Category Archives: 2017 REEF

An Anomalous Week

Did you know that there are three underwater habitats in the Florida Keys? Neither did I – not until I visited the Aquarius shore base in Islamorada. Two of the underwater habitats, MarineLab and Jules Undersea Lodge, are both located in Key Largo; MarineLab is used for education while Jules operates as an underwater hotel. Aquarius Reef Base, located 63 feet underwater in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary near Conch Reef, is the only currently operating underwater research laboratory1. It is useful for research because aquanauts – divers deployed on a mission to Aquarius – can stay at depths of 95 feet for up to nine hours1.

I had learned a little about saturation diving in college, but we got a thorough explanation of it on our tour of the shore base. When aquanauts live in Aquarius, their tissues become saturated with nitrogen at that depth. No matter how much longer the aquanaut remains in Aquarius, their tissues will not absorb any more gas; this means that decompression will take the same amount of time whether the diver stays at depth for three more minutes or three more weeks1. So, divers can live in Aquarius for as long as they want while making lengthy dives about 30 feet below Aquarius – just like you can make a long 30 foot dive from the surface without much risk of decompression illness. Because aquanauts can linger at depths that ordinary divers can only access for ten to twenty minutes, Aquarius is often used to conduct scientific research on topics such as habitat restoration, climate change, and ocean acidification1. It is also used for the development of undersea technology, observations of corals reefs, and, sometimes, training missions. Including astronaut training missions1.

That’s what was happening on this particular Monday. We meet Cathy Guinovart, Aquarius’s Student Education and Outreach Coordinator, at the Aquarius shore base in the morning for a tour of the facility. The astronauts-in-training are currently living in Aquarius, so they aren’t featured on our tour, but NASA gear is strewn around the base. Even though the mysteries of the ocean have always captured my heart more than those of outer space, I am still pretty starstruck.

NASA wetsuits in a closet at Aquarius shore base. I thought astronauts only wore space suits, but I was wrong.

NASA wetsuits in a closet at Aquarius shore base. I thought astronauts only wore space suits, but I was wrong.

Cathy describes how being underwater simulates being in space; working and living at Aquarius helps prepare the astronauts for maneuvering in low gravity environments. She also describes Aquarius’s facilities, shows us the watch desk and command center (where aquanauts are monitored 24/7 during deployment), and lets us take a peek at the hyperbaric chamber they have on site for emergencies.

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Don't worry -- nothing was broken here

Don’t worry — nothing was broken here.


“We’re having fish taco night at our place. Dinner is around 6:45/7. Come if you can!!”

This text from Shaun Wolfe, the OWUSS National Park Service (NPS) Research Intern, beeps in on Wednesday afternoon. I met Shaun in NYC in April, and I am excited to meet up with him and the NPS crew with whom he will be working in Biscayne National Park. Shaun isn’t here for long – the NPS Intern travels from park to park helping out with different projects (and consequently has a really cool blog – check out some of his posts, if you haven’t already) – but he is in town for a few days. While he’s here, Dave Conlin and Jeneva Wright, both NPS Submerged Resources Center (SRC) staff, kindly agree to let me spend Friday helping Shaun, SRC, and Biscayne National Park Staff look for signs of a nineteenth century shipwreck, the Guerrero. And also, apparently, to let me join them for some delicious fish tacos.

When I arrive at the NPS house in Tavernier, Shaun takes me out to the shed to show me all the NPS gear. Downlines, scale bars, a magnetometer – the shed is chock full of diving equipment and different gadgets, most of it branded with the NPS logo. We return to the house so he can introduce me to the rest of the NPS crew, and they invite me in for a delicious fish dinner. I’ve not met many groups as welcoming as this one – I’m being totally truthful here. After talking over empty plates for a while, I bid them all goodbye until Friday.

Come Friday morning, I hop on a boat with Shaun and the others to go anomaly jumping in Biscayne National Park. For my fellow non-archaeologists, anomaly jumping is when you investigate magnetic anomalies, which is the term for a location where the magnitude of earth’s magnetic field deviates from its expected value. These anomalies are detected by towing an instrument called a magnetometer behind a boat, and the coordinates of the anomalies are stored in a GPS. Why are anomalies important? They indicate that debris or other objects (like maybe…material from a shipwreck) could be present in that location. Our task on Friday is to jump from anomaly to anomaly, snorkel around the location, and investigate what we find.

