Suddenly, time seems to move much faster. It always seems like the first couple of weeks of any experience drift slowly and pleasantly by; I learn new things and see new sights every hour, and each day is packed with the experiences of a week. Now, things start to pick up. On June 13th, the interns go to our first Fish and Friends, a lecture series and social event that REEF hosts once a month. It’s been a long time since I listened to a scientific lecture, and it feels good (though as always, slightly overwhelming) to be bombarded with data about toadfish.
We spend the end of that week making up for lost time: Carlos and Allison Estapé, published underwater photographers and fish ID experts that live in Islamorada (learn more about their work at https://www.100fishid.com/ and https://carlosestape.photoshelter.com/index), invite us to join them for some dives Thursday morning and Friday afternoon. Each semester, Carlos and Allison take the REEF interns under their wing; they help us learn fish ID, take us diving on their boat, and feed us. Daily, at least one person on the REEF staff starts a sentence with “Carlos and Allison…” and goes on to describe something wonderful that they had done, so I am eager to meet them.
I’m not disappointed. Carlos and Allison greet us like old friends before whisking us away on their boat for a dive on Alligator Reef, the reef off the coast of Islamorada. I love Molasses, but Alligator is fishier – the “century dives” (seeing 100+ species of fish on one dive) that Carlos and Allison aim to do are easier to complete on Alligator. Our bottom time is 120 minutes. I’ve never been underwater for much more than an hour, and being down for two makes the reef start to seem more familiar; it feels like I am entering an alien planet breaking the surface rather than the other way around.
Carlos and Allison also help us practice our lionfish hunting skills. I had gotten to hunt a few lionfish while helping out with one of REEF’s Lionfish Workshops and Dives a couple of weeks ago, but we didn’t encounter very many lionfish then, so this was my chance to work on my spearing.
We didn’t come up empty-handed – a lionfish taco dinner was in our near future.
The next week – June 19th to June 25th – is an eventful one. Most notably, it is the first week of REEF day camp. As I think I’ve expressed before, I have a slight fear of kids, mostly because I feel as though I’m not funny/hip/game-savvy enough to get their stamp of approval. Luckily, I have Lawrie, Ellie, and Kathy Ilcken (another Lead Intern at REEF), who are all fabulous with children, to help me out on the days when I am working at camp, and the week goes by smoothly; there are only a few (slightly humorous) bumps along the way.
On Tuesday, we all get to relax at Florida Keys Brewing Company after a day of summer camp and taste their new, limited edition beer they released to support REEF (a dollar of every pint goes to us). The name? Fish Tail Pale Ale, courtesy of Ellie Place, REEF’s Conservation Coordinator of the Volunteer Fish Survey Project.
And, after lots of logistical challenges – I had to dive like a fiend while Marie was out of town until we were both at exactly 99 dives – Marie and I celebrate Dive Number 100 on Friday.
In other diving news, I kick off my Divemaster training on Saturday by auditing an Advanced Open Water class with my instructor, Joe O’Keefe, at Ocean Divers. My class schedule senior year of college was too packed to do IU’s Divemaster Internship, which I was bummed about at the time, but I am excited to do my DM training in the clear waters of Molasses Reef. After spending the last four years almost continuously taking scuba classes, it feels good to put my brain to work again. After just one day, I can already tell that beginning to approach diving more from a teacher’s perspective is the challenge that I need to keep becoming a better diver.
We – Marie, Lawrie, Ashley, and I – round out the week with a trip down to Key West. We spend lots of time walking, looking at the beautiful homes, and being thirsty. It is a satisfying end to the week.
Especially since we all purchased tie-dye shirts at Kmart for the occasion.