Diving into the Past- Valor of the Pacific

My arrival in Honolulu followed two hours of driving out of Crater Lake, a delayed flight and 5 hours of flight time. Nonetheless, I was transfixed as our plane touched down on Oahu- this was my first time in Hawaii, and I was eager to explore. The sun set behind the mountains as our plane touched down on the tarmac, putting a bow on a perfect arrival.

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The view of Pearl Harbor from the plane

Once I collected my bags I met with Scott Pawlowski, the Chief of Cultural and Natural Resources in the park. The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument is dedicated to telling the story of the events at Pearl Harbor, most notably the surprise military attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the US Naval Base on December 7, 1941.The “day that will live in infamy” now lives on in the park in the form of the USS Arizona memorial, the USS Utah memorial and the USS Oklahoma memorial, as well as in other park resources.

Scott and I headed into Honolulu for a late dinner, and discussed my role in the park for that week. When I worked with Brett Seymour of the Submerged Resources Center in Yellowstone and Dry Tortugas, I had watched him utilize a photographic technology called Recap 360, which uses still photographs to produce 3D models. Scott has had experience with the technology, so we determined that with his help I would attempt to produce 3D models of certain features on the USS Utah and USS Arizona.

A few days later, I realized that producing 3D models in Pearl Harbor was easier said than done. The harbor is an estuary, which means that both fresh and salt water mix in the harbor. Large amounts of silt and nutrients accompany the fresh water, resulting in green, murky water. Not the best conditions for taking photos! My subjects were a hatch on the USS Arizona and a gun turret on the USS Utah.

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My first few models were disappointing. The murky water and my novice skills resulted in patchy, half-formed caricatures of the subjects. Luckily Scott was able to diagnose the problem, and with advice from him and Brett I was able to make some progress. In order to capture each and every angle of the subject, the photographer has to utilize a “snail pattern,” photographing from bottom to top in a circular fashion. Each photo must have significant overlap with the preceding and following photograph, and any breaks in the pattern will cause errors with the software.

UntitledAfter two days of unsuccessful modeling, Scott and I set out on my third and final day of diving to model a hatch on the USS Utah. This hatch is particularly significant because survivors of the Attack on Pearl Harbor can choose to have the ship be their final resting place when they pass away, and it is through this hatch that their remains are interred. I was determined to do this model justice as a way to pay my respects to those who serve our country.

The third try was the charm, and with patience, timing and lots of photographs I was able to create a 3D model of the hatch. You can view a video of the model below, or view the model directly by clicking here.

With the diving and imagery done for the week, I decided to explore a bit of Pearl Harbor before my departure to the next park. I hopped on a bus and took a trip to a nearby mall, where I enjoyed some delicious Japanese Ramen at a restaurant that Scott had taken me to earlier in the week. Asian cuisine is king in Hawaii, and I was only too happy to sample the flavor fusions!

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I spent my last day in the park visiting the USS Oklahoma memorial. The ship suffered extreme damage from torpedoes during the attack, and was too damaged to return to duty. The ship was eventually sold for scrap and mercifully sank on it’s way to California. The memorial is located on Ford Island, and has 429 marble posts to mimic the naval tradition of “manning the rails,” a naval tradition whereby crewmen and women gather to salute a distinguished vessel or individual. Walking among the memorial was a somber experience.

As I reflected on the week’s experiences, I realized that Valor in the Pacific was unlike any of the parks I had visited thus far. Being able to dive on shipwrecks that were the final resting place for over a thousand officers and crewmen was an incredibly humbling and reflective experience. The day that will live in infamy will also live on in my memories of this incredible park.

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Crayfish Week at Crater Lake

My next stop on my list of parks to visit was Crater Lake National Park, the fifth park I’ve visited this summer. I arrived just in time for Crayfish Week, a week that the Natural Resources- Aquatic Division team devotes to the study of this small but dangerous invasive species.

Crater Lake is an incredibly complex ecological system, made only more complicated by the introduction of crayfish in 1915. The freshwater crustaceans were introduced to provide a food source to trout in Crater Lake, but in recent years the crayfish population has exploded, and now threatens native species such as the endemic Rough-Skinned Newt.

