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.



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.


From American Samoa to Washington D.C.

My last destination on my adventure led me to American Samoa; arriving on the island after a five-hour flight from Hawaii felt like landing on the edge of the world. It was certainly the farthest west I’d ever been, and my first time in Polynesia. I had been expecting a small island, similar to what I experienced in Kalaupapa, but I was soon overwhelmed by the size and culture of American Samoa. The island was a mix of traditional Samoan culture overlaid by American Westernization. The result? A vibrant, colorful community with both traditional values, modern culture and a stunning landscape.


Pola Island with Red-footed Boobies flying overhead.

Upon my arrival to the island I met with Tim Clark, a marine ecologist in the park. He quickly introduced me to my roommates for the next three weeks: Ian Moffitt, Karen Bryan, Caitlyn Webster and Kersten Schnurle. These four interns arrived around the same time as I did, and were on a mission to kill Crown-of-Thorns starfish, or COTs. Many of the parks I’d worked in had problems with invasive species; in Yellowstone it was lake trout, in Biscayne it was lionfish, and in Crater Lake crayfish were the invasive nuisance. American Samoa’s problem with COTs was unique in that the starfish are a native species, but their population surges or outbreaks have a devastating impact on coral reefs. It’s theorized that increased nutrient runoff from farming and industrialization, combined with strong weather events such as the 2009 typhoon, created a perfect storm for the starfish population to grow unchecked. This is bad news for coral, as the problematic starfish eat hard corals, leaving white skeletons in their wake. NPSA-DUW-141011-264

Some of American Samoa’s beautiful coral specimens.

So with our mission the other interns and I set out to find the COTs outbreaks. To do this we utilized a survey technique called tow-boarding, where two people were towed behind the boat and signaled each time they saw an outbreak. We started tow-boarding in the park, and continued all across the north side of the island, documenting outbreak locations, intensity and depth.

NPSA-DTS-141010-40Ian tow-boarding

Once we knew where the Crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks were, we set out to manage the population. To do this injected each COTs with a mixture of water and powdered ox-bile. The ox-bile mixture disintegrates the starfish, and leaves no impact on the reef. Don’t ask me how someone thought to use bile from ox to kill starfish, but hey, it works! NPSA-DTS-141010-113 My first dive with the injector was a lesson in task-loading; in addition to carrying our regular scuba gear, we were also equipped with a weighted container of the ox-bile mixture attached to a long injection needle. It was quite a challenge to keep everything sorted out, but I adapted and even managed to kill 11 COTs! It wasn’t quite the record of 100+ on a single dive, but I felt better knowing that I had eliminated at least part of the problem. Diving and tow-boarding in American Samoa gave me the chance to see corals I’d never seen before. The waters of American Samoa boast over 200+ coral species, and being there to see the beautiful reefs was a special privilege. NPSA-DUW-141011-249 NPSA-DUW-141009-21 NPSA-DUW-141008-47 NPSA-DUW-141011-14 Halfway through my stay we were joined by Ana Sofia Guerra, the current North American Our-World Underwater Scholar. It was great meeting and catching up on each other’s adventures; what are the odds of meeting halfway across the world?! I also had the opportunity to explore some of the delicious food (and ice cream!), beautiful views and even native fauna. My second evening in American Samoa introduced me to Malie, a baby Samoan fruit bat that had been separated from its mother and was being rehabilitated by the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources. I completely forgot about my fear of bats, and even held her for a while. Samoan fruit bats are an important part of Samoan culture, and grow to have a wingspan of three feet wide!

10585149_10152755450293399_1036787076_nMalie and Me

It was with a heavy heart that I left the stunning diving and my newfound friends in American Samoa, and headed to Washington D.C. to present my work from my internship. My travel from American Samoa to D.C. was a huge undertaking; I flew from American Samoa –> Honolulu –> Portland, OR –> Houston, TX –> Washington, D.C. Whew! Once in D.C. I met with Cliff McCreedy, the Marine Resource Management Specialist in the Oceans and Coastal Resources Branch of the Park Service. Cliff had generously taken the time to schedule several meetings for me throughout the week, so I had the opportunity to present my work to Ray Sauvajot, Sande McDermott, Stan Bond, Julia Washburn, Lynne Murdock and Don Wollenhaupt. I was quite nervous about presenting to such an impressive and diverse group of decision makers, but they were all generous with their time and eager to hear about my adventures. I also had time to visit the Oceans Hall in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and even met with Emily Frost, a Smithsonian Ocean Portal editor, writer and producer, and Nancy Knowlton, the Sant Chair for Marine Science. What an honor!

