of the island’s moose and wolves. For those of us more interested in the underwater side of things, it also is home to ten major shipwrecks – nicely preserved by the cold, fresh water and free of fouling by invasive zebra mussels. These wrecks, concentrated around the island due to its precipitous bathymetry and centralized location in major shipping routes, are what brought us to this chilly and wild island paradise.

Isle Royale is only accessible by boat or seaplane, and since we couldn’t fit our 2 tons of luggage into a small four passenger plane we opted to boat over. Upon arrival to the harbor we were met by West District Ranger Steve Martin, a close friend of the SRC who had arrived to welcome us to the park and help us across transferring project equipment to the island. Apparently things had been running far too smoothly at this point, because it was then that the SRC’s vessel, Cal Cummings, decided to protest our seamless morning with a myriad of boat-complaints – from battery to steering issues. I was impressed with the SRC’s troubleshooting and repair skills, after a bit of time at work they were easily able to locate the problem and coax the vessel back into service.

Launching the Cal Cummings, the SRC’s vessel


Not a bad day on Lake Superior

While our boat was undergoing a quick attitude readjustment, I joined the first trip across to the island on one of the ISRO boats. My first time on the waters of Lake Superior was stunningly beautiful- sunny, calm, and warm. Reading about the Park and the lake itself, I expected to run into much less favorable weather. Stories of intense storms whipping up 30 ft swells and winter chills dropping far below zero had me prepared for the worst, but my introduction to the park was beautiful and favorable. Zipping through the calm protected waters of Washington harbor and watching small wooded islands and the outstretched fingers of the elongated Isle Royale fly past was thrilling, and heavily reminiscent of the protected inland seas of Southeast Alaska.

After an hour crossing, we arrived at Windigo, our home for the next 3 weeks. Located at the western end of ISRO and consisting of a visitor center, store, campsite, and housing for park employees and visiting researchers, Windigo is the smaller of the two main entry points of the Park. While small, this is the only populated place for miles on this wild island and is a welcome stopping point for backpackers and day-trippers alike. Being a small operation, Windigo is home to one road and one car – an old Jeep that I’m not sure ever gets used, as it sat in the corner of a small field near the store the entire time I was there (and from what I hear, in the same exact spot it was in last year as well). Transportation of gear is handled mainly by a small fleet of miscellaneous vehicles: a golf cart, a utility vehicle, and a tractor hauling a small wooden trailer. The latter is what we used for our first couple trips hauling our bounty of gear up the hill to our housing, and quickly became an invaluable part of our daily pilgrimage to and from the dock. These vehicles are used and maintained by Marty Ogden, lead maintenance staff for the Windigo part of the island, who was incredibly helpful during our time on the island with everything from transportation, to maintaining power, to helping us unload all our gear.

While the primary reason we came to ISRO was to conduct 3D photogrammetry (more on this later) for a couple of the area’s shipwrecks, we couldn’t jump right into the fun. First, we had some other work to do: helping out the ISRO dive team with installation and maintenance of some of their buoys. The Park uses many buoys, some to mark safe passage into harbors or submerged hazards, and others as moorings or markings of wrecks for dive operations. These buoys are instrumental in keeping visitors and passing boaters safe. Unfortunately, the waters of Lake Superior get very cold in the winters and often freeze over – requiring the buoys to be removed when the park closes for the season. This means that, come May when the Park begins to open back up, lots of buoys must be reinstalled. The SRC, as a way to repay ISRO for helping support their photogrammetric efforts,  assisted in buoy installation according the strict manning requirements of OSHA for the first week of our visit. And so, we started our work.

