Hi there! My name is Garrett Fundakowski and I am the 2016 Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society National Park Service Research Intern!
This summer I have been given the opportunity to travel the country to live, work, and dive alongside leading underwater archaeologists, photographers, and research scientists in our nation’s National Parks. Thank you to both the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society and the Submerged Resources Center for their overwhelming generosity in putting together and funding this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Last Saturday, following a late night filled with packing and repacking and triple-checking my lists, my parents dropped me off at the Philadelphia airport to send me on my way. I was both excited and nervous to start my journey! To kick off the non-stop summer of adventures, I spent my first week at the SRC office in Denver, Colorado.
I landed in Denver Saturday evening and stayed the night with my friend Abby and her family. To make sure I really hit the ground running (pun intended), I joined Abby and her father for the Stadium Stampede 5K run along the Platte River in downtown Denver bright and early on Sunday morning before heading over to meet up with Jessica Keller, an Archaeologist for the SRC and my gracious host for the week.
After settling in, Jessica and I quickly got acquainted and bonded as we watched the epic season finale of Game of Thrones. The next day we carpooled to the office, where I was given my visitor’s badge and a tour of the facility. As the remaining SRC crew entered the office, I was greeted with warm smiles and friendly faces; it wasn’t long before I was joking around with everyone else. Since everyone had just gotten back from various projects and this was one of the only times everyone would be in the same place all summer, Dave Conlin, Chief of the SRC, gathered the staff for a meeting to debrief the most recent projects and discuss the travel schedule for the group for the next few months. It was fascinating to see how the whole operation works from the inside.
After the meeting, I sat down with Brett Seymour, Photographer and Deputy Chief of the SRC, and laid out my own schedule for the summer. This summer, my travels will take me from St. Croix to Hawaii, Florida to California, and even as far out as American Samoa! Having only ever dove in the Caribbean, I am extremely excited to head out to the Pacific later this summer and be exposed to an entirely new ocean and its fauna.
The following day, Jessica and I spent all morning at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Hospital. In order to dive with the NPS, I need to acquire a Blue Card. The Blue Card is the NPS’s diving certification and it not only requires passing a written test and demonstrating physical fitness and diving skills in the water (which were scheduled for later in the week with Brett), but also visiting a hyperbaric doctor for a dive physical to ensure their divers are in tip-top shape before getting in the water. After squeezing me in for a last-minute appointment, Dr. Clem cleared me to dive barring my results from the required medical assessments were normal. I managed to get a chest x-ray, blood work, and an ECG done at P/SL in one day, with my audiology appointment scheduled for the following afternoon, earning myself the “record” for the fastest intern dive physical.
The remaining hours of the day were spent in the dive locker with Brett, pulling gear for my summer travels. In the past, some interns have visited places where colder waters necessitated packing a dry suit, but as I won’t be venturing too far north, I will only need a standard wetsuit. We fit me out with a wetsuit, a shortie, rashguards, booties, gloves, swim trunks, and a BCD, as well as a variety of SRC apparel that will serve as my uniform for the next few months.
That night the SRC had their annual summer barbeque. Steve Sellers, the National Dive Safety Officer, and his family graciously had the entire office over for a delicious potluck dinner. Not even a little light shower could stop the SRC crew from firing up the grill and laughing around the table.
Aside from that, the rest of the week went smoothly. I was a bit nervous for the Blue Card test, but being a former swimmer of 13 years has given me a calm disposition in the water and helped me complete even the daunting “ditch-and-don” skill. In fact, my previous swimming experience really came out when Jessica took me to Underwater Hockey practice. After a quick orientation to the rules and a couple rounds of observation, I joined in on the chaotic mess at the bottom of the pool. Admittedly I committed a couple fouls, but I managed to shimmy my way to the puck and score a few points by the end. And I was playing alongside some of the men and women who have competed for the National Team, so I consider it an accomplishment to have scored a goal or two. Overall, it was a ton of fun and I would definitely do it again!
When Saturday finally rolled around, I had some time to explore the rolling hills of Colorado and go on a hike before my flight left the following morning. I hiked up Green Mountain just down the road from the SRC office and it provided a breathtaking view of the city in the distance. A spectacular way to end my stay in Denver!
The next morning, Dave dropped me off at the airport and I was on my way to St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands to work at Buck Island National Monument!
Thank you to the entire SRC staff for being so warm and welcoming! You invited me into your homes, let me stay on your couch, took time out of your day to teach me new software, had me over to join in on board game night, talked to me about my future career plans, introduced me to your family, assisted me in the process of arranging travel, and tailored my journey to fit my personal career goals. Without you, this internship would not be possible. Once again, I am thrilled to have been given this opportunity and am amazed at how willing each of you are to help me on my journey to discover my passion. I hope I make you all proud!