From Reefs to Reservoir

Much like diving, one of the harder learned lessons from traveling is to always be flexible. And patient. After leaving the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument in Hawaii, I jumped on a red eye for the mainland. My next destination, after another bout of air travel, would be the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (GLCA). After a quick layover in my hometown of LA, and a coffee fueled reunion with an old friend, I headed for Phoenix, Arizona for another layover before my final flight to Page. Though groggy and tired, things were going rather smoothly and I could finally start to relax.

That is, until I got a call from the airline an hour before we were supposed to take off. Turns out my flight was cancelled due to mechanical issues. Well, here we go. I was stranded in Phoenix with 5 others; 2 Russians students, 2 Bulgarians students, and a college kid from Delaware. The airline company promised to put us on a bus to Flagstaff, AZ, that night, and then on another shuttle to Page, AZ the following afternoon. Though I wasn’t happy about missing a day in Glen Canyon, I was happy to finally be moving again. We didn’t make it to Flagstaff until close to midnight, but fortunately the 6 of us were able to get the last 3 rooms in the closest motel. After bunking with the Russians for the night, I was glad to be on our way the next day.

Taken at sunrise; the Colorado snakes out of the Glen Canyon Dam and begins its run through the Grand Canyon just a few miles downstream

Taken at sunrise; the Colorado snakes out of the Glen Canyon Dam and begins its run through the Grand Canyon just a few miles downstream

In Page, later that afternoon, I met up with Scott Norwood, the second in command for the GLCA Dive Team, and my supervisor for the week. After a brief visit to the dive locker and adjacent facilities, Scott took me on a tour of the surrounding area. Originally I wasn’t exactly excited about spending a week in Arizona. It’s hard to follow up American Samoa and Hawaii. But what I saw just around the Ranger Station took my breath away. And that was even before we got on the waters of Lake Powell. The bottom end of Lake Powell is stopped by the Glen Canyon dam, which controls the flow of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. All of the wonders of the Grand Canyon are reflected in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, though Lake Powell spaces everything out more. That night I was given the keys to a government Jeep and was off to camp at one of Scott’s favorite spots. I drifted off to sleep at the Lone Rock campground, under the Arizona stars, exceptionally glad to be on the quiet, sandy shores of Lake Powell.

The Cove or the Secret Spot, my secluded camping spot for the week.

The Cove or the Secret Spot, my secluded camping spot for the week.

I’m not sure what I expected work to be like at GLCA, the only diving we had planned was a dry suit check out later that week. But I definitely got to witness just how hard it is to run a park with thousands of visitors, mostly on the water, everyday. GLCA is a huge recreation area, and is famous for its houseboats. Because the lake draws so many visitors every year, the Park Service has its hands full all summer. All of the docks, both private and government, are floating but moored to the bottom and chained to the shore via heavy wire rope. However, as the steel rusts and erodes, and as the water level changes, the docks need to be moved and the cables replaced. Work in the park starts early, by 6 am you’re expected to be caffeinated and ready to head into the field. The day gets hot quickly and no one wants to be too exposed to the sun for too long.

I’ve worked in some cold places before, but the juxtaposition of seeing the NPS’s diving insignia next to a warning sign about freezing water was still novel to me. Especially since the temperature soared well into the 90’s while I was there.

I’ve worked in some cold places before, but the juxtaposition of seeing the NPS’s diving insignia next to a warning sign about freezing water was still novel to me. Especially since the temperature soared well into the 90’s while I was there.

We set to work moving cables, and prepping the boat for the day. The majority of GLCA is on the water, so the park service maintains a flotilla of multi purpose workboats. The dive team, which has a legacy of excellence through the NPS, uses a 46ft flat-bottomed vessel as its workhorse. Of all the dive boats I’ve been on this one, the 450, was by far the most impressive.

We spent the day, and the better part of the week, meandering through the finger canyons of the lake replacing wire rope and moving docks at places like Dangling Rope and Rainbow Bridge, both popular recreation spots. On our way around the lake we occasionally stopped to service navigation buoys or help out-of-luck boaters. During the course of the week we worked long and hot hours, using heavy equipment and working hard. But every night I got to sleep under the stars, which was a welcomed change from sleeping on couches and planes.

One of the floating docks the Park Service maintains. This one leads to Rainbow Bridge, about a mile hike up from the dock.

One of the floating docks the Park Service maintains. This one leads to Rainbow Bridge, about a mile hike up from the dock.

Just another gorgeous shot of the Lake Powell in the morning. Taken from my campsite.

Just another gorgeous shot of the Lake Powell in the morning. Taken from my campsite.