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 Wizard Island

The lake is unique in many ways. The 7,700 year old lake was formed by a volcanic eruption, and is the deepest lake in the United States at almost 2,000 feet deep. Known for it’s blue water, the lake also has the highest UV light penetration in the world- higher even than the waters surrounding Antarctica. And because the unpolluted water of Crater Lake is fed only by rain and snowfall, it’s actually good enough to drink! Suffice it to say, Crater Lake is a pretty special place.

Our team for the week consisted of Scott Girdner, a Fisheries Biologist and Limnologist, Drew Denlinger, a Seasonal Biological Technician and Kristin Beem, a Student Conservation Association (SCA) intern. Armed with crayfish traps, bait and some elbow grease we set out to catch some crayfish!

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 Kristin and Scott pulling up crayfish traps.

Our goal for the week was to catch crayfish at different sites and different depths around the lake. By measuring and noting the length, weight and sex of each crayfish, the team is able to extrapolate the data to determine larger population models. Unfortunately recent population models have not been positive. In 2008 crayfish were present at 50% of monitored shoreline sites- it’s estimated that crayfish are now present at 80% of the sites in 2014.

The presence of invasive species in national parks has unfortunately been a common thread throughout my internship. Between lake trout in Yellowstone, lionfish in Biscayne and Dry Tortugas and now crayfish in Crater Lake, it seems impossible to shake these aquatic invaders. Scott spoke about the difficulty of watching the decline of native species due to the increase of invasive species, saying “It’s easier to prevent the introduction of invasive species like crayfish than it is to deal with them after their introduction.” I did my part to keep the crayfish population down by eating a whole mess of them for dinner! Waste not.

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Yum!

Luckily the mood wasn’t all doom and gloom while at Crater Lake. Being on the water each day and surrounded by the mountains of the caldera was an incredible experience, and each day brought something new. One morning Drew, Kristin and I saw two bald eagles sitting in a nearby tree, and then 30 minutes later we pulled up a newt in one of the crayfish traps! Seeing this lovable newt was a great way to visualize why the the Natural Resources team spends so much time on this research- to protect threatened species like the newt.

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A Rough-skinned Newt

I also got to see some other popular features of the lake, including Wizard Island, Phantom Ship (a smaller island) and the Old Man of the Lake, a 30-ft tall tree stump that has been floating around the lake for over a century! The lake’s temperature (cold!) and relatively low productivity has slowed the decomposition process on the log.

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On calm days you can see all 30 feet of Old Man! 

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Calm water makes gorgeous reflections

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The natural beauty of the lake was just astounding. I’m pretty sure Kristin, Scott and Drew got tired of me saying “Wow” so much! Still, it couldn’t be helped, especially when we saw some beautiful waterfalls catching the light just right.

All in all I had a great week assisting the crayfish monitoring research at Crater Lake National Park. Between the glorious views, great people and fascinating research, it was the experience of a lifetime. To all researchers combating invasive species- keep up the good fight!

 

 

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Left to Right: Scott, myself, Kristin and Drew

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Keys Life

Now that I am home, I have had a chance to go through some of my pictures and reminisce about how amazing my life in Key Largo was. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to be down there and work with REEF and I can’t wait to go back to visit. I believe that pictures speak louder than words sometimes so here are a few from my time in the Keys.

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Turtle!

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Sargent Majors

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Christ of the Abyss Statue

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Beautiful reefs

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Sargent Majors

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Bluehead wrass

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Porkfish

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Sea fans

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Giant schools of fish on Alligator

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Reefs

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Alligator Lighthouse

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Rainbow Parrotfish at Alligator Reef

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Underwater structure at Alligator Reef

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Over Under at Alligator

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More turtles!

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So colorful!

