High And Dry at Crater Lake National Park

After a quick weekend recovery, my gear still wet from the Channel Islands, I arrived in Medford, Oregon, just as the sun was setting. From there I drove up into the mountains, heading towards Crater Lake National Park. I’m sure the drive is gorgeous, but I didn’t make it to the Park until close to midnight. Fortunately, I was let in to my dwelling for the week just in time to crawl into my sleeping bag. By the good graces of the staff here at CRLA I was given a bed at the Science and Learning Center’s Residence. A restored historic build, once home to the Park’s naturalist, the SLC Residence serves as a living center for visiting scientists and artists. This beautiful old building is just another prime example of how the National Park Service manages the natural landscape, as well as historic sites; natural history, renovation and restoration.

Words cannot do Crater Lake justice, put pictures can get close. It’s incredible to think that this lake is less than 8,000 years old. Mt. Mazama, the name given to the mountain before it blew its top, was probably the tallest peak in the immediate area.

Words cannot do Crater Lake justice, put pictures can get close. It’s incredible to think that this lake is less than 8,000 years old. Mt. Mazama, the name given to the mountain before it blew its top, was probably the tallest peak in the immediate area.

The next morning I met up with Scott Girdner, an aquatic biologist, and Kristin Beem, the seasonal aquatic technician. They told me we were headed down to the water, and I couldn’t wait. Because I arrived late in the night I hadn’t gotten a chance to see much of the park at all. As we drove around the rim, the caldera came into view. Words cannot do Crater Lake justice, but pictures can get close. We parked at the top of the rim; at the only place in the Park you can safely access the water. The Cleetwood trail zigzags down the steep wall of the caldera, down to the water below. I couldn’t believe that the Park Service, and any inquisitive visitor, has to hike down and up this trail everyday. Like every Park I’ve been too, each environment presents its own unique challenges. Here at CRLA, nobody complains about a little extra cardio.

As luck would have it, I picked an excellent week to visit the CRLA. Once a month the aquatic ecology team does what they call “Trend Week” i.e. they collect data to add to their long-term trend data set. That Monday we prepped the sampling gear for the week. Because this fragile ecosystem is at risk by potentially invasive organisms, recreational water use of the lake is extremely limited. In fact, the only watercrafts allowed on the lake are the Park Service’s two research boats, and a concession company that runs tours later in the season. Of course, visitors can swim in the lake, but with a chilling surface temperature of about 54º, most don’t stay in for too long.

We had the lake to ourselves as we sped out across the water towards Wizard Island, the prominent mini caldera on the western edge of the lake. The Park Service maintains a boathouse on Wizard Island, so it was there that we loaded the gear onto the boat. We then traversed to the middle of the lake, the sampling area called Section 13. We took a light reading and headed for home. Crater Lake is famous for it’s amazingly clear water, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. The astounding blue water belies the extreme depth below; at 592 meters Crater Lake is the deepest in the United States, and one of the deepest in the world.

Steaming back after our dive day, you could feel the excitement on board. More often than not the aquatics team doesn’t get the opportunity to do biological surveys on SCUBA. I was really appreciative to have been able to join them this day.

Steaming back after our dive day, you could feel the excitement on board. More often than not the aquatics team doesn’t get the opportunity to do biological surveys on SCUBA. I was really appreciative to have been able to join them this day.

Things really got going on Tuesday, when we began our sampling in earnest. I got to meet Mark Buktenica, the Chief aquatic biologist who has been at the Park for over 30 years. We sped out to Section 13, and got to work. Most limnologists, those that study inland lakes and rivers, use relatively simple sampling gear, often dropping water collectors hand over hand into their study sites. But due to its size Crater Lake is in a class of its own, and I know oceanographic equipment when I see it and we were armed to the teeth with gear. We sampled water at different depths, collecting samples that would be analyzed for chlorophyll (signs of phytoplankton) and for water quality. A scientist from USGS typically accompanies the crew for trend week; he brought radioactive C14, which is used in a study to test the difference in photosynthesis and respiration in the lake. We also took samples from 5 spring sources to look for potential contaminants. I was thoroughly shocked when Scott and Mark took a secchi disk reading (used to determine visibility in the water column) down to over 38 meters! I’ve never even heard of water that clear.