However, midweek I got to done my dry suit, which was shipped to GLCA from the good folks at USIA, and jump in the green waters of Lake Powell. I didn’t have much experience in a dry suit, but Scott has spent 5 years with US Navy’s Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) and is an expert diver. We did a quick tour of the government dock and then took the 450 to the “log boom”, just a 1/4 mile above the dam. While replacing the chain on the boom, which catches floating debris before it gets caught in the dam, someone had managed to drop a heavy metal ring used to keep the chain from getting tangled. The substrate underwater mirrors the land above. The sandstone cliffs drop into the abyss, in some places over 400 feet down, with an occasional ledge or two at about 30 feet and 60 ft. Scott and I had planned to drop down the log boom’s anchor chain to about 60ft to look for the ring for no more than 10 minutes. Miraculously we dropped right on top of it in 30ft of water and were able to enjoy the eerie green water for a few minutes. Lake Powell, like many other freshwater lakes in the United States, is badly affected by an invasive mussel, which covers everything in the lake not made of sandstone. Afterwards, Scott and I did two more dives on the Antelope Point launch ramp, doing dock surveys and a ‘salvage’ dive, i.e. treasure hunting for refuse left by careless boaters. Though we mostly picked up fishing line, trash, and beer cans, occasionally some lucky Park Service diver finds a camera or a watch.

Getting ready to jump in the water for some equipment recovery. Our divesite was just about ¼ mile above the Glen Canyon Dam.

Getting ready to jump in the water for some equipment recovery. Our divesite was just about ¼ mile above the Glen Canyon Dam.

Descending under the canyon wall, almost considered an overhead environment, was something new to me. But it made for some incredible moments.

Descending under the canyon wall, almost considered an overhead environment, was something new to me. But it made for some incredible moments.

There isn’t much to see in Lake Powell, manly because the sandstone causes the water to be rather turbid even on a calm day. However, diving in the lake was my first time diving in freshwater, at altitude, and my first time diving in a drysuit for a number of years. With Scott as my dive buddy we explored the murky bottom, searched for lost objects, and looked over the edge of a precipice into the eerie abyss at the bottom of Lake Powell.

Scott and I having a little too much fun on a safety stop during one of my check out dives.

Scott and I having a little too much fun on a safety stop during one of my check out dives.

Scott hoisting the metal ring we had to search for. That thing weighed close to 20lbs! You can also see the invasive zebra mussels covering the metal chain we ascended and descended on. Zebra mussels cover every surface they possible can.

Scott hoisting the metal ring we had to search for. That thing weighed close to 20lbs! You can also see the invasive zebra mussels covering the metal chain we ascended and descended on. Zebra mussels cover every surface they possible can.

Another shot of Rainbow Bridge. A popular tourist destination, Rainbow Bridge was sacred to the native peoples of this region. It’s hard to grasp the size of this incredible arch.

A shot of Rainbow Bridge – a popular tourist destination, Rainbow Bridge was sacred to the native peoples of this region. It’s hard to grasp the size of this incredible arch.

Although my stay at GLCA was short, all my misgivings about spending time at the inland NPS unit were instantly abated the moment I saw Lake Powell in person. Arizona is a vastly different environment from the tropics of Samoa and Hawaii; it carries its own character and has very specific demands. The Park Service at GLCA deals with a very specific set of concerns, such as being swamped by the wake from a negligent boater while trying to hoist a 600lb buoy out of the water. But they work hard and earn their mettle. My stay in Arizona was short, but it was made very enjoyable by Scott Norwood, Kendra Nez, the maintenance technician who never seemed to take a break from working, and the rest of the staff out at GLCA. Now I get to head back to LA for a few days of R&R before shipping off to the kelp forests of the Channel Islands National Park.

Though the Park is in Arizona, my campsite was just across the Utah Border. It’s hard to grasp the sheer size of this part of the country. But the vistas never disappoint.

Though the Park is in Arizona, my campsite was just across the Utah Border. It’s hard to grasp the sheer size of this part of the country. But the vistas never disappoint.

Thanks for reading!

Share

Preamble

Although my official start date as an intern with the Bonnier Diver Group is still a few weeks away, I’ve been busy with other parts of the diving and ocean research community, and wanted to share these exciting experiences before I head down to Florida to start my internship!

At the beginning of the summer I went on an overseas study through Indiana University’s Office of Underwater Science to the Dominican Republic, where I was involved in Dr. Charles Beeker’s Living Museums of the Sea project. During the trip I got to meet the 2015 North American Rolex Scholar, Michele Felberg, who joined our class as part of her year long adventure. Over the course of the next week and a half we visited a number of sites including the Guadalupe Underwater Archeological Preserve, the wreck of the Cara Merchant, and the sandy beach of La Coleta. The class was responsible for assessing the biological and archaeological components of the sites and performing maintenance as needed.