SRC diver Matt Hanks splashes in for the first dive of the trip while Jim Nimz observes from the water

The first dive of the trip was on a sunken passenger ferry just barely inside the mouth of Washington Harbor, the America. This vessel, which lies in the protected waters and juts out of the depths to a mere five feet below the surface, was an easy way to start the trip as well as a good introduction for work to come – as the America was one of the primary photogrammetry targets of this trip. The work – which consisted of two divers locating the wreck and buoy attachment point (pretty easy when it’s visible from the surface), getting passed buoys from surface support on the boat (yours truly), and attaching the buoys via high-tech maintenance tools (wrench and zip ties) – went by without issues. I also got to see my very first wreck of the trip, one of the shallower ones at the bow and quite intact. Seeing glimpses of such a sharp and clean bow emerging from the depths from the deck of our boat was a powerful image for me, a small taste of what lies hidden in the foreboding waters surrounding this island.

Later that afternoon, I got in my first dive of the trip – my first in the Great Lakes and my second freshwater dive I’ve ever done – splashing in the comparatively balmy waters just off the Windigo pier (44 degrees compared to the 36 degree water just outside the harbor). Getting in the water was thrilling, seeing the lake floor carpeted with fallen leaves and branches from the nearby shore, the water dark with tannins. I delighted in the delicately silty bottom, and coming from a biological background, was excited to see some native clam species. As well as an introduction to the lake, the dive served as a check-out for me, where Brett observed and evaluated my skills. I guess he was sufficiently pleased, as shortly after I was cleared to join the team on some working dives.

Heading out for a day of work

Brett Seymour navigating to one of the sites near Rock of Ages lighthouse

The next couple days were a flurry of more maintenance diving. The team installed buoys on more wrecks (the Cox and the Chisolm) out near the Rock of Ages lighthouse, and then boated over to ISRO’s administrative headquarters, Mott Island. There we met Park Dive Officer Mike Ausema, Natural Resources Chief Seth DePasqual, and super volunteer Carol Linteau. From here, we would split the teams up to work on two different objectives. Team one (Mike, Seth, Brett, Susanna, and Matt) would go out on the ISRO park vessel and install a selection of harbor buoys, while team two (Carol, Jim, and myself) would stay back on land and work on some much needed buoy repairs to prepare them for install.

As part of team buoy maintenance, I got to learn some of the more technical, land-based aspects of the craft. Jim, maintenance diving expert and the SRC’s gear guru, is very knowledgeable in these regards and served as a bit of an instructor to Carol and I over the next couple hours. Under his patient direction, I learned a couple of skills essential for buoy work: splicing rope, mousing wire, and removing marking stickers. I was also able to master the art of efficient wrench-usage. With these newly acquired talents, I helped Jim and Carol prepare three new buoys for installation marking submerged wrecks.

ISRO Park Dive Officer Mike Ausema and ISRO Natural Resources Chief Seth DePasqual installing a no wake buoy. Image – Susanna Pershern.

Throughout this first week I was able to learn a bit about the technical aspects of NPS maintenance diving. Unlike most types of NPS dives, which are classified as scientific dives, maintenance dives are considered commercial dives and are sanctioned under OSHA rules. This means that they must be done slightly differently: they cannot be conducted on closed circuit (the SRC’s preferred method of diving), divers must carry a bailout bottle, and there must be a dive tender geared up and waiting at the surface while the maintenance buddy team is down, ready to hop in and assist at a moments notice. It was cool seeing all this work get done in a different fashion – despite not having dove much with the SRC team at this point I knew how much they were into diving with rebreathers, as it makes for more efficient diving (DSO Steve Sellers told me that they had run the numbers and found that they were 40% more efficient diving in the field with closed vs open circuit) – and seeing the team do such varied work. While not necessarily as thrilling as conducting archaeological assessments or 3D modeling shipwreck sites, maintenance diving is an important part of the diving work done at ISRO and is invaluable in making the area safer for visiting boaters.

The SRC geared up and ready to go, maintenance-style (left to right): Matt Hanks as dive tender, Jim Nimz and Susanna Pershern as divers (complete with bailouts)

I guess I had been a good intern during my buoy repair times on Mott Island, as I soon got word of some exciting news. The next day we were traveling to the north shore of the island, where, along with some buoy installs, I was to be treated to my first wreck dive of the trip: a dive on a massive freighter that wrecked there in 1947, the Emperor.