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Yellowtail Snapper at Molasses Reef

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Beautiful day at Molasses Reef

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Nurse shark that swam right under me at Molasses Reef

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Enjoying the sunset in the Bahamas

Derby life

Derby Life

Lionfish research

About to hop in the water for a Lionfish Survey

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Packing up Lionfish

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Night dive with Ocean Divers

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Pouring rain at the Palm Beach Derby

 

 

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Vandenberg with the Advanced Assessment Team

On May 27, 2009 Vandenberg was sunk to become the largest artificial reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and the second largest in the world. In order for such a large ship to be sunk like that there has to be a lot of planning and research. REEF was asked to do surveys on the Vandenberg site before the ship was sunk to see how it would affect the marine life and reefs.  REEF stepped up to the challenge and assembled their Advanced Assessment Team made up of all level 4 and 5 fish surveyors.  The Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) is a group of highly qualified fish ID experts who volunteer their time to do fish surveys that would be more accurate than an entry level fish surveyor.  The team surveyed the Vandenberg site and multiple sites around it before the sinking and we have been keeping up with our long term survey plan.  The sites we survey around the Vandenberg are to compare reef structure and look at impacts of other wrecks.  As interns we have not quite gotten to the AAT level but we were invited to join and help out with the research.  The Vandenberg is located off the coast of Key West which is around a two hour drive from where we are in Key Largo. I was lucky enough to be able to join the survey crew for four out of their five days of surveys.  I really enjoyed all of the sites and getting to work with such experienced researchers.  My favorite day was our last day when we surveyed the Vandenberg again and Joes Tug.  When we went down for our first dive in the morning, there was zero current and almost 100ft of viability.  It was absolutely amazing.  We wanted to stay down there all day, but due to the depth we only had a short time.  I am really glad I had the opportunity to work with the Advanced Assessment Team again and hopefully I will be able to join them again and even become an AAT member myself.

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Flag in the satellite dish

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Barracuda

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Looking up the ship

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Side of the ship

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Wheel house

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Starboard deck

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Safety stop

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Showing my REEF colors

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Side railing

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Looking up the side of the ship

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Fish everywhere!

 

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Exploring the Mysteries of the Channel Islands

 My trek to Channel Islands National Park was a testament to the goodwill of strangers. I took the Yankee Freedom II ferry from Dry Tortugas National Park and University of Miami professor Keene Haywood generously gave me a ride to my hotel in Key West. I repacked all of my bags for the airport, and caught a few hours of sleep before heading to the Key West airport.

I arrived at the airport at 6 a.m. with my two carry-ons and three check-in bags in tow. The stunned

Not exactly traveling light!

Not exactly traveling light!

baggage handler took a look at my pile of luggage and hesitantly informed me that passengers were only allowed one check-in bag when flying out of Key West. Whoops! Luckily another airline employee had been camping at Fort Jefferson while I was there, so with a little southern charm and sweet-talking I was able to get all three checked bags on the plane with no extra charge.

Two flights and a bus ride later I arrived in Ventura Harbor, where I met up with Josh Sprague, a Marine Ecologist in the park. He and his housemates all work in the park, and they graciously let me crash at their place, catch up on my laundry and mooch their WiFi. One challenge of this internship is that there’s often no Internet or cell reception in the field, so it puts the onus on me to manage my time wisely and upload blog posts whenever I’m able. Easier said than done!

After a restful Sunday enjoying an afternoon picnic/barbecue, we made our way to Ventura Harbor to begin our 5-day fieldwork aboard the Sea Ranger. I’ve spent more time on a ship or a boat in the last few weeks than I have on land!

The Sea Ranger II

Our team includes David Kushner, the Regional Dive Officer and a Marine Biologist, Kelly Moore, the Park Dive Officer and a Park Ranger, our Captain, Keith Duran, Josh Sprague, a Marine Ecologist, and James Grunden, Jamie McClain, Ben Grime and Ryan Stephenson, who are all Biological Science Technicians.The monitoring program at Channel Islands is the longest ongoing monitoring program in the Park Service, and has been running for 32 years. Our goal for this trip is to perform several types of surveys on permanent sites to assess population growth of various organisms, including kelp, abalone, sea stars, and other ecologically important species.

It took 4-5 hours to get from Ventura Harbor to our first diving stop in Santa Rosa. During that time I was frantically studying the names of Pacific fish species in order to properly identify them for the survey dive. My Caribbean species identification skills are fair, but diving in the Pacific is a whole other ball game! With Kelly and Jaime’s help I was able to cram enough to do some basic identification during the dive.

A copper rockfish.

After our first survey dive at the site, I popped back in with camera in hand to do a video survey. Shooting video expressly for science was new to me, and I enjoyed swimming up and down the 100m transect while collecting footage. The video clips will be used to count urchin populations along the transect line, and then to extrapolate the data to build larger population models.

