2017 AAUS/OWUSS Internship — Welcome to Georgia

July turned out to be a crazy month, even though my internship was on a brief pause. Throughout July, I spent each week in a different state from Massachusetts to Oklahoma to Rhode Island and finally arriving here in Georgia to resume my internship duties!

I was not the only one exhausted after my trip to California. My suitcase went on its last journey and only made it home with some help from the tape holding it together.

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Traveling home from California

My first order of business once arriving home from California was to get fingerprints. In order to get computer access and an email address at Gray’s Reef, I had to go to the police station to get my fingerprints and mail them to Gray’s Reef.

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Getting fingerprints

Nonetheless my internship was back on track and rolling me the punches, just like before. I booked my flight to Georgia exactly two weeks before my start date. About 9 days before departure, the paperwork requests started rolling in. NOAA loves their forms and paperwork, so I spent the plane ride working on everything before arrival. There is never a dull moment and my flight seemed to remind me once again. Upon landing in Rhode Island, we were told to stay seated while three police officers got on the plane and arrested one of the passengers.

I sent my paperwork in the next day and everything seemed good to go! Then the email came on Thursday evening about additional medical tests that I needed completed in order to be cleared for diving.

With some panic, I started sending out emails about how to get this resolved since I was leaving on Tuesday morning and doctor appointments are not always easy to schedule, especially on such short notice. Friday morning, I woke up to a text “Hello!!! Can I give you a quick phone call to discuss medical? I promise it’s good news.” A feeling of relief went through my body, probably the easiest fix so far. I would be able to get all the medical tests done once I arrived in Georgia except the CBC blood test.

Saturday morning my mom and I drove home from the beach in Rhode Island and headed home to Massachusetts. Well, actually right to the doctor’s office. I got my CBC blood test done and we were on our way. I had two and a half days at home before I was headed to Georgia. Those two days were spent repacking my suitcase for this new adventure, attending the annual Polish picnic at my church, and visiting my friends Bill and Ethel Farrington. Each time I come home, I update them on my travels and share all my new stories.


Polish Picnic

Quickly, departure day approached and I was still headed to Gray’s Reef. Thankfully, my site had not changed again! The suitcases were packed once again, after struggling to meet weight requirements. On July 25th, my Dad, or rather my personal taxi diver, and I are were heading back to the airport in Hartford, Connecticut. Lucky for him, the flight did not leaving until 10:25 am, which meant we did not have to leave our house at a ridiculous time in the morning.


Airport adventures

This time, the whole airport trip went a little smoother! I arrived in Washington Dulles for a quick layover and boarded another plane that arrived in Savannah, Georgia. Marybeth Head, the Vessel Operations Coordinator, met me at the airport.

The first place I got to see in Savannah was the Doctor’s office. We headed from the airport right to the Doctor’s to finish the remaining tests for my medical paperwork. After what seemed like forever we left the Doctor’s, made a quick pit stop at the grocery store to pick up some food for dinner, and then headed to Skidaway Institute of Oceanography located on Skidaway Island. This is where my housing is located for the remainder of my internship. Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary’s office is located right next to Skidaway Institute and only a 10 minute walk from the house where I am staying. For the first three days I had one housemate, but now I have the whole house to myself!


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Housing at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography

After a long day, I ate dinner and crashed. The next morning Marybeth graciously let me borrow her car so I could do a more thorough grocery shopping trip, then I met her in the office that afternoon where I was introduced to the whole team. Lots of names were thrown at me all at once. I met and talk with Kim Roberson, the Unit Diving Supervisor. I will be working closely with Kim and the diving operations while at Gray’s Reef.

The following day, I was shown the boat, R/V Joe Ferguson, and we completed a gear check on all my equipment. This is done to make sure there are no problems with my gear and that they meet the NOAA standards. Once this was done, we loaded up gear in the truck and gathered everything we needed for the pool session so it would be ready once my paperwork came through. That afternoon Kim, Marybeth, and I discussed my interests to find some projects that I can work on when we are not diving at Gray’s Reef. We decided that I would focus on Geographic Information System (GIS) training and then use these skills to map invasive species. We also set up my computer access and email on my computer in the office — I had to complete a security training to gain access to my NOAA email.

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Joe Ferguson (Photo by Marybeth Head, NOAA)

On Thursday evenings, the graduate students at Skidaway Institute show a documentary. This week Chasing Coral was shown, which many people from the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society helped with, such as Danny Copeland and Stephanie Roach.