Before helping out NPS in Biscayne, I knew that shipwrecks could be difficult, sometimes almost impossible, to discover. People spend years searching, and more are being discovered all the time. But I will admit, there was a little voice in my head that protested. “How hard can shipwrecks really be to find?” it would say. “It’s a boat. A really big boat.”

On Friday, I immediately feel silly for thinking that. I quickly realize that an old sunken ship might not be hanging out in one piece; items from a shipwreck could be scattered, and we keep an eye out for them during anomaly jumping. Often, we see nothing at the site of the anomaly. Other times, it is only debris (we find many, many lobster traps). When it isn’t either of these items, it is a heavily encrusted, unidentifiable something. This type of thing is what we are looking for – an item from an nineteenth century wreck aren’t going to look like someone just dropped it into the ocean yesterday – but they are really hard to spot. You have to train your eye to look for straight edges or perfect circles in the mess of fire coral, algae and rubble; several items are invisible to me until my snorkeling buddy, Matt Hanks, points them out. After a promising piece of debris is found, it is photographed and measured.

I never thought I would get to answer the question “What did you do today?” with the sentence, “Oh, I helped the National Park Service look for the wreck of a Spanish slave ship that sunk in 1827.” But, I did indeed get to do just that. And, I quickly straightened out my thinking about shipwrecks. Even in the azure, shallow waters of Biscayne, the ocean felt so vast compared to the hidden collection of items we were trying to locate. In deeper water and lower vis? I can’t imagine. For any archaeologists reading this post: please forgive my naiveté.

Anomaly jumping in Biscay

Repping REEF and NPS while anomaly jumping in Biscayne National Park

Shaun has the day off Saturday, so we decide some diving on Molasses Reef is in order. I snap some photos and do a REEF survey while Shaun practices using his NPS camera gear. With the huge dome lens port and strobes, he looks like he’s on an assignment from National Geographic.

NPS Photo by Shaun Wolfe / OWUSS

NPS Photo by Shaun Wolfe / OWUSS

I was more than happy to help Shaun take some practice shots. NPS Photo by Shaun Wolfe / OWUSS

I was more than happy to help Shaun take some practice shots. NPS Photo by Shaun Wolfe / OWUSS

After a fast-paced week, Marie, Ashley, Lawrie and I slow down for a little bit at Florida Keys Brewing Company on Sunday. Unwilling to let things get too boring, though, we play some games of giant Jenga (gathering quite an audience, I might add).

Which one should she choose?!

Which one should she choose?!

1Aquarius [Internet]. Miami (FL):Florida International University; 2017 [cited 2017 Sep 05]. Available from https://aquarius.fiu.edu/

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A REEF Smorgasbord

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.

First dive with Carlos and Allison

The interns’ first dive with Carlos and Allison. Photo: Ashley Yarbrough

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.

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Photo: Lawrie Mankoff

We didn’t come up empty-handed – a lionfish taco dinner was in our near future.

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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.

The Fish Tale Pale Ale is tested...

The Fish Tail Pale Ale is tested…

...and approved!

…and approved!

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.

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# 100! Photo: Lawrie Mankoff

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.

Ernest Hemingway's house

Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West

Key West light

Key West light

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The descendants of Hemingway's six-toed cats still roam free on his property

The descendants of Hemingway’s six-toed cats still roam free on his property

Especially since we all purchased tie-dye shirts at Kmart for the occasion.

Tie-Dye

Photo: Lawrie Mankoff

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Bah, Humbug: Part 2

…So, Lad and I do get back in the water that evening and make a second attempt at capturing the humbug damselfish, but to no avail. We make plans to try again later in the week. In the meantime, after returning to the office on Wednesday and Thursday, I am treated to a couple of days of diving. REEF is hosting a small group of students for a week-long course in fish ID and survey methodology, and the interns are able to sit in on a few of the classroom sessions and tag along on some dives. I am scheduled to dive with the group Friday and Saturday, and I was looking forward to practicing some survey methods. On Saturday, we all perform a survey of our choice (unanimously REEF’s Roving Diver Survey – after a week of transects, the students seem content to use a less structured method), but on Friday we learn a new survey – the new Stationary Point Count Survey (nSPC) Method. In this type of survey, a diver remains in one spot on the reef and visualizes a cylinder around her with a diameter of 15 meters. For the first five minutes, the diver makes a list of every species she observes in the cylinder. For the rest of the survey, the diver records the number and average size of each of these species. It is a surge-y day, so doing this survey in shallow water – while stationary – is a bit of a challenge. I also missed the memo that our tanks are steel, so I am about four pounds overweighted…oops. But I’m excited to know a survey method other than belt, photoquadrat, and roving, especially since the nSPC method is often used in government organizations.