The diving in Channel Islands was definitely different than the warm waters of Biscayne and Dry Tortugas. For each dive I double layered both a 3mm and 5mm wetsuit to stay warm. I felt a lot like the Michelin Man, but it worked! Each dive was usually at least one hour, and most were closer to an hour and a half long. All were rigorous, whether I was doing video transects, photographing or assisting with surveys. At one point we had to deal with significant surge, which would send us flying to and fro as we attempted to count kelp.

Kelp fronds swaying in the surge.

After diving at Santa Rosa we set out for San Miguel, which is the most remote of the Channel Islands. This meant that the sites were almost untouched, except for a few fishing boats. The island’s remote location also means that it is influenced by different currents, in this case colder water currents. Fortunately the boat was well-equipped to deal with the diving conditions. There was a hot water hose to warm your wetsuit before and after dives, of which I unashamedly took full advantage.

Diving in the relatively untouched conditions gave me an opportunity to see species I’d only seen in aquariums. Octopuses, sheepshead, garibaldi, sea lions: Every time I looked around I’d see something new! I even got to see a nudibranch for the first time, and had my first encounter with a harbor seal who played with my fins.

A heterogenous school of rockfish

A nudibranch

A juvenile octopus

Metridium giganteum, or Giant plumose anemone

Unfortunately, the lush kelp forests we saw in San Miguel weren’t the norm for our trip. Reserves make up only 20% of the Channel Islands, so areas that aren’t protected are open to commercial and recreational fishing. Several of our dive sites were in such unprotected areas, and we saw the effects of fishing firsthand. Many of these sites were “urchin-barren,” meaning that due to a lack of natural predators, urchins had dominated the ecosystem and created a monochromatic, barren landscape.

Seeing this radical difference in marine life between protected and non-protected areas was definitely a shock, and even a little depressing. However it definitely impressed upon me the need for the continuation of long-term monitoring programs, so that parks can better understand the different factors influencing marine ecosystems.

One of the researchers performing a survey along the transect

Another biological factor at play in the park was the emergence of a sea star wasting disease. This new disease has hit Sunflower sea stars extremely hard, wiping out most of the population in the park.  Sunflower sea stars eat urchins, and the lack of this predatory sea star has left the urchin population to grow unchecked. The wasting disease also affects other types of sea stars, as we saw on our trip.

A Bat star (Patiria miniata) affected by the wasting disease

As the trip wound down to the last few days we finished up our research at Santa Cruz. After the day of diving was completed I did a quick three-mile hike on the island with Josh, Ben and Ryan. With so much diving it can be easy to overlook the natural beauty of terrestrial systems, so the hike was a great opportunity to explore the island. The hike, combined with the beautiful sunset, was a great way to reflect on all the things I’d seen thus far.

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When I asked Brett and Dave what their favorite park was at the beginning of the summer, they both answered that each one had it’s own unique appeal and that it was impossible to pick a favorite. As I explore parks across the United States, I’m beginning to understand their answer. Each one has its own allure, some mysterious and fascinating pull. Hopefully I’ll be back to explore more of Channel Islands’ mysteries.

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The Wonders of Dry Tortugas

I met up with the Submerged Resources Center (SRC) folks at the end of my stay in Biscayne National Park. The SRC and the Southeast Archeological Center (SEAC) folks were wrapping up their work documenting several wrecks. The SRC and SEAC had teamed up for their archeological work in Biscayne as well as for our upcoming project in Dry Tortugas. With the completion of their project in Biscayne, we loaded the suburban, hitched up the Cal Cummins and began the drive to Key West!

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Our destination in Key West was The Fort Jefferson, a ship stationed at the Key West Coast Guard Station. The name for the ship comes from the fort on Dry Tortugas National Park, which is the Fort Jefferson, so to avoid confusion we referred to the ship as the Fort Jeff. I hadn’t spent much significant time on a ship this large; with three engines and two generators, this was definitely a big ship! The rest of our travel day was spent unloading the vehicles, loading up the Fort Jeff and hitching our boat, the Cal, to the Fort Jeff for towing purposes. I was geeking out by all of the Coast Guard ships at the dock, which were beautifully lit by the sunset.