Brett Seymour examines the windlass of the Emperor

The day started off exciting: as well as going to and diving off of the north shore, where some of the islands deepest and most exciting wrecks lie, we were going to make a quick stop at the uninhabited ranger station on Amygdaloid Island to pick up a buoy and change into drysuits. Upon arrival at the small fringe island we were met with a bitter cold wind that felt like it had just came from the Canadian arctic, whipping through the chilly forests and across the border and the small stretch of water that separates Amygdaloid Island from the Canadian coast. Biting and unrelenting, the wind made a compelling argument to put on every warm layer I had and cover it all in a big waterproof suit. Thankfully an old ranger cabin on the island was available for our changing needs, and in its rustic and unheated wooden walls I climbed into enough layers to clothe a small family: three thermal bottoms, five thermal tops, two pairs of wool socks, and two drysuits one-piece undergarments, stacked on top of each other. With my newfound warmth and lessened mobility, I joined the team on our boat as we left that rugged and icy island in search of shipwrecks. The day was already off to a good start.

The cozy ranger station on Amygdaloid Island

As we traveled up towards our site, with the Canadian coast off our port side and Isle Royale’s north shore, speckled with remnants of the winter snowbanks, I thought of what it would be like going down in these waters. Many of the island’s shipwrecks met their watery grave during the lake’s violent winters, where storms thrashed the vessels into shoals and pulled passengers under. Wrecking here during the harsh northern winters was almost a sure death sentence – if the waters didn’t get you, the air would. One of the wrecks we passed on our way up that day, Kamloops, is a testament to this. The ship, now resting at a depth of around 260 ft, wrecked during a violent winter storm in 1927. While some of the passengers went down with the ship (and some remain there to this day), many escaped and made it to shore. These unlucky people didn’t fare much better than their drowned companions – the brutally cold temperatures quickly took their toll and the initial survivors succumbed to the elements. The fate of the Kamloops long remained a mystery – the ship vanished during a winter with no trace of its whereabouts until the discoveries of the bodies of some of the crew the next year along the coast of Isle Royale, and even then the location of the vessel itself was still unknown. It wasn’t until 50 years later that it was discovered by a diver.

Imagine being stranded on a remote coastline like this, during a winter storm with freezing temperatures and blustering winds

The fate of the Emperor, however, shows that storms aren’t the only cause wreckage around Isle Royale. The Emperor, a 525 ft freighter traveling along a common trade route across the lake, hit a barely submerged shoal off of the island’s north shore on a calm and moonlit night around 4AM on June 4th, 1947. Speculation says that an inexperienced first mate may have improperly adjusted the course by a couple degrees, dooming the vessel and setting it on a course for the reef. Reefs like these surround the island, and have caused the end of many of the ships that now rest beneath the surface.

After arriving at the site of the bow of the Emperor, our first team of maintenance divers went down to attach our freshly spliced and stickered buoy. After a successful attachment, it was time for my official introduction to Isle Royale diving. Brett hopped in the water with me and we dropped down to the massive bow of this unfortunate freighter. The size of this ship was hard to grasp at first – despite being relatively intact, years of ice forming and breaking on the surface of the lake has taken it’s toll on the comparatively shallow (40-50ft) bow and has left it partially mangled. Regardless, the wreck was still in great shape and very imposing, with massive features like a huge windlass, deck winches, and anchors present for viewing. Brett took me around the to the good spots and then ended the dive with a quick buoy inspection (have to make sure the team is doing quality work). Being the elite dive team that they are, they passed with flying colors.