On Wednesday we continued our sampling by doing vertical zooplankton tows. We dropped our net and again took samples at different depths. The clarity of the water is due to the oligotrophic nature of the lake (nutrient poor) and because of that light penetrates very, very deep. All of that clear water doesn’t defuse UV radiation, so the inhabitants of the lake tend to live deeper than they do in the ocean. So deep in fact, that the main layer of phytoplankton, and zooplankton is found at about 120 meters. 120 meters! That absolutely blew my mind. I’ve never heard of the dominant plankton zone being that deep. Back home in California most of the plankton are found in the first few meters!

I know oceanographic equipment when I see it! This relatively large plankton net (by lake standards at least) was sent down at regular depth intervals to sample the water column for zooplankton.

I know oceanographic equipment when I see it! This relatively large plankton net (by lake standards at least) was sent down at regular depth intervals to sample the water column for zooplankton.

While Tuesday and Wednesday afforded me my first taste of limnology, Thursday brought my dreams of lake diving to fruition. Diving in the lake has been restricted to Park Service personnel only since 2012, and typically Park Service divers use SCUBA on an as-needed basis. I was thrilled when Mark and Scott decided to try and do some biological surveys at depth. Back in the early 20th century the lake was seeded with trout, in an effort to attract more visitors. In order to feed the trout the lake was also seeded with crawfish. As it turns out the crawfish voraciously devour anything they possibly can, preying on and out competing a local species of newt.

In keeping with the trend, here is my over/under shot from CRLA. Blurry above, but clear below, the startling clarity of Crater Lake is reason enough to want to dive there. Plus, you don’t have to rinse your dive gear at the end of the day, a hose would only get it dirtier!

In keeping with the trend, here is my over/under shot from CRLA. Blurry above, but clear below, the startling clarity of Crater Lake is reason enough to want to dive there. Plus, you don’t have to rinse your dive gear at the end of the day, a hose would only get it dirtier!

Traditionally the Park Service has done snorkel surveys for the newts and crawfish along the shore. But last year they decided to try the surveys at depth. Just my luck! I was paired up with Mark, and together we descended into the crystal clear water down to 60 feet. If you think diving in 54º water is cold, the temperature at 60ft was a bone chilling 44º! We each took a turn looking for newts for 20 minutes, at just over 6000 feet; a 60-foot dive is really a 90-foot dive in terms of nitrogen build up. Unfortunately we didn’t see anything at all at 60ft, and I was getting worried I wouldn’t see any newts. But we did another survey at 15ft, above the thermocline, and there life is much more abundant, we found several newts and a few crawfish. The next team of divers, Scott and Kristen, did their surveys at 45ft and 30ft. Again, a similar story, nothing below the thermocline at 45ft, but plenty of newts and crawfish at 30.

The villain and hero of the Crater Lake benthic ecology story. Originally introduced to feed the introduced fish back in the early 20th Century, these crawfish have established themselves as the dominant benthic predator. Unfortunately they have either out competed and/or predated upon the local subspecies of the rough-skinned newt, the Mazama newt.

The villain and hero of the Crater Lake benthic ecology story. Originally introduced to feed the introduced fish back in the early 20th Century, these crawfish have established themselves as the dominant benthic predator. Unfortunately they have either out competed and/or predated upon the local subspecies of the rough-skinned newt, the Mazama newt.

Like other at other Parks, the aquatic team at CRLA works four 10-hour shifts, and as we sped back over the lake after de-suiting, I reflected on the priceless experience of sampling and diving in Crater Lake. On Friday I was on my own to explore this incredible Park. It’s hard to get any scale at all; the lake is about 6 miles wide and holds about 19 trillion gallons of clear, freshwater. This relatively young lake, less than 8,000 years old, quickly filled with water after what must have been an absolutely massive volcanic eruption shook the land. My inner geology nerd came out, as I ooed and awed over the incredible landscape in front of me. But I won’t bore you with the details.

I couldn’t help but take a few fun photos on my dive with Mark. His enthusiasm and passion for the ecology of Crater Lake is infectious. Plus, we had matching dry suites.

I couldn’t help but take a few fun photos on my dive with Mark. His enthusiasm and passion for the ecology of Crater Lake is infectious. Plus, we had matching dry suites.