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That night we stayed on the Fort Jeff, and I fell asleep to the gentle rocking of the ship. In the morning we were joined by Dave Conlin, Brett Seymour, and David Morgan of SEAC. With that our numbers were complete, and we began the four-hour trip to Dry Tortugas National Park!

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Andres Diaz, the Principal Investigator for the project, outlines tasks and chores for the trip.

Our goal for this project is to survey, stabilize and photograph two wrecks, the Cement Barrel site and the Single Deck site. Both sites had been surveyed and mapped in the mid ’90s, however hurricanes and time have deteriorated the wrecks, necessitating further mapping and documentation.

Our arrival at the park was met by excitement all around- the Dry Tortugas is so remote that it was the first time that some of our company had seen it, myself included. For others it had been years since they’d last visited. After unloading and organizing our gear for the next day we got to explore the park, which felt like stepping back into the past. You could almost hear the call to muster from the grounds!

Fort Jefferson Light

M/V Fort Jefferson at dock in the harbor

The parade grounds of Fort Jefferson

The next day was splashdown day, as we set sail to perform site assessments. The first diving day of each project is generally used to scope out the site and to get a feel for the diving in the park. The weather was a little choppy for our first day of diving, but the dives were spectacular. Because of the park’s inaccessibility the wildlife is able to thrive unmolested, resulting in huge schools of fish congregating over the wrecks. Plus, Dry Tortugas is a wreck mecca, with gorgeous wrecks just minutes from the park.

One of Dave’s pithy sayings is “the weather you have today is the weather you’ll wish you had tomorrow.” That was true for our second day on the water, because the following morning I woke up at three a.m. to the ship rocking back and forth. A squall blew through, and we delayed our diving operations until noon.

Once the weather cleared up we were joined by Jasmine Baloch, an intern at the park and University of Miami graduate student who specializes in lionfish removal. Brett, Jasmine and I hopped aboard the Cal, or the “art boat,” as it was dubbed by the rest of the team. Since we had two boats to use for the project, Brett and I were able to focus on photographic research on the Cal, while the rest of the team did their archeological work on another boat, the Parker. My main task was to be Brett’s dive buddy as he took still images for a reverse photogrammetry program that would create 3D models. After Brett was done I would hop back in the water with Jasmine to photograph the same wreck myself.

A red grouper hides underneath the Single Deck site, one of the wrecks documented for the project.

Over the following few days we were also joined by Kayla Nimmo, a Biological Science Technician at the park, Chris Muina, another lionfish intern and University of Miami graduate student, and Elissa Connolly-Randazzo, a Student Conservation Association (SCA) intern. Chris and Elissa made spearing lionfish look easy, and it was great to meet and chat to other young professionals in the marine science field.

Even though I was exhausted at the end of each day, I tried to make the most of my time at the park by watching the sunset or snorkeling in the late afternoon. There was a trio of goliath groupers living underneath the dock, so one evening I went snorkeling with Jess to try to coax them out for a photo. They were only too happy to oblige! Curious, the huge groupers swam right up to us; they had nothing to fear, as the largest one was larger than us!

SRC Archeologist Jessica Keller stares down a Goliath Grouper

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And if my experiences thus far weren’t awe-inspiring enough, the highlight of my visit to Dry Tortugas happened the morning of my departure from the island. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and joined Kayla, Jasmine, Chris and their University of Miami advisors to watch sea turtle nesting monitoring on East Key, a small island near the fort. Kayla goes to East Key every three to four days to check on the Loggerhead nests, and the Lionfish and SCA interns monitor the nests as well. By keeping a detailed log of when each nest was laid and by monitoring each nest for tracks, Kayla and the interns are able to know when each nest hatches. After they’re certain that a nest has hatched, they dig up the nest to count the number of eggshells and look for any stragglers that didn’t make it out.

Chris Muina counts turtle eggshells in the early morning on East Key.

Baby Loggerhead turtles emerging from the nest.

It was such an incredible experience to watch Chris, Jasmine and Kayla dig up the baby sea turtles, especially knowing that without their help the remaining stragglers wouldn’t have made it to the ocean. Seeing the turtles emerge from their nests will be a memory I hope to keep forever! That, combined with the gorgeous wrecks in the crystal clear water made Dry Tortugas a magical place to visit.