The rest of the week was filled with more maintenance diving – attaching buoys to new wrecks, and fixing some older buoys that needed more chain due to lake level rise from last seasons massive precipitation. Maintenance teams went out to add buoys to three more wrecks: the Cox, the Chisolm, and the Glenlyon. Two of Isle Royale’s dive team, Seth and Carol, came down to join in on the festivities for these installs.

Dusk in Washington Harbor, from a nice hike

Not being an experienced maintenance diver myself, I didn’t get in on too much of this fun but instead had a couple days off, where I was able to go on a hike and catch up on some work. I was able to get in a dive on the America with Matt, just to explore the site before we approached doing photogrammetry on it. An absolutely wonderful wreck, the America is an old passenger ferry that lies in 15-85 ft of water. It is very digestible, large enough to be exciting but small enough to swim around it in one dive. It also remains very intact, with the entire hull and most of the deck machinery in place still. It had recently (within the last 10 years) fallen victim to a large swell (or set of large swells) that did some serious damage to the cabin and rest of the deck structure, which made for a very interesting debris field off one side of the wreck. Overall a very nice dive site with lots to explore.




Interspersed in with all of the buoy work was the first test of the SeaArray, the SRC’s flagship photogrammetry machine. This incredible piece of equipment was put to the test on a break between buoy installs on ships – but I’ll save all that exciting stuff for the next blog. Don’t want to get ahead of myself. Overall, the maintenance and buoy work was very successful. Combined, the SRC and ISRO dive teams installed 11 buoys: 5 no wake buoys, 1 channel buoy, and 5 wreck buoys. These buoys will serve their important job keeping the waterways marked and safe for the rest of the season, until their removal before winter and the damaging surface ice comes. Now, with all the maintenance work done, we were free to get on to the exciting part of the trip: the 3D photogrammetry of some of Isle Royale’s beautiful shipwrecks.


On February 13th I got one of the most exciting emails I’d ever received: the one breaking the news that I had been chosen as the 2019 Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society Research Intern with the National Park Service. After a few minutes of jumping around in excitement, I composed myself and calmly replied that yes, I would be absolutely delighted to accept this internship. And that’s where this all began.

A little background on myself: I had graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz the past summer  with a bachelor’s degree in marine biology. At UCSC, I was able to really start to explore how I could interact with and learn about the underwater world and coastal environments. I was lucky to spend four years learning about a plethora of marine science with some really incredible professors: from invertebrate zoology, to the biology of marine mammals, to the ecology of kelp forests.  I furthered my diving career with an AAUS scientific diving certification, allowing me to take my diving past recreational and into the realm of science! This certification opened many doors for me – with it I was able to enroll in two field quarters, conducting ecological research in the kelp forests of Monterey and Southeast Alaska, as well as spending two seasons doing biological surveys on kelp forests inside California’s network of Marine Protected Areas with the UCSC branch of PISCO subtidal (a long term monitoring program of nearshore ecosystems along the Pacific coast).

My local Californian kelp forests!

Along with diving for science, I’ve been lucky enough to get in a good amount of recreational dives throughout my time at university.  Close proximity to great diving and a drive to get underwater as often as I could allowed me to spend a lot of time exploring the kelp forests of the Monterey Bay area for pleasure and doing one of my favorite things: underwater photography. I’ve been diving with a camera of some shape or form ever since my very first couple dives with a head-mounted GoPro, but eventually worked my way up to a housed DSLR system about halfway through my junior year at university. Shooting underwater with this has become one of my biggest passions and something that I’m thankful that I’ve been able to dedicate a lot of time to over the past couple years.