The GUAP site, a living museum in the sea

The GUAP site, a living museum in the sea

Classmate Grace Blackwell measuring the distance between the GUAP's anchor and a colony of pillar coral.

Classmate Grace Blackwell measuring the distance between the GUAP’s anchor and a colony of pillar coral.

Fellow classmate Ben Ritt inspects a damaged spar buoy that will need to be replaced.

Fellow classmate Ben Ritt inspects a damaged spar buoy that needed to be replaced.

I was given the opportunity to use Indiana University’s Canon 7D to photograph and document the trip. It was a great experience and an interesting change from the GoPro camera I typically take diving. The 7D gave me a lot more control of the final image, but that control comes with a lot more responsibility. My daily routine soon included assembling the camera and housing correctly, keeping the batteries charged, making sure everything got to the dive site safely, rinsing and disassembling the housing at the end of the day.

The class also visited Padre Nuestro, this underwater cavern was once a water gathering site for the indigenous Taino people.

The class also visited Padre Nuestro, this underwater cavern was once a water gathering site for the indigenous Taino people.

During the trip Dr. Beeker and I discussed a potential article I could write for my internship involving the underwater drill that he and his friend Billy Carter designed. I even got a chance to shoot pictures of the device in action!

Instructor Matt Maus models the drill, while I snap away. (Picture courtesy of Mylana Haydu)

Instructor Matt Maus models the drill, while I snap away. (Picture courtesy of Mylana Haydu)

During my internship, I hope to be able to tie in my experience with Dr. Beeker’s class and my experience learning about and photo-documenting the drill into my internship with Bonnier Dive Group. I’m also extremely interested in working with the staff on Sport Diver and Scuba Diving‘s web based components, especially video editing. I’m excited to try my hand at writing journalism pieces, but also for the opportunity to hone my editing skills!

 

Share

Of(fish)ally a Fish Surveyor!

Greetings from Key Largo! I feel as though I have finally settled in and I have certainly been kept busy the last couple weeks at REEF! I have already learned so much and have met so many new people, it is almost impossible to summarize it all up into one blog post – but I am going to try!

One of REEF’s citizen scientist programs is the Volunteer Fish Survey Project.  The goal is to educate recreational divers how to correctly identify reef fish.  REEF provboatingides many resources to get started with fish identification.  We sell starter kits, identification books, and provide fish identification lectures that are open to the public.  Divers can use underwater paper and slates to record their data during their dives.  Not only is it important to properly identify the fish, but part of the survey is recording the abundance of each species.  Divers assign an abundance category to each species: single (1), few (2-10), many (11-100), or abundant (101+). They can complete these fish surveys while diving and report the data back to REEF.  Over time, this has created the world’s largest fish sightings database!

In our first week, Ellie, the Education Program Manager, gave us a fish identification lecture with the most commonly sighted fish in the Tropical Western Atlantic.  After this lecture, we were ready to begin surveying! Since then, I have completed 15 surveys and have been challenged to keep learning new fish IDs1433713788342.  It is so rewarding to learn all the names of the fish topside and then be able to correctly identify them underwater! Although we do like to see the large fish of the reef, like sharks and rays, we usually get more excited when we spot an elusive, small fish that we have been searching for.  For instance, it has been exciting to begin learning goby species and find them darting across the sand.  In many cases, you have to get really close to see the identifying markings.  Dive after dive, I am slowly learning to identify more and more fish!

This past week has been incredibly busy with REEF’s first summer camp, Ocean Explorer’s! The camp is held at the John Pennekamp State Park andI was able to participate in three of the days’ activities.  On Monday, we were visited by a park ranger (former REEF intern, Colin Howe) and were given a brief orientation of the park.  After visiting the aquarium, the kids had some time to snorkel at the beach.  In the afternoon, we all loaded up in tandem kayaks and pakayakingddled our way through the mangrove trails.  Nobody fell in, but some of the kids decided it was too hot and needed to cool off in the water.  All of them had a great time naming fish that they had just learned and exploring the mangrove ecosystem.  On Wednesday, Abbey and I helped taking the group on a glass-bottom boat tour.  Thankfully, no one got seasick and we had a great view of one of the coral reefs, including two nurse sharks! That afternoon, the Florida Exotic Bird Sanctuary brought in a rescued owl and gave a short presentation on the effects of bioaccumulation in an ecosystem.  We finished the day by letting the kids tye-dye their camp shirts. We began the last day of camp by taking a boat out to Grecian Rocks and snorkeling on the coral reef.  Many of the kids were able to correctly identify fish species and were enthusiastic about what they saw underwater.  I would have loved to have gone to the Ocean Explorers camp when I was younger!