The sea turtle monitoring program at Dry Tortugas National Park is conducted in accordance with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) marine turtle permit #0187.  All species of marine turtles are either threatened or endangered and it is illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect these or other protected species.  Please contact the primary permit holder, Kayla Nimmo (Kayla_Nimmo@nps.gov) with any questions or concerns.

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Maine-ly Amazing, for another month!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Katy

 

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Scuba Education

Maine is still beautiful as usual.

Pemaquid Point is still gorgeous even on a dreary day.

Pemaquid Point is still gorgeous even on a dreary day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Katy

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Blue Heron Bridge: Home of the Crazy Critters

Blue Heron Bridge is located past Fort Lauderdale and is a beautiful little boat channel.  Most people know it as just a fun little place to swim or fish, but some of us know it as the best place to find critters! Blue Heron is not your typical Florida reef dive; it is actually nothing like it.  It is a very shallow dive, with the max depth at around 12 feet, and it is all sand with giant pillars from the bridge forming structure for critters to hide.  When I was first told about this dive we talked about how there was an active boat channel right next to where we would be diving, and about how it is a muck dive and the current can sometimes pick up so the viability will go way down.  So I must admit that I was a little apprehensive about the dive.  Fortunately, I was in great hands and all the things we talked about were just for safety and to prepare us for what to do.  After driving three hours to get to Blue Heron, we finally entered the water around 11.  We had to time the dive right so we would be there for slack tide and the current didn’t wash us out to the boat channel.  After going over our dive plan, we headed out.  I was told that there were a lot of things dumped in the water like shopping carts or old sunken boats, and I questioned why people would want to make the three hour dive to stare at some trash, but after I got out there I began to understand.  All the big structures that were thrown into the water provided habitat to tons of animals I had never seen before.  When we began our dive we had talked about what we wanted to see the most and of course I knew exactly what mine was; a seahorse!  I had never seen a seahorse before, and was beginning to think that they were a myth, but sure enough half way through our dive I hear someone tapping on their tank to get my attention.  I quickly swim over and see a tiny pink seahorse holding on to a piece of algae with its tail.  Needless to say I did my little underwater happy dance and had everyone laughing.  Not only did we see this little guy but we also found another on our way back in!  I am so excited to cross that off my critters to see bucket list (nerd alert).  Some other critters that I was equally excited to see on my dive were two octopi, a few sea robins, and a flying gurnard.  The dive was two hours long and while it wasn’t the prettiest dives I have been on, it offered a chance to see some amazing rare species and I hope to go back soon to find more. 

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My first sea horse!

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Hiding octopus

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Another sea horse!

 

 

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Great Annual Fish Count: One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish

The Great Annual Fish Count is an event that takes place across the world every year during the month of July.  It is organized by REEF to help get people in the water and counting fish.  This year another intern and I took the lead on this project for the Florida Keys and coordinated a fish ID talk and dive.  REEF cannot do what we do best and preserve the oceans without the help of citizen scientists.  This is why we try to spread the idea of doing fish surveys to as many people we can.  As I mentioned in one of my other blogs, volunteer fish surveys are one of the main projects at REEF.  It is actually pretty easy and anyone interested can partake with the right training.  We use a roving diver technique, which means that the diver does a regular dive and while they are swimming around they write down all the fish they see and their abundance.  For the Great Annual Fish Count, we hosted a fish ID class where we taught the public about the most common fish here in Key Largo, Florida.  REEF is a worldwide organization and we do surveys in every ocean.  For Florida, however, we are grouped into the Tropical Western Atlantic or TWA.  After we taught everyone about their fish, we set up a day to go out on a dive boat where we provided underwater paper, slates and pencils to anyone interested in doing a survey. We had a great turn out, with many people interest in doing a survey and learning about REEF.  I loved being able to see people getting as excited about fish ID as I am.  There was a father out diving with his two sons and it made my day watching them point to a fish and swim over to me and ask me what it was.  After I told them their eyes would light up and they would quickly check it off their list. I am glad that so many people were interested in going out and preserving our reefs.

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Just doing my surveys

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Chromis

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Chromis

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Eel

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Angelfish

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Hamlet

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