My favorite camera and I enjoying a dive in Big Sur CA (Photo: Marc Shargel)

Jump forward two months to early April, to the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society annual meeting in New York City. Designed as a way for friends and society members to meet and catch up and for scholars and interns of the previous year to share their adventures, this weekend was a whirlwind of introductions and events. The Society is filled with a plethora of talented and distinguished marine conservationists, explorers, researchers, photographers, and enthusiasts and it was an incredible experience to be able to mingle and meet with such a diverse group of individuals. The weekend included a morning of presentations from the 2018 class of scholars and interns at the Explorer’s Club headquarters in Manhattan, an inspirational couple hours of learning what these driven young people had been up to throughout the course of their scholarship year/internship. The morning concluded with inductions into the Explorer’s Club for the 2019 class – what an incredibly surreal experience it was to join such a distinguished organization for scientific exploration, something I still haven’t really gotten over.

2019 OWUSS Interns (Left to right): Ben Farmer (REEF Marine Conservation Intern), Liza Hasan ( AAUS Mitchell Scientific Diving Research Intern), Kyra Jean Cipolla (Dr. Lee H. Somers AAUS Scientific Diving Intern), myself, and Abbey Dias ( DAN Diver’s Safety Education Intern)

Roughly one month after that, on May 12th, I flew out to Denver Colorado to spend a week at the headquarters of the Submerged Resources Center (SRC). The SRC is a group of archaeologists, photographers, and diving experts who make up one of the Parks Services’ most elite diving teams. They are also, luckily for me, my sponsors for the internship. I was to spend a week with them at their offices in Lakewood, CO to get oriented for the summer and get all of my NPS paperwork in line – physicals, dive checkouts, liability waivers and such. After flying in at 7PM and a quick dinner with my hosts for the week, Dave Conlin, archaeologist and the Chief of the SRC, and his lovely wife Michelle, I started the week running. The next morning I was introduced to the rest of the SRC crew: Brett Seymour (Deputy Chief and audio/visual extraordinaire), Steve Sellers (National Dive Safety Officer), Susanna Pershern (audio/visual expert), Matt Hanks (archaeologist), Claire Finn (Office Manager) and Jim Nimz (Diving Operations Specialist). Everyone at the SRC office was incredibly welcoming to me during my time there, and made me feel very much at home.

Entrance to the SRC Office

Monday brought on an exciting doctor’s visit for my NPS Blue Card certification, where I got a very thorough dive physical. After a myriad of tests, from EKGs to spirometry to chest x-rays, I was on my way back to the SRC office. I spent the rest of the day reviewing the current course of my internship with Brett, and then doing some light reading on the history of NPS diving and then a brief foray into 81 pages of dive policy and rules.

Flatiron Mountains outside Boulder CO – Some of the scenery I encountered on my commute to the SRC HQ

The next couple days were just as busy. Tuesday started off with a CPR/AED/first aid recertification with Jim, where we recapped the basics of first aid and CPR administration, AED usage, neurological assessments for SCUBA diving injuries, emergency O2 administration, as well as an overview of the SRC’s first aid kit and medical gear. That was followed with one of the most exciting parts of my week: the gear checkout.

SRC gear locker: pretty much all the dive gear you could ever want in one convenient location

Cylinders, compressors, and camera gear

Tools on tools

The SRC has one of the coolest gear lockers that I’ve ever laid my eyes on: a room right next to their office filled with all the dive gear you could want. Drysuits, rebreathers, cylinders, tools, cameras, DPVs – you name it. Brett and Jim gave me a quick tour of the locker and decked me out with all the dive gear I’d possible need for my travels throughout this internship, and – as I’ve heard the SRC crew say a couple times across the couple weeks I’ve spent with them, “two is one and one is none” – I was also given plenty of spares. The plethora of gear that I was given was compounded by the fact that I was to be doing diving both in the 80 degree waters of the Caribbean and the 30 degree waters of Lake Superior, so I’d be packing both warm and cold water gear. The list of gear that I was given is as follows: a BC, regs, wetsuit, wet gloves, dry gloves, glove liners (X2), wet boots (X2), hoods (X2), dive computers (X2), reel, DSMB, cutting device, Nautilus emergency tracking device, dive lights (X2), dive notebook, mask (X2), fins, drysuit undergarments (many), drysuit (X2), wet gear bag, dry gear bag, dry bag, towel, NPS hat (X2), SRC field shirts (X5), board shorts, rash guard, deck coat, and thermal liners. With this gear overload, I started to ponder the logistics of packing all of this gear up for the many flights I’d be undertaking.