When we haven’t been counting fish or adventuring with the Ocean Explorers, the other interns and I have had a great time discovering Key Largo.  We have challenged ourselves with eating as many tacos as possible at Senor Frijoles and deciding which pizza is better between Upper Crust and Tower of Pizza (still a toss-up). We have many events, including lionfish derbies and fish identification lectures, coming up in July and I am sure it will keep us busy!

Best fishes!

Kara


 

Share

Greetings from Key Largo!

Hi everyone!

My name is Kara Hall and I have been given the great opportunity of serving as an intern with REEF in Key Largo for this summer! I am currently a student at Indiana University and after this upcoming year, I will have completed a degree in Environmental Management as well as a certificate in Underwater Resource Management. In addition to my love for diving, I also immensely enjoy backpacking, hiking, reading, and watching baseball (Go Cardinals!).

I am honored to be supported by the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society and I greatly appreciate the funding that they have provided that allows me to travel to and live in Key Largo for the summer. Additionally, I am incredibly grateful to REEF in that they are allowing me to come and work closely with them for the summer. I also appreciate the support shown to me by the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, but even more so, the Office of Underwater Science at Indiana University. It is somewhat difficult to study and explore the field of marine conservation in Indiana, but the professors and staff at IU have shown me incredible support and have greatly encouraged my interest in this field.

On Wednesday evening, my mom and I arrived in the Keys after driving about 20 hours from Fort Wayne, Indiana. After spending the night in Islamorada, we continued to drive south and explored Key West. Along the way, we stopped at Bahia Honda State Park on Big Pine Key. After hearing that this is one of the best beaches in South Florida, we wanted to walk along the shoreline and enjoy the beautiful, sunny weather. After visiting Key West, we stopped at Bahia Honda on the way back to do some snorkeling before sunset. In one shallow area, we saw juvenile sergeant majors and several porkfish that had taken refuge underneath a fallen tree near the beach. The first of many fish sightings!

1433113097435

We stopped by the REEF office on Thursday morning and met Lad, Martha, and Amy. We received a short tour of the office and I enjoyed finally seeing the office and meeting them. I am really looking forward to working there! The intern house provided by REEF is just blocks away from the John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo. So after visiting the office, we decided to go snorkeling at the beaches at Pennekamp. Most of the area is seagrass beds and the shores are lined with mangroves. I had never been snorkeling in the mangroves before! We saw several different type of grunts and parrotfish throughout the area and I loved watching the upside-down jellyfish pulsating amongst the seagrass beds. There were several barracuda in among the mangroves, but the largest fish that we saw were tarpon that were hanging out near a drop-off.

DCIM112GOPRO

 

Throughout the weekend, the other three interns also moved into the house. Each one is very excited to be here and enthusiastic about exploring the ocean with REEF this summer. Monday is our first day in the office and we are anxiously waiting to know about all the amazing adventures that we will have in the next few months. I am sure we will make life-long memories with all of the opportunities that we will be given this summer.

Share

Presentation by Dr. Joe MacInnis at the OWUSS 41st Awards Program

“Too Much of a Good Thing…Is Wonderful” by Dr. Joe MacInnis at the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society® 41st Annual Awards Program on April 18, 2015

screenshot1

Three years ago I was the expedition journalist and safety physician on the James Cameron- National Geographic Deepsea Challenge project. Sponsored by National Geographic and Rolex, our objective was to dive Jim’s radical new research sub deeper and deeper until we had the team and technical confidence to make a seven-mile, science dive into the Marianna Trench.

It was the toughest project of my entire professional career. We had a new and untested sub. We had a new and untested team. The western Pacific is a place of hurricane winds and ship- breaking waves. We had injuries from heaving decks, slippery stairwells, and cables under tension. After our second test dive, two of our teammates were killed in a helicopter crash.

But after sixty days at sea, sixty days of overcoming technical failures and setbacks, Jim climbed into his new sub and made the first solo science dive into the deepest, darkest place on the planet. He spent three hours on the seafloor. He travelled two miles across a flat, featureless plain gathering scientific samples, making observations, and taking majestic 3D images.

Screenshot2

We succeeded because Jim Cameron and his team had exceptional personal and professional leadership. Our leadership principles included deep empathy, eloquence, and endurance. A deep empathy for the team, the task, the technology, and the ocean. A profound eloquence in our words and actions. A deep endurance in our response to setbacks and failures.

Forty-three years ago, on a ship under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the concept for our Rolex scholarship was born. We had a new and untested idea. We had a new and untested team. As time passed, especially during the early years, we overcame setbacks and failures. Today, we have 89 interns and 91 scholars. And a splendid team of volunteers, supporters, partners, and sponsors.