It was really a bizarre experience to leave the remoteness of the Channel Islands for the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, only to find myself in the secluded alpine playground of Crater Lake. This Park only attracts about 500,000 visitors a year, but words cannot describe the splendor of this stunning, yet fragile ecosystem. My visit to CRLA was made all the better by Mark, Scott, and Kristen. For now I’ll enjoy the chilly alpine air, before I take off for Biscayne National Park in Miami, Florida. I’ll be sad to leave this place behind, but a little warm water will be a nice change of pace.

 

Thanks for reading.

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2015 Bonnier Intern, Robby Myers, The First Week 7/22/2015

I started the week off by attending a game plan meeting for Sport Diver magazine. This meeting is when Patricia (Editor-in-Chief), Becky (Managing Editor), Elizabeth (Art Director) and Chelsea (Photo Editor) discuss the upcoming issue. They break down every section and go through every item and story. This ensures that nothing is left out, and by the end of the meeting everyone knows the status of the different stories and features.

After the meeting Patricia showed me how Bonnier tracks the popularity of online articles. We can see how many shares and likes posts get and break it down further and determine which link brought a user to the site. Not just which social media link they clicked from, but whether they clicked the headline, the image, or another part of the link that caught their eye. I also learned the Scuba Diving‘s website has just gone through a major update. The site moved to the newest version of Drupal, and as a result the design was made to be responsive. This means that the site adapts to the size of the web browser, optimizing the experience for computers, tablets, and phones. Sport Diver will be going through a similar update in the coming months.

To wrap up the first day Patricia assigned me to do research for Scuba Diving‘s next Ocean Action brief. This segment of the magazine highlights groups and organizations, like last month’s WildAid Shark Savers, that are active in marine conservation and gives divers tips on how they can help the cause. For my Ocean Action I’ve decided to research the Manta Trust.

The second day Ashley Annin, the Managing Editor for Scuba Diving, assigned me a second story. This one covered a recent demonstration at the Manta Ray Bay Resort scuba show where 360Heros and wild life filmmaker Bill Macdonald showed off a virtual shark dive using an Oculus Rift. I researched the company’s camera rig that holds 6 GoPro cameras and got to work setting up an interview with Bill Macdonald, who shot the footage.

On Wednesday I went to an Intern Acquisition meeting with fellow interns Katie and Lauren. This meeting is essentially were we check in with our editors and update them on our progress. During the meeting I pitched an idea for a short segment based on a story I had come across that morning. In Australia Adventure Bay Charters has been using heavy-metal music to attract sharks on its cage dives and had recently used this technique to help a Shark Week documentary crew find some great white sharks.

That afternoon Alex Bean showed me how to get into the Sport Diver and Scuba Diving websites in order to post stories online. A lot of it seemed familiar because of my experience with html, but I’ll really get a feel for it once I’m assigned to get one of our print articles up on the website!

Thursday I had my first interview. I spoke to Bill Macdonald over the phone about people’s reactions to the virtual shark dive as well as his experience filming the 360 degree footage in Yap. Bill was so excited to share his story with me I hardly had to ask any questions! Besides the information on the story he also imparted some wisdom from Philippe Cousteau, “When you’re showing film to someone, impact occurs when you show somebody something new, something totally outside their experience.”

Later that day I also got to proofread a couple of articles. At first I had trouble keeping focus. I was supposed to be checking for errors and typos, but I kept getting caught up in the stories and would need to start over!

Friday I finished up my story about baiting sharks with heavy-metal music and was assigned two stories for Sport Diver. One was about The Ocean Cleanup, which is an organization that is planning to clear out half of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch using  a passive collection system that utilizes the gyres’s currents. The other story is about The Whales of Bristol a statue that was created to celebrate Bristol’s status as European Green Capital 2015. The exhibit itself features two life sized whales made out of wicker wood swimming through a literal ocean of plastic. It is meant to bring attention to the beauty and fragility of the ocean as well as the damage that is caused by humans. I ended the week researching these new assignments and sending out interview requests.

Can’t wait to see what next week brings!

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Cruising & Monitoring at the Channel Islands

Sometimes it can be hard to find and identify all the organisms recruited on an ARM. Here Dave Kushner measures a tiny little scallop.

Sometimes it can be hard to find and identify all the organisms recruited on an ARM. Here Dave Kushner measures a tiny little scallop.

Once again, dawn found me driving along on the Pacific Coast Highway, the back of my car full of gear. Like many countless mornings before, I was headed to another port, some place on the map held a ship that would take me out on the ocean. About 70 miles off the coast from the chaos of Los Angeles, CA, the Channel Islands National Park (CHIS) comprises 5 of the 8 Channel Islands. An extension of the Santa Monica Mountain Range, the Channel Islands rise out of the Pacific Ocean to block inclement weather heading towards the populated coast.