1024141709Meeting with Julia Washburn, the Associate Director for Interpretation, Education and Volunteers. Quite a difference from my usual outfit of a t-shirt and shorts!

I’m now back home in New Hampshire, and I still can’t believe that this incredible opportunity has come to a close. Traveling across the United States has been a whirlwind of an adventure, and it feels like just yesterday I was just gritting my teeth against the cold water of Yellowstone Lake, or watching Red-footed Boobies wheeling overhead in American Samoa. To capture the breadth of my experiences I’ve put together a website chronicling my adventures; click here to view my website and browse through my blog posts, photos and 3D models.

I know it will take many months, perhaps even years, to fully process all that I’ve done and realize the impact that this internship has had on my career. I continue to be astounded by the generosity of the National Park Service and the Our-World Underwater Scholarship Society as they continue to mentor and advise me on my next adventure. My heartfelt thanks go to both organizations, as without their support I wouldn’t be the aquanaut that I am now. Also many thanks to the amazing people I’ve worked with throughout the past five months; I was amazed by our country’s underwater resources, but I was truly awed, humbled and inspired by the people who protect them.

Thank you.

~Yasmeen Smalley



Hello all!

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

Me inbetween two dives for lobsters.


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


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


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

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

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




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


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

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



The Living Resources of Kalaupapa

Getting from Valor in the Pacific in Oahu to Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Molokai was probably the easiest transit from park to park I’ve had yet! The two islands are only 30 minutes away by air, so with a quick taxi ride to the airport I was on my way to Kalaupapa. The airline was a private charter service, and I got to sit in the cockpit! I’m still very much a child at heart, so it was incredibly exciting.


Once I arrived I met with Eric Brown, the marine ecologist at Kalaupapa and Sly Lee, a marine biological science technician in the park. After a quick tour of the office, Sly took some NOAA researchers and me on a tour of the park. We saw the original settlement, the church where Father Damien preached, the world’s tallest sea cliffs, and the original and still functioning lighthouse. Majestic can’t even begin to describe the natural beauty of the park.


Sly also gave me some background on the park’s history. The settlement was established in the late 1800s as a colony for those with Hansen’s Disease, or leprosy. Native Hawaiians on the peninsula were displaced as the government began the forced exile of those afflicted with leprosy to Kalaupapa, tearing them away from their homes and forcing them into colonies of isolation. This isolation continued until the 1940s, when a cure for leprosy was found, and the government began to ease the isolationist policies. In 1980 Kalaupapa National Historical Park was created to preserve the history of the settlement, and maintain the home of the remaining patients. Today the park is a quiet haven to protect the biological and cultural resources. More importantly, the park also exists to protect and preserve the memories of the patients, who are the last survivors of this terrible legacy.

After I got acquainted with the resources on land, it was time to explore the resources underwater! I quickly put together my underwater camera setup, and enjoyed the unbelievably crystal-clear waters of Kalaupapa. This was my first experience in warm Pacific waters, and I was loving every moment.


My first day in Kalaupapa concluded with community volleyball, a wonderful tradition that happens every Wednesday and Saturday evening. My volleyball skills (or lack thereof) were quite embarrassing, but everyone was encouraging and there to have a good time, regardless of skill level. It was a great way to meet some of the settlement’s 90 residents!

The work week started with the arrival of two University of Hawaii at Hilo researchers, Lindsey Kramer and Kerrie Krosky. Their research involved assessing algae growth and the impact of algal predation from different kinds of marine organisms. The data and research also assessed algal growth on a larger scale in relation to location and causes, such as nutrient runoff from agriculture. I was very impressed by the scope of the research, as well as its implications. For their work here in Kalaupapa we were diving on fixed sites and meticulously collecting algae using an underwater vacuum. Each dive was almost two hours long and required constant attention and concentration, but it was a great challenge to test my scientific diving skills.


Eric (left) and Lindsey collect algae on a fixed site in Kalaupapa.


Luckily diving wasn’t all work and no play- I had a delicious coconut break after a long day of diving! Kalaupapa is home to countless coconut palm trees, as well as mango, banana, papaya, mountain apple, lemon and avocado trees, to name a few. Each day usually featured a healthy and delicious snack break!