We’re successful because our chairman, president and team have strong personal and professional leadership. Our leadership principles include empathy, eloquence, and endurance.
A deep empathy among our scholars, interns, and partners and what they learn from each other.
A profound eloquence in the words and images we use to tell our stories.

A sustained endurance in overcoming our setbacks and challenges.

Thank you Jim, Stewart, Mike, and everyone in this room. Scholars and interns. Officers and directors. Partners and corporate sponsors. You confirm what can be done when good people are generous with their time, talent, and tenacity. You have made it possible for young men and women to explore the rainbow edge of knowledge and imagination—and share the joy of their discoveries.

As you prepare for the coming decades, remember the immortal words of the great scholarship society philosopher Jim Corry who—paraphrasing his occasional muse Mae West—said:
“Too much of a good thing . . is wonderful.”

 

For the pdf and full article: ROLEX SPEECH 2015

Share

Motions of Pearl Harbor

After a restless red eye from American Samoa, I found myself on another tropical island in the Pacific. Honolulu, Hawaii, on the island of Oahu, is a bustling city sprawling from the foothills of the Ko’olau Mountains to the blue waters of the south coast. Even at 5:30am traffic is backed up and people are already going about their day. Bleary-eyed and overwhelmed I felt like a fish out of water in this mad city. However, I made my way to the park office later that morning and met the staff of the Valor in the Pacific National Monument in Pearl Harbor. I received a greeting equally as warm as the one I got in Samoa and instantly felt right at home.

After getting established at the visitor center I was given a “passport” to some of the attractions at the park. I met up with Naomi Blinick, the 2011 OWUSS/NPS intern, who is currently working for VALR. We toured a retired WWII submarine, the USS Bowfin, and explored the features and exhibits of this historic park. While every child in America knows the story of what happened in Pearl Harbor the morning of December 7, 1941 few people know the stories of the men and women who were there that day, and the subsequent months as the US’s involvement in the Pacific began.

All of these thoughts were bouncing around in my brain as I took the ferry over to the USS Arizona’s memorial. Moored over the sunken battleship the memorial serves as a testament to those who were lost, and those who survived the brutal and sudden attack almost 75 years ago. My visit to the memorial was especially meaningful as I was planning to dive the Arizona the next morning. But, much like in American Samoa, I would soon learn how sudden events could rearrange even the best­-laid plans.

The next morning (Thursday May 28) I met with Scott Pawloski, VALR’s Park Diving Officer, and Naomi, at around 0800 to load up the park’s Boston Whaler. Just as we were unloading the gear from the Park’s van the first ferry shuttling visitors to the memorial came charging back to the visitor center. The captain of the ferry told us that something had happened to the landing on the memorial, and that he couldn’t dock the ferry. We dropped what we were doing and sped out across the harbor towards the monument to see what had happened.

(PHOTO by US Navy Sailor)

(PHOTO by US Navy Sailor)

Just moments before we got to the visitor center that morning the floating hospital ship, USN Mercy, was being escorted from its dock adjacent to the monument and the visitor center. Though the final report is unclear, apparently either the Mercy or one of the tugboat-escorts hit the monument’s dock. As we came up to the monument things looked far from good. We were greeted by twisted steel, broken concrete and the landing platform approximately 30ft away from where it should have been. All thoughts of diving were out of the question; at this point damage control was everyone’s main priority.

As we headed back to the visitor center I could see the concern on Scott’s face. He has a strong connection to the monument and knows the Arizona like the back of his hand. Back at the visitor center you could cut the tension with a knife. Although Hawaii exists in a perpetual stare of “island time”, the Park Office, and Navy Command, sprang into action. I did my best to stay out of the way as phones rang and people moved about. The circumstance weren’t exactly good, but I was very impressed by the quick and thorough action and communication the Park Service and the Navy shared over the next few days.

However, the main reason that the Mercy had to move that morning was because the USS Carl Vinson was making its way to Pearl Harbor. Scott had somehow arranged for me to ride along in one of the 4 Tiger tugboats that would be escorted the absolutely massive aircraft carrier to its dock. Although still concerned about the morning’s events, I was thrilled to see first hand how four 100’ tugboats (miniature by comparison) could help escort such an enormous vessel. Of course, they did so with ease and efficiency.

The Navy’s Carl Vinson as seen from Tiger Tug #4.

The Navy’s Carl Vinson as seen from Tiger Tug #4.

It’s hard to imagine that Tiger tug is 100 feet long! Four Tigers escorted the Carl Vinson to its dock next to the visitor center.

It’s hard to imagine that Tiger tug is 100 feet long! Four Tigers escorted the Carl Vinson to its dock next to the visitor center.