Having grown up in Los Angeles, I have always been captivated by the mysterious apparitions visible only the clearest of days. The Channel Islands represent a California that once was, but will never be again. It has always been a dream of mine to dive into the kelp forest around the islands, and now I would finally get my chance.

After making it to the CHIS annex, where I met the field crew I would be accompanying for the week, we immediately began loading gear and food onto the boat for the week. For 6 months out of the year the Park Service’s marine ecologists and technicians embark on 11 5-day long research cruises to the remote islands. Their job is to add an incredible amount of data to an Inventory and Monitoring (I&M) project 34 years in the making. While my background is in kelp forest ecology, I knew I would have my work cut out for me.

After steaming out to Santa Rosa Island, we wasted no time in assess the first site we would be sampling. The Kelp Forest Monitoring project, or KFM, has 33 sites they must visit every season, and when you factor in potential weather issues, that doesn’t leave much leeway in terms of sampling each site. Dive teams identify and count fish, invertebrates and algae, and even quantify substrate. After dropping anchor the first team of divers hit the water immediately to lay out the baseline 100-meter tape and to film the site before the rest of the team gets down.

One of the many tasks associated with each site is the RPC, or Random Point Counts. Every meter, along the 100meter baseline, 6 random points along the bottom are taken. To simplify things, a diver with a surface-supplied air and a 2-way communicator “walks” along the baseline, calling off all 600 points!

One of the many tasks associated with each site is the RPC, or Random Point Counts. Every meter, along the 100meter baseline, 6 random points along the bottom are taken. To simplify things, a diver with a surface-supplied air and a 2-way communicator “walks” along the baseline, calling off all 600 points!

From there, each buddy pair has a specific set of tasks to complete before a site can be checked off for the season. If conditions, both abiotic and biotic, cooperate, then a site can be completed in about 3 or 4 hour long dives. The Inventory and Monitoring data that the KFM team collects is extensive. Some divers place 1m2 quadrats at regular intervals along the baseline and count every organism found within, while others take band transects perpendicular to the baseline and count another slew of organisms. Because I was only there for a week I had the relatively easy job of counting every giant kelp plant found along the baseline (within 10 meters of the tape and only plants 1 meter tall or taller) and counting their stipes (like the stems on a plant).

Without these incredible algae, we wouldn’t have vast underwater forests. Juvenile giant kelp must settle on a hard bottom if they ever hope to grow into giants.

Without these incredible algae, we wouldn’t have vast underwater forests. Juvenile giant kelp must settle on a hard bottom if they ever hope to grow into giants.

However, one of the most fun samples techniques we employed was my personal favorite, the roving diver fish count. Usually before substrate data is taken, buddy pairs swim the 100m transect, and out 10 m on each side of the transect, counting every fish on the substrate, in the canopy and the midwater. That’s 2000m2 and the water column Not only do you have to count the fish, you also have to identify (ID) them. There are several indicator species that the team specifically looks for, but because everyone swims the transect (but starts at different parts), there is definitely a competition to see who can ID the most fish. Oh, and you only have 30 minute to swim the whole 2000m! So you’d better swim, count, ID and record fast if you want to get your numbers even close to a seasoned KFM divers counts.

A diver on surface supplied air with a two way communicator in his face mask steps off the Sea Ranger II to sample the bottom. Notice the hoses running form his back, and the reel off behind him.

A diver on surface supplied air with a two way communicator in his face mask steps off the Sea Ranger II to sample the bottom. Notice the hoses running form his back, and the reel off behind him.