Halfway through the week Lindsey, Kerrie, Sly and I joined Carrie Mardorf, the Cultural Resources Program Manager at the park to photograph the Supermoon. We watched the moon rise over the sea cliffs and reflect over the waves. Witnessing special events in nature such as this definitely reminds me how lucky I am!


At the end of the week I joined Eric on a monk seal survey, which involved two hours of hiking along the rocky shoreline to observe and record monk seal activity. Monk seals are an endangered species, and the long-term monitoring helps determine habitat preference and seasonal preference over time in Kalaupapa. Our first hour of hiking yielded no monk seal sightings, but luckily during the second hour we saw two adults and a mother and pup seal! I had observed pinnipeds in the Channel Islands, but this experience impressed upon me the need for research, to preserve pupping areas.


After another rousing game of volleyball on Saturday, the next week began by preparing for a five-day camping expedition to Waikolu Valley to perform stream surveys. Eric, Sly, Randall Watanuki, the park’s maintenance mechanic and boat operator and I were joined by Dave Raikow, an Ecologist with the Pacific Island Network Inventory and Monitoring National Park Service, and Anne Farahi, a Biological Science Technician with the same organization. Our mission for the week was to collect water quality samples, perform fish and snail surveys and monitor the current at fixed and temporary stream sites throughout the valley. This was a great opportunity for me to gain experience in terrestrial research!

Each morning would begin with a briefing on the day’s activities, and then we would begin our hike to the first site of the day. Our route took us through a tropical forest, and the first few days involved bushwhacking our way through the dense clusters of guava, coffee and kukui nut trees. Each morning was a sensory experience as we fought off prickly lantana bushes, inhaled the sour-sweet smell of overripe guava and heard the occasional squeal of a wild pig in the distance. The days were long and physically exhausting, but the view on returning to our campsite each evening never failed to inspire me.

KALA-DTS-140919-251 KALA-DTS-140919-28 KALA-DTS-140919-246

After our week in Waikolu was over we said farewell to Dave and Anne, and Sly and I went on some photo dives to practice our 3D modeling. I had produced a few models in Pearl Harbor, but was eager to try my hand at modeling corals. Sly gave me some tips on my modeling techniques, and I soon I was cranking out some pretty sweet models! The blend of underwater photography and 3D technology was incredibly appealing to my interests, and I loved learning a new technology. What can I say, I’m a nerd! Click here to check out one of the 3D models.

Another unique experience I had in Kalaupapa was shopping for groceries. Now, that may not sound very exciting, but the nearest grocery store for non-residents is actually on topside Molokai, which is a 3 mile hike up 1,700 feet in elevation. I’m glad I had some practice with hiking while in Waikolu Valley, because it was a tough trek! Not to mention the added weight of groceries on the way down. Still, I’m glad I did the hike if only to say that I had to hike 3 miles up to get groceries!


The view of the peninsula from halfway up the trail.

My third and final week in Kalaupapa was spent diving with Eric, Randall and Sly to pick up coral settlement tiles at various fixed sites around the peninsula. Diving all around the park was a great way to familiarize myself with Pacific diving and see different coral species. There were beautiful hard coral specimens, and I was reminded of the incredible biological resources of the park.


I spent my last few days in Kalaupapa enjoying the beauty of the park and it’s people. I joined Sly and a couple of his friends visiting the park on a salt collection expedition. We walked around the craggy shoreline searching for saltwater ponds that had dried out. We found a couple good-sized ponds, and I collected enough salt for a small souvenir!

My last evening in the park coincided with a volleyball night; there were twice as many people as usual, and I managed to score the winning goal of the last game! After the game we all hung out next door and enjoyed a true Hawaiian luau: great food, live ukelele music and singing. A perfect end to a perfect park visit!


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.


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.

Valor-DUW-140901-141A gun turret on the USS Utah

Valor-DUW-140901-97A gun barrel on the USS Utah

Valor-DUW-140902-102A hatch on the USS Arizona

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.



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.


 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!


 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.



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.


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.


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


Calm water makes gorgeous reflections


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


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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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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Sea fans

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Giant schools of fish on Alligator

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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


Packing up Lionfish


Night dive with Ocean Divers


Pouring rain at the Palm Beach Derby