That afternoon, back at the visitor center the mood at the office was somber, but things were already happening. I made plans with Naomi to do a resource orientation dive on the USS Utah for the next morning. The Utah was one of three ships that the military was unable to raise after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Sitting on her side, leaning at about 45degrees, only part of her hull breaches the water. She is located on the other side of Ford Island, away from the visitor center and from the typical commotion found at the National Monument.

Before our dive on the Utah Naomi gave me a topside orientation. Here you can plainly see how tilted over the battleship is.

Before our dive on the Utah Naomi gave me a topside orientation. Here you can plainly see how tilted over the battleship is.

Naomi and I about to descend on the Utah.

Naomi and I about to descend on the Utah.

Naomi and I toured the wreck, and it was unlike any dive I’ve ever been on. Though the visibility is typical better than the Arizona it was still only about 15’ at best. After sitting on the bottom of the harbor for almost 75 years the battleship is fouled with an impressive array of marine fauna. Most of the ship’s features are unrecognizable, only certain structures like the gun turrets give away the true nature of the substrate. Though I have been on dives with a similar feel, every so often some aspect of the ship would reveal itself, and would I get a very eerie feeling.

Leading down to the ship’s interior, this hatch has remained open  ever since the Utah was sunk.

Leading down to the ship’s interior, this hatch has remained open
ever since the Utah was sunk.

After the dive I returned to the visitor center, just in time for Scott to motion me over to the Park’s Whaler. He told me to jump in and we sped over to the memorial. The Navy never sleeps; already there was a topside engineering crew and a subsurface salvage crew working on the memorial. It was the latter that Scott wanted me to meet. The Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1, or MDSU 1, is one of the best diving operations in the business. It was a rare treat to see these guys working in the silty, oily water surrounding the memorial.

As part of a consolation for missing the Arizona, Scott offered to take me on a fun dive to one of his favorite beaches that Friday. However, as Friday chugged along we had to push the dive back further and further. Scott was moving from meeting to meeting trying his best to get the maintenance work on the memorial moving as quickly and efficiently as possible. By some stroke of good fortune I found myself in the Ranger Office listening in on a meeting with the Park’s superintendent, the head ranger, the head of interpretation, Scot, and a consultant. The good news was that the Navy crews were doing their best, but time was not on their side. The superintendent looked at Scott and told him that he needed to do a survey of the Arizona in the next few days to make sure the artifacts and ship were intact, if Scott deemed the conditions safe enough. I could see the gears turning in Scott’s head, and without missing a beat he passed me a sticky note across the table. The note said, “We’re diving the Arizona” and, this being my last day at the park, I knew he meant now.

In our hast to survey the Arizona we sped by the USS Carl Vinson.

In our hast to survey the Arizona we sped by the USS Carl Vinson.

Taken as Scott and I descended on the Arizona. Here we’re looking at the visitor center moored over the ship.

Taken as Scott and I descended on the Arizona. Here we’re looking at the visitor center moored over the ship.

With a speed the dead opposite of “island time” we rallied our gear, briefed the dive, and within 45 minutes of leaving the Ranger Office we were speeding to the memorial, having just gotten last minute clearance from the Navy’s harbor patrol. We had just one hour to survey the wreck and get out of there. Scott tasked me to film the dive, and anything he indicated, so he could write a report of what we found. The dive lasted less than 30 minutes, but still it was an amazing experience. Visibility was less than half of what it was on the Utah, which intensified the spookiness of the dive. The Arizona makes herself known to the lucky few divers who get a chance to circumnavigate the wreck. As we swam in a counterclockwise sweep we got momentarily lost in a slit­ out, examined the ship’s artifacts, and saw a school of juvenile ulua, or Bluefin trevally Thankfully there was a light wind, which kept the oil (still leaking out of the ship at about 1L/day) away from us.

A school of juvenile ulua swim over the deck of the Arizona.

A school of juvenile ulua swim over the deck of the Arizona.

Just as quickly as everything ramped up were already on our way back to the visitor center. Although I didn’t have much time in Hawaii, the pace was certainly faster than in Samoa. After saying goodbye to Scott and VALR, I was able to spend my last day in Hawaii on Oahu’s North Shore. Though only active in the winter, the waves of the North Shore are a mecca for every surfer; it was amazing to see the places imprinted in my brain from countless movies and magazines in real life. “Island time” takes over on the North Shore, and it seems I was able to catch my breath after such an exciting week. But now I am trading out tropical Pacific islands for the cold and murky waters of Arizona’s Glen Canyon National Park, after one more solid day of travel of course.