Our first day and the next morning we wrapped up our site on Santa Rosa Island. The visibility wasn’t great, and the site wasn’t the most glamorous, but I felt like I was being welcomed home to my old life as a kelp forest technician. However, the highlight of the trip came on our midday steam from Santa Rosa to San Miguel. In the foggy afternoon haze our captain spotted a dorsal fin sticking up out of the water. The team had spotted a small ~8ft great white shark the week before near Santa Barbara Island, so everyone got really excited (we kelp forest ecologists tend to hold white sharks in high esteem). But what our captain had seen was something even more rare. As we slowly approached the protuberance, it grew larger and larger. This was no white shark. We killed the engine and drifted close so we could get a positive ID. Even from afar we knew what we had stumbled upon; a basking shark! These shy and elusive open ocean fish feed on plankton. Like baleen whales they have massive jaws that open wide, allowing the slow moving sharks to swallow great mouthfuls of water. However, basking sharks were hunted to near extinction almost a century ago. This was the first shark seen by park biologist since 1991 and the two sharks observed that year were only several miles away.. This basking shark was huge 25ft long. It didn’t stay around us for too long, but did come and check out the boat on his way out. What an incredible experience! You can view some underwater video taken of this shark at https://www.facebook.com/channelislandsnps/videos/977368515647396/.

Most recreational divers tend to opt for warmer water with good visibility. Having been trained in the relative cold of California, I feel at home swimming through a kelp forest, in and amongst giants.

Most recreational divers tend to opt for warmer water with good visibility. Having been trained in the relative cold of California, I feel at home swimming through a kelp forest, in and amongst giants.

After the excitement of seeing the shark, we dropped anchor at our site on San Miguel Island. The weather patterns were strange, preventing us from sampling some sites while allowing us easy access to others. The site on San Miguel Island we sampled on our second day is usually buffeted by strong winds and large swell. Fortunately for us the water around Hare rock was dead calm that day. However, as we dropped down into the green murk it soon became evident why a basking shark was seen so close to the island. The water was a healthy shade of pea soup green due to a seemingly endless cloud of plankton! While swimming in murky water doesn’t exactly make for the best diving conditions, green is typically associated with a healthy and vibrant ecosystem. And that’s just what we saw at Hare Rock.

I’ve never before lived on a dive boat. Typically at the end of a long field day you get to go home, wash your gear and take a shower. Life on a research vessel takes on a similar routine, but your world is reduced to the deck, the galley, your bunk and any open space (which typically gets filled up fast). While some people might find these conditions to be claustrophobic, I had an absolute blast. When the scope of your world is narrowed to diving, eating and sleeping things become a little bit clearer.

For the next three days we cruised to different dive spots, checking the conditions, sampling our sites and occasionally a team of divers would descend into the depths to switch out a wave meter or two. Fortunately most of our days were fairly short. Though on Thursday we had an extra long surface interval while waiting for the current to slack. During our first dive in the morning at Gull Island the kelp was standing relatively straight up, with the canopy splayed out on the surface. By the end of our second dive the kelp was leaning over, the canopy down 15ft below the surface. So we waited on deck, watching on the depth sounder as the kelp dropped lower and lower with increasing current. Sunburnt, and tired we occupied ourselves by napping, eating, or reading. Slowly the current began to slack later that afternoon. We anxiously watched the depth sounder, as the canopy started to rise. As the first kelp blades became visible we eagerly donned our gear and jumped back in the water to finish monitoring for the day.

The KFM always deploys a hang bar at 15ft with oxygen supplied from the surface. That way, as divers are off-gassing after a dive they have something to hang on to. The oxygen is for added safety. Here you can see the kelp laid over in the current, with the diver just above. Are you counting those fish?!

The KFM always deploys a hang bar at 15ft with oxygen supplied from the surface. That way, as divers are off-gassing after a dive they have something to hang on to. The oxygen is for added safety. Here you can see the kelp laid over in the current, with the diver just above. Are you counting those fish?!

On our last day we got to do something a little different. As part of I&M the KFM team has deployed ARMs, artificial recruitment modules, which are essentially a stack of cinderblocks held together via metal wire. However, they’ve proven to be an invaluable tool that the KFM uses to monitor the recruit of juvenile organisms to a kelp forest. Because the ARMs are encased, settling invertebrates, and occasionally a young fish, will take shelter in the 3-dimensional structure provided by the cinderblocks. Then, once a year the KFM will disassemble the ARM at a given site, underwater of course, and measure the individuals either at depth or back on the boat. Any organism removed from an ARM is promptly returned before too long. I promise, the sea urchins don’t mind. At our site on Anacapa Island we spent our first dive disassembling, sampling and reassembling the ARMs. After an extended surface interval counting and measuring the organisms we removed, we dropped back down to replace them and spent the rest of the dive exploring the natural beauty of our dive site. It was really refreshing to do a fun dive in a kelp forest after an aggressive week taking data all day long.