My gear for the summer

After getting geared out, the next logical step was to hop in a pool and test it (and my swimming ability at altitude) out. For that, I headed down to the local pool with Steve Sellers for my NPS blue card checkout. Here we ran through some typical dive and swim tests, like a 900 yard swim and SCUBA bailout drill (jumping in the water with all your gear wrapped up in your hands and donning it underwater). Almost all of these drills I’d done before, but previously I’d been about 5200 ft lower in elevation so this was a little bit more taxing than I was used to.

After getting my blue card certification and getting all prepped to dive with the NPS, I helped the SRC team prep for their next big adventure – 3D photogrammetry up in Isle Royale National Park – a trip that I was lucky enough to be able to join in on. Now, this is a three week field excursion into a relatively remote national park. This means we needed lots of gear and lots of preparation. Isle Royale NP is an island up in northern Lake Superior and is mostly wilderness, so on top of packing food, gear, and supplies for a three week stretch we’d also have to bring drysuits and thermal protection. This, on top of the fact that the 3D photogrammetry work is very gear-intensive in itself, means that we had a whole lot of stuff to pack up. Thursday and Friday of my first week were spent preparing for this big endeavor – running last minute errands, grabbing and fueling up the boat, and loading what felt like a couple hundred pelican cases into the back of our truck and trailer. After a full day of packing, a lovely good-bye dinner with my gracious hosts Dave and Michelle, and a relaxed Saturday off of exploring the Denver area, I was ready to start my next adventure: a 1210 mile drive to the wild and remote waters of Isle Royale National Park.


Heading to Isle Royale National Park


Hello! My name is Emily Hellmann, and I am this year’s Our world Underwater Scholarship Society Divers Alert Network (DAN) Diver Safety Education intern. A little background on me:

I am 22 years old and from Manassas, Virginia. I have been diving since I was 11, but I’ve been surrounded by the sport since I was little, as my dad is a scuba instructor trainer. Because of my diving experiences, I have always wanted to do something with the ocean in my future career. When I started college, I naturally picked marine biology as my major at Old Dominion University. But after a couple of math classes, I changed to Earth Science Education. It was bittersweet, because it was not what I originally wanted to do, but I would still be involved with the ocean. It was this past semester that I realized I was moving toward what I was meant to do. Watching kids get excited to learn about marine processes really hit it home. If I can get more young people excited about the ocean, then as they grow up, there will be more older people who care about the ocean.

The switch also led me to this AMAZING internship, which includes the best of both of my worlds: diving and education


Alex, Chloe, Yann, myself, and Burnley after completing our training!

My first week lined up with the visit of the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society’s North American Rolex Scholar, Yann Herrera. During this week, the DAN Research interns and myself were able to tag along with him to each department in DAN to hear about what they do. We met with the medics, researchers, the teams from membership, liability insurance, communication and marketing, plus IT, and so many more! It was very interesting to be able to meet all the people who make DAN work and to see just how important they are to the diving community.

Another great opportunity I had this week was to go through the Diving First Aid for Professional Divers (DFA Pro) course, taught by Patty Seery, DAN’s director of training. It was a very long but rewarding course. We practiced all skills in the course in a very hands-on manner, from neurological assessments and how to care for hazardous marine life injuries to CPR, first aid and, most importantly, emergency oxygen for scuba diving injuries. It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot. It was a great course!

Reilley and Patty demonstrating two-person CPR

My “sea-urchin” injury

Yann with his “jellyfish” injury





Hello, my name is Erika Sawicki and this year I received the OWUSS-AAUS Dr. Lee H. Somers Scientific Diving Internship. I am from a small town called Wilbraham, Massachusetts and recently graduated from the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine with a double major in Ocean Studies & Marine Affairs and Environmental Science and a minor in Philosophy. I am extremely grateful for the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society (OWUSS) and the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) for their continued effort to create a positive and meaningful learning experience for me this summer.