We were going to go to the pool on Friday, however all of my medical paperwork had not yet been approved, so I spent the day reviewing PowerPoint presentations about NOAA diving and their practices. I also started some of the GIS online training courses. Friday afternoon I received the email that I was officially cleared to go diving!

I had a pretty quiet weekend, relaxing and settling in. On Saturday evening, my best friend and roommate from school was passing through Savannah on their way to drop her sister off at college in Florida. They stopped by for dinner and we also got to explore downtown Savannah. Downtown Savannah has a lot of history and is bustling with lots of people. The roads by the river are made of  brick or cobblestone.

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Kristen and me

Monday morning, we loaded the truck and headed to Hunter Army Airfield to use their pool and completed my swim test and confined water check out dives. On our way back to the office, we stopped for a quick snow cone (Because even NOAA divers have to eat lunch). Then Marybeth and I met Todd, the Marine Operations Coordinator, at the dock to clean the hull of the boat. We jumped in the water with snorkel gear and began scrapping off the barnacles.

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Confined water check out dives at Hunter Army Airfield

Tuesday morning we went back to Hunter Army Airfield where I finished the last component of my swim test, a 500 meter snorkel in under 12 minutes. After this was completed, we arrived back in the office for the staff meeting, where I met the rest of the staff members and became up to date with everything happening at Gray’s Reef. For the remainder of the day, I worked on GIS training and we prepared for dive operations for Wednesday.

Wednesday was our first day out on the boat and my first time at Gray’s Reef! Gray’s Reef is approximately 19 miles off shore, which amounts to about a 2.5 hour boat ride. With a 2.5 hour boat ride, that also means an early start to the day. I arrived at the dock at 7:30 AM, helped load the remaining gear and we were on our way. My NOAA diver paperwork had not been signed off on yet, so I had to remain top side on the boat for the day. Top side I helped with getting the divers in and out of the water, logged dives, and learned their dive procedures.

Gray’s Reef has multiple partnerships, one of these is with Dr. Danny Gleason from Georgia Southern University. Danny is conducting research on long-term monitoring plots in Gray’s Reef to study benthic invertebrates. There are a total 52 plates and every third one gets cleaned in late July/early August each year. Their were two components to their dives; one, is getting pictures of each plate and the second, is scrapping every third plate clear and collecting the invertebrate samples into a bag for further studies back in the lab. This data educates us about invertebrate recruitment over different time scales and informs us on how the invertebrate benthic community changes over time. This was completed in three dives and were accompanied by Dr. Danny Gleason’s graduate student and Kim Roberson.


Top side day

Before heading back, we stopped at the NOAA buoy to take pictures and try to figure out why none of the carbon dioxide sensors were working. The NOAA buoy transmits a bunch of different information about the weather and conditions at Gray’s Reef. You can find this information here.

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NOAA buoy at Gray’s Reef

My final clearance and paperwork came through on Wednesday and I officially became a NOAA diver! We planned to go back to Gray’s Reef on Thursday, however we got the call at 6 AM that weather was not good and we would try again tomorrow.

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Officially a NOAA diver

I went back to bed for a little while and then headed into the office. Thursday I continued my GIS training and completed my first course, Getting Started with GIS.

On Friday, I finally got to dive Gray’s Reef. I woke up at 5:55 AM and Marybeth picked me up at 6:30 AM to get our gear and tanks for the day. We loaded everything up on the boat while everybody else arrived. The goal for today was to complete Gabe Matthias, a University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography diver, and my checkout dives and to retrieve two hydrophones, which are underwater microphones. The data collected from the hydrophones is used for studies on ocean soundscapes. I completed two of the three dives on Friday. On the second dive, we saw a bunch of sea life from nurse sharks, turtles, flounder, eels, barracuda, etc. The third dive, Kim and Marybeth completed to find the hydrophone that we could not find on the previous dive.

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First Dive Day (Photos by NOAA)

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Receiver (Photos by NOAA)

Once we got back, cleaned, and put everything away it was already 6:30 PM. I ate dinner and did not make it past 10 PM. Saturday I caught up on things from the week and did some laundry. I met a few other students at Skidaway, we went out for dinner and walked around downtown Savannah. I had a lazy Sunday and prepared for the week ahead!

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Historic Downtown Savannah

I cannot wait to get back out to Gray’s Reef and do some more diving. Some exciting things are coming, stay tuned for more adventures!


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