Dave Kushner, the lead KFM biologist, clears away algae before sampling the ARM. Photobomb credit to the lurking male California sheephead.

Dave Kushner, the lead KFM biologist, clears away algae before sampling the ARM. Photobomb credit to the lurking male California sheephead.

I really lucked during my week at CHIS. While the weather could have been a little more cooperative, the cloudy evenings and drizzly mornings showed off the islands in a dramatic light. It can’t all be sunshine and clear water. Also, I doubly lucked out with the weather because we got to dive at 4 of the 5 islands in the Park! Typically a research cruise is contained to one or two islands to reduce the time spent steaming in between. But I was really pleased to have been able to see a wider swath of the Park, and to compare sites across the islands.

Swimming through a kelp forest again, I couldn’t help but try to identify everything I recognized, even organisms not on the species list. I was especially distracted by the plethora of nudibranchs (sea slugs) covering the reef.

Swimming through a kelp forest again, I couldn’t help but try to identify everything I recognized, even organisms not on the species list. I was especially distracted by the plethora of nudibranchs (sea slugs) covering the reef.

While it was definitely a blast to cruise around the Channel Islands, this I&M project is one of the largest and most strenuous within the Park Service. In 5 days we racked up 6202 minutes or 103 hours of bottom time! The data we gathered on our trip has been added to a much lager data set, which can be used by the public and researchers alike. Because of the dedication of the KFM team we have a very solid baseline understanding of kelp forest dynamics. The dataset has been sampled to show trends in oceanographic changes such as El Niño, natural history and ecosystem dynamics. Without programs like this we would have a poor understanding of these vital ecosystems.

Giant kelp is one of the fastest growing organisms on the planet. Growing at about 1m/day, giant kelp is the basis of an entire ecosystem.

Giant kelp is one of the fastest growing organisms on the planet. Growing at about 1m/day, giant kelp is the basis of an entire ecosystem.

I had an incredible time on the cruise, but by the time we hit the dock on Friday I was exhausted. I have to commend the 2015 KFM team for their dedication, unwavering optimism, charisma and their warmth with which they accepted me for the week. I’d like to give a big thank you to David Kushner, the guy in charge of this whole rodeo, Josh Sprague, Captain Keith Durran, Jaime McClain, Ben Grime, Michael Civiello, Amanda Bird, and Ashley Kidd. Now I get another day of R&R before heading up to the high alpine altitudes of Crater Lake, Oregon.

Thanks for reading!

The Kelp Forest Monitoring crew. From left to right: Ben Grimes, Michael Civiello, me, Captain Keith, Ashley Kidd, Amanda Bird, Jaime McClain, Dave Kushner and Joshua Sprague.

The Kelp Forest Monitoring crew. From left to right: Ben Grimes, Michael Civiello, me, Captain Keith, Ashley Kidd, Amanda Bird, Jaime McClain, Dave Kushner and Joshua Sprague.

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From Reefs to Reservoir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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Preamble

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

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

The GUAP site, a living museum in the sea

The GUAP site, a living museum in the sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Of(fish)ally a Fish Surveyor!

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

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

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

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

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

Best fishes!

Kara


 

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Greetings from Key Largo!

Hi everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sustained endurance in overcoming our setbacks and challenges.

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

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

 

For the pdf and full article: ROLEX SPEECH 2015

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2015 AAUS Intern, Catie Mitchell: DMC Dive Week, 7/13/15

DMC dive week kicked off first thing Monday morning. I got to the dive locker a bit early to meet with Chris and prep for the week ahead. Chris is the Diving Safety Officer (DSO) at the DMC and will be my main sponsor for the summer. There are six other students taking the scientific diving class this summer, and we all have different levels of diving experience. I’m looking forward to working with a group with such diverse backgrounds in diving because I think we’ll all end up learning a lot from each other beyond what we cover in the course. We’ll meet for class every Wednesday until we take the final exam for the Scientific Diver Certification, and each week we’ll focus on a specific set of skills. I’ll also be working with Chris on Tuesdays to work on other diving certifications, prep for class, and help run the dive program. The rest of my time will be spent in Rick Wahle’s lab. Dr. Wahle offered to co-sponsor my internship for the summer, so I’ll be working with him to develop and implement a project exploring the levels of sea scallop predation in the Damariscotta River. More info to come on that in a later post!