Waimea Bay

I’d like to say thanks to Naomi Blinick for helping me out and showing me the Utah, and Scott Pawlowski for all of his help and patience. And also a big thanks to my friend Astrid Letiener, who was able to give me a couch to sleep on for the week after my housing fell through at the last minute!

Mahalo, and thanks for reading!

Share

Sweet Samoan Rain

When I stepped off the plane on the night of May 11th and breathed in the wet, heavy air, I instantly knew I was truly in another world. After 17 hours in the sky, 3 time zones and as many layovers, I had left the snow covered ground in Denver behind for a chance to explore the tropical island of American Samoa. Though my eyelids drooped, and my shoulders felt heavy, my mind reeled from the sensory overload provided by the humid stormy night.

American Samoa truly is another world. Like many people from the States the name “American Samoa” held an air of mystery, partly because it seems that almost no one from back home knows where this place is. Located about 14º south of the Equator, slightly west and south of Hawaii, American Samoa is hardly more than a series of dots in the vast emptiness of the South Pacific.

When I landed in American Samoa I had no idea what expect, or even who was going to meet me at the airport. As it happens, a good friend of mine from Santa Cruz has been working for the Park Service in American Samoa for almost a year. I was very grateful to see the long lost face of Ian Moffitt at the airport. Although it was exhilarating to finally be here, the adrenaline of almost missing my connection in Honolulu to the once-weekly flight to American Samoa was slowly fading, I was truly thankful when we pulled up to the interns’ house late that night.

A few of the interns entering the water at Amalou, the first place i got to dive

A few of the interns entering the water at Amalou, the first place i got to dive

The National Park of American Samoa (NPSA), covers over 10,000 acres and approximately 4000 acres of it is underwater. The dive team certainly has it work cut out for it. The NPSA dive team has undertaken many different scientific studies and projects related to the conservation of the National Park. Most recently they are spearheading an island-wide effort to help control the outbreak of the Crown-of-Thorns Sea Star, a voracious echinoderm that preys primarily on the living tissue of coral reefs.

We hit the ground running at 7:30 am on my first day and I was glad to hear we were headed into the field. After a week in Denver, and over a day of air travel, I finally felt in my element again. Loading tanks, prepping gear and heading out into the field I felt an instant connection with the 4 other interns. I couldn’t contain the smile on my face as we speed out of the Fagasa bay in the Park Service’s open deck Boston Whaler on the way to the field site. The crystal clear waters and dense island flora clinging to the rocky coastline immediately blew me away; the island’s steep cliffs drop vertically into the sea and make for a very dramatic boat ride.

an image of the coral reef (taken at about 45')

an image of the coral reef (taken at about 45′)

 

Much to my chagrin I had to wait 24 hours after flying before I could don my scuba gear with Park Service, so I contented myself to snorkeling and free diving around the team as they completed their inventory and monitoring surveys. Never before have I been able to swim in water so warm and clear

I couldn’t wait to dive with NPSA for the next two weeks, but unfortunately the weather had other plans. After that Tuesday the island was battered by harsh winds and incessant rain, making field operations all but impossible. The NPSA dive team doesn’t get much downtime, so when the weather is uncooperative they have to make the most of it. I was tasked to assist with the maintenance issues that typically accompany field operations. Normal wear and tear on boats, scuba gear and field equipment is further compounded by American Samoa’s constant humidity and moisture. Needless to say we had our work cut out for us.

Another reef shot (probably amalou in about 35ft of water)

Another reef shot (probably amalou in about 35ft of water)

However, as the week rounded out the weekend showed promise for nicer weather. With hope rising we set out on a relatively calm Saturday morning to try our hand at diving on the North side of the island. Because American Samoa is ringed by fringing reefs, scuba diving is best planned around high tide. As we waited for the tide to rise we snorkeled in some of the most amazing tide pools I’ve seen. Vibrant corals and hardy algae cling to the volcanic walls of Vatai tide pools, nestled above the crashing surf.

After swimming in bathtub-like waters for an hour or two we hiked back up to the car and drove down the road to Amalou, where I would finally get to dive on the reefs that had tantalized me all week. Though the rest of the dive team complained about the poor visibility (only about 60ft!) and the relatively “cold” water, I could barely contain my excitement. Getting to dive in 82º water, in just board shorts and a rash guard, for over an hour is something I won’t soon forget. Though the reefs have been impacted by overfishing, I was blown away by the size and color of the coral found along the steep reef slopes. Massive Porites dwarf even the largest natural structures I’ve ever seen in a kelp forest. The various forms and colors of Acropora are like something out of a Dr. Seuss story. The rest of the dive team casually cruised the reef; this was their day off after all so they too could enjoy the wonders the reef had to offer.