After an interesting turn in events, I found out I would be completing my AAUS Scientific Diver Certification in La Jolla, California at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) with Diving Safety Officer (DSO) Christian McDonald. One week later, I was on a plane across the country to Los Angeles… Next, I was greeted with the wonderful California traffic and a four hour drive to San Diego.

Boston                   California

              Massachusetts                            to                                          California

My first night in San Diego I was warmly welcomed by Faith Ortins and Jeff from Diving Unlimited International (DUI). I had the opportunity to take a tour of DUI and learn how a drysuit was made. It was really fascinating to learn that almost the entire process is done by hand.



Diving Unlimited International 

For the rest of my time in California, I was warmly welcomed to stay at Mary and Sally’s condo. Sally Wahrmann is a member of the Women Diver’s Hall of Fame (WDHOF), with extensive knowledge and dive experience of the NE wreck Andrea Doria. After a couple of days of settling in and exploring the area, my Scientific Diver course began on Saturday (6/17). It is a two-week intensive course consisting of very long days, starting at 7:30 am and ending around 5:30/6 pm each day. In addition to our class, homework was required each evening.

Prior to enrolling in a Scientific Diver course you have to fulfill the pre-requisites, which include a medical exam, first aid and emergency oxygen certification, and a recreational SCUBA certification. The AAUS Scientific Diver course includes a minimum of 100 hours of training and 12 dives, along with a swim test, confined water checkouts, and open water checkouts. In addition to the Scientific Diver certification, at SIO you are able to receive Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver, Oxygen Provider, and NITROX certifications during the course. I had previously received all but the NITROX certification, but it was a great opportunity to review this material. The class had a wide range of experience levels, but everybody worked together well.

Saturday was an introductory day filled with the swim test and snorkel skills in the pool, along with a swim out to the pier (1,090 feet) and free dive down to the bottom. On Sunday, we started to use our SCUBA equipment. The importance of buddy checks was stressed; no matter how much other planning is happening at the surface for your scientific procedures, a buddy check should always be included. Buoyancy is also an important skill that we practiced. As well, we practiced different scuba entries into the pool, such as the back roll (for small boats) and giant stride.

SIO Pool

Monday started in the pool with different stress tests, such as getting gear from the bottom of the pool. We also practiced rescues skills. In addition, we determined proper weighting with our exposure suits and beach entries. Proper weighting will help with your buoyancy control. On Monday, we also started classroom lectures. For the rest of the course, we had a classroom session every day, usually after our dives. Tuesday we practiced our rescue skills in the ocean, which made the whole process a lot more difficult. This was also our first dive of the course. It was used to practice basic skills and explore our main dive site (SIO pier) for the course. Wednesday was our final pool session; we got to practice different skills, such as lift bags, transect measurements, assembly of equipment blindfolded, etc. Although challenging, it was a lot of fun to experience all of these new challenges.

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      A black piece of plastic was placed in our masks to make it impossible to see when completing the tasks.

Thursday started our new schedule of two morning dives, followed by a classroom session in the afternoon. Each day had a different focus for the dives. For example, Thursday we focused on rescue skills and rocky entries, while on Friday navigation and search patterns were practiced. During our class session, we practiced providing oxygen. We learned how to set up the oxygen kits and also got to experience what it is like to receive oxygen. Oxygen is a life-saving tool that is necessary to be on site for all scientific dives.

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                                              Oxygen Provider Practice

After a long and exciting seven days, the first half of the class came to an end. I was exhausted and really looking forward to some sleep over the weekend before the second week began!

Children’s Pool Beach, La Jolla California

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!

photo 1photo 3photo 2photo 4

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