Getting ready to trek down to the dock for our first dive of the morning

Getting ready to trek down to the dock for our first dive of the morning

Before I can delve into any research, I have to get through dive week. Let me tell you, it was definitely not a cake walk! Everyone was feeling a mixture of excitement and nerves when we first met on Monday. Chris spent the morning going over the expectations for the class and outlining the scientific diving program. We did a gear check before breaking for lunch, and then came back ready to dive in the afternoon. Our first dive was off the DMC dock, and I was paired with Colby, who is a fellow summer intern working in the Wahle lab. She’ll also be working with scallops, so we’ll be doing a lot of diving together this summer.

Taking a giant stride off the dock into the water for my first dive!

Taking a giant stride off the DMC dock for my first dive!

It was a rainy, overcast afternoon, and the water was cold. After letting us all adjust to the conditions, Chris spent the afternoon going over basic surface skills and making sure everyone was comfortable with their equipment. Once everyone was set, Colby and I did a mini-dive around the DMC dock and quickly learned that underwater navigation is much more difficult when you can’t see more than a few feet in front of your face. We managed to find our way around and ran into a spider crab at the end of the dive which was pretty cool!

Practicing buddy breathing with Colby during a checkout dive

Practicing alternate air source use with Colby during a checkout dive

For the rest of the day we reviewed basic in-water skills such as mask removal, regulator retrieval, and alternate air source use. Once all the buddy teams ran through their skill practice we thought we were done for the day, but Chris surprised us with an 800 yard snorkel swim test. The swim test is one of the requirements to be designated as a scientific diver-in-training at the DMC. That designation allows you to participate in research and training dives until you pass the Scientific Diver Exam, as long as you’re supervised by a certified scientific diver. Everyone passed, but we were exhausted afterwards. It was a long day!

An AED that we learned how to use during our DAN FA Pro class

An AED that we learned how to use during our DAN DFA       Pro class

Days 2 and 3 of dive week were spent taking a DAN Diving First Aid for Professional Divers course. The course covered basic CPR and First Aid as well as oxygen administration. This course was different than other first aid classes I’ve taken because it was specifically geared towards divers. It doesn’t sound like it makes a huge difference, but I found it really helpful that the course material was written for divers by divers. Learning how to think and act like a professional diver is something that I want to focus on this summer, and it’s small steps like this that are helping me towards that goal.

Once we finished the DAN course, we started preparing for days 4 and 5 of dive week: rescue skills. I was certified as a Rescue Diver through PADI last summer, but I went through the training again with the rest of the class. This course was slightly different because it was through SDI, so it was interesting to see how two different training agencies presented similar material. Taking the Rescue Diver course was one of the more rewarding experiences I’ve had as a diver so far, so I was excited to go through the training again. Learning how to respond to different situations underwater made me much more confident as a diver and helped me to be more aware of my actions underwater. Taking the course again reinforced those skills and made me much more comfortable diving in the environment in Maine. Especially because my previous diving experience is in tropical waters, the cold water temperature, poor visibility, and extra gear necessary for the conditions here is definitely an adjustment. Going through the rescue course again helped me become more at ease and (hopefully) prepared me for the rest of the summer.

Surface signaling during our rescue course

Surface signaling during our rescue course

Before taking our final rescue exam, we took a trip to the Boothbay YMCA to finish up our swim tests for the scientific diver-in-training requirements. We all had to swim 400 yards, swim 25 yards underwater holding our breath, and tread water for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Chris had a final rescue scenario set up back at the DMC. Once we finished our swim tests, we all got suited up and swam out to one of the DMC research vessels and carried out a group rescue situation. As a team, we had to rescue two tired/distressed divers at the surface, get them back to the research vessel, and provide basic treatment. Then, we had to coordinate an underwater search for a third missing buddy, locate the diver, ascend with an unresponsive diver, and get them back to the vessel for treatment. Applying everything we learned throughout the week to this situation while working as a team was challenging to say the least, but by the end everyone felt accomplished and ready to take on the rest of the scientific diving course. Even though I’ve only spent one week at the DMC, I already feel that my diving skills have improved, and I’m excited to see where the rest of the summer takes me.

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Motions of Pearl Harbor

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

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

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

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

(PHOTO by US Navy Sailor)

(PHOTO by US Navy Sailor)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naomi and I about to descend on the Utah.

Naomi and I about to descend on the Utah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waimea Bay

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

Mahalo, and thanks for reading!

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