The REEF students, Lad, and I celebrate post-survey

The REEF students, Lad, and I celebrate post-survey

On Sunday, Lad, Lawrie, and I head back up to Miami to take another stab at capturing the humbug damselfish. Sunny and humid, it’s a perfect day to spend a long afternoon in the water – no more shivering in my wetsuit. While we prepare to get in, Lad squints into the water a little to the right of the humbug damselfish’s hiding spot. “That fish doesn’t look native, either,” he says, pointing. We later find out that the second fish is a spiny chromis damselfish, also from the Indo-Pacific. A few hours later, we again leave empty handed, forced by time to end our mission – Lawrie and I drop Lad off at the airport so he can catch his flight to Cuba for the next REEF survey trip.

Lawrie and I aren’t about to waste a free evening in Miami. We eat dinner a place Margaret, the reporter who first spotted the humbug damselfish, recommends (I’m not quite brave enough to try the grasshopper tacos) and take a stroll on the beach. The waves are electric blue and inviting, and the surf pounds into the shore – something I miss when I’m living near a reef. But if you look away from the azure swells, back towards families and friends sprawled on beach chairs and blankets, you see another sight that is much less picturesque:

Plastic waste found at South Beach

Plastic waste found at South Beach

Plastic. Always plastic.


Although the first two attempts I described were unsuccessful, REEF has continued efforts to capture the humbug damselfish and spiny chromis damselfish at the Miami Beach Marina.

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Bah, Humbug: Part 1

Hello, friends! I want to tell you that I am now writing these entries from…well, not Florida. I bid my goodbyes to Key Largo a little over a week ago, and I have since made the drive home. But I want to backtrack to early June to talk about my first interaction with children in Key Largo, Miami, and the humbug damselfish.


On Tuesday, June 6th, Lawrie and I pack up craft boxes, REEF temporary tattoos, and 3D fish puzzles. After scooping Simba, the smallest lionfish in REEF HQ’s fish tank, into an open-topped fishbowl (which I clutch tightly in the passenger seat of Lawrie’s car all the way to Islamorada, trying to not get lionfish all over me and the floor), we head to the first REEF tabling event. Instead of forcing squirming kids into desks on their last day of school, a grade school in Islamorada holds Family Science Day, an outdoor event at which REEF and other local scientific and conservation organizations – I spotted Coral Restoration Foundation, Aquarius, John Pennekamp State Park, and the National Park Service – set up tables and activities for the kids. I am grateful to have Lawrie with me; a self-proclaimed kid-lover and former camp counselor, I know I could rely on her to help me with my shaky child communication skills.

As kids approach the table to oogle at Simba or grab some stickers, we tell them a little bit about REEF. Most of kids seem to already know about the lionfish invasion, which is ecouraging. I also find myself observing different age groups; I notice that the groups of younger children make a beeline for the crafts while older kids work the 3D lionfish puzzle with intense concentration. I have never seen a side-by-side comparison of how younger and older kids’ minds work, and I am surprised there is such a noticeable change in their interests with just a few years’ difference.


After Family Science Day, we drive hurriedly back to REEF HQ. From there, I grab my things and head to Quiescence. I am meeting Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Special Projects, to make the trek up to Miami. There, we are going to try to catch a non-native fish that has been spotted at Miami Beach Marina. It’s pouring rain as we pull into the parking lot, and Lad and I hop out of his truck and hurriedly pull on wetsuits. He looks at me, grinning, and says exuberantly, “What does everyone else get to do today?” I understand what he means. Most people can’t say they’ve taken a day out of the office to try to capture a non-native fish — we are lucky.

At the edge of the water, Lad introduces me to some employees from the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, Miami’s newly renovated science center, along with Margaret Griffis, a local journalist and avid snorkeler who spotted the fish while eating lunch by the water. We all peer into the ocean, and I quickly spot the little guy – a small black and white barred fish, no more than a few inches long. It’s a humbug damselfish, or Dascyllus aruanus, an Indo-Pacific native and common starter aquarium fish. Like the first lionfish, it is likely the damselfish was released by an aquarium owner.

 

Humbug Damselfish (Dascyllus aruanus). photo by Klaus Stiefel.