During our surface interval, as we planned for a second dive, I heard talk that Ian was planning on skipping the second dive in search of surf-able waves, an activity also best planned around a high tide. Back home in California one rarely has to choose between surfing and diving, the ability to pursue either activity typically precludes the other. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance for a “perfect day”. In a refreshing change of pace we found the closest surf break to be entirely sheltered from the wind. We traded waves by ourselves for an hour as the sun serenely set behind the mountains of American Samoa. And I didn’t even have to change out of my board shorts! I could get used to leaving my neoprene at home.

Typical American Samoan transportation with Kersten Shnurle, another NSPA intern

Typical American Samoan transportation with Kersten Shnurle, another NSPA intern

While Sunday was no different than any of the other days that week, we decided to brave the weather and climb the steep trail to Mt. Alava, the second highest point on the island. Because it was one of the intern’s birthdays, a large group of eager hikers set out to brave the 3 hour long hike to the top of the mountain. Like something out of Jurassic Park, primeval fog obscured the all but the trail in front of us. The trail winds across the spine of the island’s mountains, the shifting clouds provided us with brief glimpses of the coast below.

The rest of the workweek proceeded much like the last; rain and wind lashed the coast and kept us high and dry in the office. Again, I jumped in with the “maintenance crew” doing repairs and preventative care on the field support equipment. I quickly realized how much I have taken for granted how easily accessible parts and tools are back on the mainland. On an island that is infrequently visited by cargo ships even the simplest of repairs can be thrown off if a single nut or bolt can’t be purchased. Needless to say I was thoroughly impressed with the resourcefulness and positive attitude the dive team constantly maintains.

As luck would have it Saturday looked like the weather might break, at least for a couple of hours. We loaded up the gear and drove the length of the West Road. Winding first south, then west and eventually north we drove past villages, rainsqualls and idyllic beaches pounded by heavy surf. No one had their hopes up as we rounded through the final mountain pass and dropped into the little village at the end of the road. Like something out of a fairytale the little bay of Fagamalo opened up before us; we were greeted by blue skies and calm water. Ecstatic, we geared up and jumped in the water, after obtaining permission from the village chief of course.

Schooling reef fish (ID still unknown) taken at Fangamalo in about 50ft sea water

Schooling reef fish (ID still unknown) taken at Fangamalo in about 50ft sea water

After surface swimming across the fore-reef, we dropped down into crystal clear water over an immaculate coral reef. Because Fagamalo is bordered by a marine protected area, or MPA, to the north, the reef was teaming with wild arrays of fish and invertebrates. While swimming past the massive 3-dimensial coral structures, examining reef fish and their bright colors, I finally met the antagonist of the NPSA marine program, the Crown-of-Thorns Sea Star. A voracious coral predator, these fast moving sea stars are as dangerous as they are beautiful. Ringed by poisonous spines they are hard to remove, and given certain conditions can turn a vibrant coral reef into a bleached graveyard. While scientists are still debating about the cause of recent outbreaks, there is evidence that they are becomingly increasingly abundant on coral reefs across the Indo-Pacific. Although the dive team’s main assignment is their removal, they are naturally found on coral reefs and it was certainly exhilarating to see a few on our dive.

 A school of sweetlips swims over the reef at Fangamalo. Sweetlips are one of the target species for the fish tracking project

A school of sweetlips swims over the reef at Fangamalo. Sweetlips are one of the target species for the fish tracking project

The Crown-of-Thorn Seastar, the NPSA dive team's current antagonist. Though they've been able to control outbreaks inside the national park, CoTs remain an issue on less managed reefs

The Crown-of-Thorn Seastar, the NPSA dive team’s current antagonist. Though they’ve been able to control outbreaks inside the national park, CoTs remain an issue on less managed reefs

As we drove home through the rain I was able to reflect on my previous underwater foray. Though these last two weeks in American Samoa didn’t turn out quite as expected, but I am anything but upset. Saturday’s dive alone made up for a frustrated week of uncooperative weather; it takes months of preparations to properly execute field operations and I was more than happy to help out in any way I could.

I won’t soon forget American Samoa, its gregarious people, and the oppressive tropical weather that makes this place so beautiful. And I certainly won’t forget the openhearted generosity of the NPSA staff. I would like to thank Dr. Tim Clark, NPSA’s marine ecologist, and especially the dive-team, aka the “Tim-terns” that housed me and showed me ropes over the last two weeks; Kersten Shnurle, Paolo Marra-Biggs, Karen Bryan and of course Ian Moffitt. Now I’ve got to pack my bags and head north, to the island of Oahu to explore the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Memorial.

Fa’afetai!

Share

A Wet Week in Denver

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).

Luc Ball

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.Shark Tank

Sand Tigerss

Shark View

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.

Share