Humbug Damselfish (Dascyllus aruanus). photo by Klaus Stiefel

Or, you might be more familiar with this cartoon version...

You might be more familiar with this version of the humbug damselfish…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So…what’s the problem here? It’s just one fish, right? Why risk our lives in Miami traffic and sit in the water on a chilly, drizzly day to try to catch a two-inch long fish?

Well…that also might have been along the lines of what someone was thinking when they spotted a lone lionfish, Burmese python, or Asian carp. If there are more humbug damselfish around (they have been identified and captured by REEF in Florida before) there is the possibility that an invasion could result.

I clamber down the rocks and slip into the water with Lad and the others. They are armed with only nets; Andy Dehart, Vice President of Animal Husbandry at the Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, hopes to catch the fish alive and put it safely in an exhibit.

Margaret watches from her perch on a rock a little above the waterline. The fish looks easy to catch – the water is shallow and clear – but it is floating just in front of the rocky shoreline, and the rocks form a multitude of tunnels and hiding places. The hours pass. I sit with Margaret out of the water for a while, and I soon see how she managed to spot the fish while sitting at the table on the sidewalk a few feet above us. We are both looking at the water, but Margaret always immediately spots the fish when it emerges from a hiding place, and she is quick to notice when it changes location.

Five hours later, and no luck. We say goodbye to Andy and the others from the Frost Museum, and Lad and I stop in a nearby restaurant for dinner.

“I hate giving up,” Lad says as we eat.

“I know. Me too,” I say.

He pauses for a second. “What do you say we get back in the water and give it one more try?”


Thanks for reading, everyone! Be sure to check out Margaret’s article about our efforts: http://biscaynetimes.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2711:bay-watch-blues&catid=50:community-news&Itemid=258

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First Days and Fish Surveys

A month after I sat sleepily on a plane bound for NYC, I enter REEF’s Headquarters in Key Largo, Florida. REEF HQ is an adorable yellow house in the median of the Overseas Highway and the oldest house in the Upper Keys. Nearby stands a restored wooden cistern, which was used in the early 20th century – back before freshwater was transported to the Keys from the mainland – to collect rainwater for use by the house’s residents. The white picket fence ornamented with brightly colored fish and corals adds to the charm of the place.

I arrive at REEF HQ with 2 of my 3 wonderful new roommates and fellow interns, Lawrie (no, that is not a typo) and Ashley. At 9 AM, the office is already bustling, and the six full-time staff members and two leadership interns gather in the main room of the house/office to introduce themselves. I am excited to be working with such a small team, and looking back, I think this made learning the ropes in the office easier. Still, I am surprised at how much there is to learn and remember, even for such an intimate office space. There is certainly plenty to keep us busy!

Me, Lawrie, and Ashley on our first day in Key Largo

Me, Lawrie, and Ashley on our first day in Key Largo

Before I talk any more about my experiences here, I want to go big picture for a moment. REEF’s overarching mission is to conserve marine environments through citizen science and education, and they have three major projects that serve this goal. One project, the Grouper Moon Project, aims to monitor, study, and protect one of the still-thriving Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations off the coast of Little Cayman. Because many spawning sites such as this one have been overfished, protection of remaining spawning sites is important. Unfortunately, not much happens with this project during the summer months, so it’s not a part of my internship. But I do have the privilege of being able to get involved with REEF’s two other projects: the Volunteer Fish Survey Project (VFSP) and the Invasive Lionfish Project.

The VFSP was developed in 1990 as the foundation of REEF. The goal? To enlist volunteer divers and snorkelers to collect fish species richness and abundance data by identifying and counting the fish they observe. These data are collected using the Roving Diver Survey Method, which allows divers to swim freely while surveying. Divers then enter their data into REEF’s online database, which is now the largest marine sightings database in the world.

And last but not least: The Invasive Lionfish Project. I am sure most (Many? Some? Not totally sure who my audience is here) of you know that lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, are invasive in the Atlantic; they were first spotted off the coast of Florida in the mid-1980s, and aquarium releases are theorized to be the cause of their arrival. Their lack of predators and rapid rate of reproduction (they spawn about every four days after they reach sexual maturity at one year old) enabled lionfish to rapidly populate the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and East Coast of the United States, where their numbers are now far higher than in their native range. Their overabundance, along with their voracious appetites and ability to eat as much food as they can swallow, means that they cause damage to coral reefs by consuming copious amounts of local reef fish. REEF works to control the lionfish population by hosting events such as Lionfish Derbies, Lionfish Collecting and Handling Workshops, and Lionfish Jewelry Workshops. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself – more on those later.

Working at REEF is refreshingly different from my previous jobs and internships, which have always required that I focus all of my energy on one project. As a Peer Writing Tutor at Indiana University, my only job for any given hour was the student and the paper in front of me. On various independent research projects, I would chip away at the project for twelve weeks or a semester or a year. Things might go wrong, new pieces might be added, but I was still working towards one goal. My goals at REEF are less linear. Occasionally I’ll begin chatting with an eager high school student or a friendly vacationing family on a dive boat, and they’ll ask me, “So, what is it that you do, exactly?” This question always makes me pause for a moment while I gather my thoughts; I still have not come up with a sound bite to concisely describe my mixed bag of intern duties. Many days are spent working in the office, but even those aren’t uniform. Usually, tasks stack up in every shape and size – sometimes I’m doing computer research, sometimes I’m helping out with an education program, and sometimes you can find me rinsing out coolers or weed whacking in the yard. By helping me learn how to prioritize and efficiently complete many different projects, working on such varied jobs is filling holes in my skillset that I did not even know existed. I am happy to take on this challenge; I would be naïve to think that every position in my future will involve a goal that is neatly packaged into one large, digestible task. In fact, most of them probably won’t.

When I’m not in the office, you can probably find me underwater.

A perk of being an intern at REEF is being able to dive for free with an assortment of dive shops on Key Largo to conduct fish surveys for the VFSP. Somehow, this piece of information slipped by me when I was preparing for my internship in the spring, so I was stunned to be met with this news during my first day at work. We are allowed to take half of a workday to do a two-tank dive and a couple fish surveys, and we can dive outside of work whenever we want. Most weeks, we try to do at least one night dive and a half-day of diving on the weekend in addition to a couple weekday dives.

Because I studied abroad in Bonaire my junior year, I was already familiar with the most common Caribbean reef fish, but I was excited to brush up on my fish ID skills and start learning some new species. On our first Wednesday in the Keys, we go on our first dive as REEF interns with Ellie, REEF’s Education Program Manager (and former OWUSS REEF intern!). I immediately start noticing some differences between the fish life on Bonaire’s reefs and the fish life here. Fewer smallmouth grunts, but more white grunts; many more large, boldly-colored parrotfish; far fewer goofy-looking porcupine fishes and stoic trumpetfishes.

[Unfortunately, I am having some technical difficulties with my SeaLife and cannot pull photos off of it onto my computer. But hopefully I will be able to post some fish pictures soon!]

Hm. Me, REEF, first days, fish…I think that’s about all. But I want to end this post the same way my time with OWUSS began: with a collision of worlds. IU does a week-long field school in the Florida Keys, and during my second week here, I once again found myself hugging Charlie and Mylana hello. Armed with a laptop, pole spear, and Zookeeper, Lawrie, Ashley, Marie (one of the two leadership interns, Roommate Number 4, and marvelous human being) and I climb the stairs to the living quarters above Quiescence Diving Services. There, we take a deep breath and do our first presentation for REEF while the IU students eat Key lime pie.

The Saturday before the IU crew heads back to the Midwest, all the IU alums in the Keys gather for a Saturday night barbeque. These faces, which I had seen often in IU’s classrooms, my lab meetings, and the familiar 1920s-era pool in the Wildermuth Intramural Center, color a new landscape with familiarity.

It is a warm and lovely way to begin the summer.

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Prologue: 48 Hours in New York City

Hi everyone! If you’ve already read my bio on the internship page, then I suppose you can just skip this next paragraph – but for fear of catapulting everyone else into a detailed account of my life without a little background, I want to introduce myself.

I’m Claire Mullaney, the 2017 Dr. Jamie L. King Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) Marine Conservation Intern through the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society®. Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri and a former student at Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington, Indiana, I am a Midwesterner through and through. I just graduated from IU in May with a B.S. in Biology along with certificates in Animal Behavior and Underwater Resource Management. I am 22 now, but I began diving and taking classes through IU’s academic diving program when I was 18. In addition to diving, I focused my undergraduate years and summers on different areas of biological research, from molecular genetics to marine ecology to human dimensions. While I loved my semesters and summers in the lab, I realized quite suddenly a year ago that my true focus – in my day-to-day thoughts, if not yet in my career plans – was not research for its own sake, but rather marine conservation, marine resource management, and education. My love for literature and writing (my heart still hurts for the dual degree in English Literature that I was not able to complete) also feeds an interest in using writing to evoke compassion for the environment and to communicate marine conservation issues.

My internship at REEF officially began on Monday, May 22. But exactly a month before that, I went to the OWUSS banquet in New York City. And that’s where I want to begin. The weekend of April 22 introduced me to the OWUSS family, brought new friends, and fueled my drive to throw myself into a future focused on marine conservation; it seems like the perfect place to start this blog.

When I leave for NYC at 6 AM on Friday, April 21st, I am 1) still wondering if I really should be missing my dives to get my Full Face Mask Specialty Certification, which are happening today, and 2) happy to be getting out of town for the weekend; finals and my thesis defense still loom between me and graduation, and I am content to put them off for as long as I can.

That afternoon and evening, the names I have been reading over email become faces: Jenna. Erika. Shaun. Roberta. The 2016 and 2017 interns, along with the OWUSS team, gather in the lobby of our hotel before heading to the Terrace Club – which is across from Rockefeller Center – for a casual dinner. There are more new faces to meet here, and the atmosphere is cheery; people are catching up with old friends, making acquaintances, sharing stories. The faces aren’t all new to me, though. Charlie Beeker, the Director of IU’s Center of Underwater Science, was the first professor with whom I ever had a college class. Now, days before I graduate, we meet again in NYC. I spend most of the evening getting to know the other interns, and I chat with some people Charlie has pointed out to me. Standing on the balcony and looking at the New York skyline, surrounded by divers and ocean enthusiasts from around the country and world, I have a “I can’t believe I get to be in this place and do this thing” moment.

There will be many more in the coming days and months.

The next morning, we head to the Explorer’s Club for refreshments and to learn about the summers and years of the 2016 Interns and Scholars. The Explorer’s Club is the perfect backdrop for this event. I don’t really remember what I was expecting the Explorer’s Club Headquarters to be, but definitely not the museum/gathering space hybrid that it is. The halls and rooms hold relics of famous explorations: rocks from the moon, old game trophies (hunting trophies would never be taken on any current expeditions, of course), and the whip of Roy Chapman Andrews, who inspired the character of Indiana Jones (much to my dismay, the whip was absent for restoration purposes…I’m already counting down the days until next April). I was too busy gazing wide-eyed at all the artifacts and daydreaming to take many photos, but I do quickly snap these two as I am heading down the stairs.

A signed photo of Buzz Aldrin is one of many snapshots hanging on the staircase walls at the Explorer's Club

A signed photo of Buzz Aldrin is one of many snapshots hanging on the staircase walls at the Explorer’s Club

A photo of Bob Ballard, Ralph White, and crew holding the Explorer's Club flag on the Titanic Discovery Expedition

A photo of Bob Ballard, Ralph White, and crew holding the Explorer’s Club flag on the Titanic Discovery Expedition

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I thought the only thing that Bob Ballard, Buzz Aldrin, and I would have in common was that we were all from the same planet – certainly not members of the same club.

2017 Interns and Scholars getting inducted into the Explorer's Club

2017 Interns and Scholars getting inducted into the Explorer’s Club

The fanciest, and my most favorite, part of the weekend is the Saturday dinner at the New York Yacht Club. Spirits are high, and it is another wonderful evening of talking to old friends – including Mylana Haydu, the DSO at IU and my instructor for the better part of the last three years – and making new ones. I come away from the evening, and from the weekend as a whole, marveling at both the friendliness and experience of everyone I have met. Despite my youth and relative inexperience, I feel included, welcomed, and – please know that I never use this word lightly – inspired.

It may have taken a few tries…

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…but eventually, I managed to get a photo with Mylana Haydu, IU’s DSO and my instructor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posing for photos is complicated!

Posing for photos is complicated!

2017 OWUSS Interns, finally photo-ready

2017 OWUSS Interns, finally photo-ready. From L-R: Erika Sawicki, me, Shaun Wolfe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interns, past and present. From L-R: Patrick Peck, Garrett Fundakowski, Melissa Smith, Allie Sifrit (2016); Erika Sawicki, Shaun Wolfe, me (2017).

Interns, past and present. From L-R: Patrick Peck, Garrett Fundakowski, Melissa Smith, Allie Sifrit (2016); Erika Sawicki, Shaun Wolfe, me (2017).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still here? Thanks for sticking with me. More soon.

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