Category Archives: Internship Journeys

BUIS-DTS-190817-15

Searching for Conch and Finding Passion on St. Croix

It’s 10 AM on St. Croix and I’m about halfway through husking a coconut in the morning breeze when I get a call from Zandy Hillis-Starr (Resource Manager for the National Park Service in St. Croix). “Hi Shaun, where are you?” I know this doesn’t bode well for me. “I have Jen and the NOAA team here waiting on you for a checkout dive.” Yikes! Due to some miscommunication, I had been given the wrong time the night before. Luckily my dive gear is ready to go. “I’ll be there in 15,” I say.

15 minutes later, Jennifer Doerr and Ron Hill from NOAA’s Galveston, Texas office greet me at the boat. With them is Hannah, an intern grad student from Nova Southeastern University. Thankfully for me, they aren’t upset that I set them back this morning. Clayton Pollock (Park Diving Officer) is also there and begins to review boat safety with us. “The fuel gauge is precise, but not always accurate,” he warns. We all laugh and thank him for allowing us to use the well-maintained park boats for the week.

Iguanas make the best dive buddies, though this one might need a smaller BCD.

Iguanas make the best dive buddies, though this one might need a smaller BCD.

Our mission for the week is to tag and measure conch. Conch are a prized snail to eat throughout the Caribbean and Central America. Their beautiful shells are commonly sold in shops. Unfortunately for them, they are snails. Therefore, it is easy for both humans and marine organisms alike to capture them due to their slow moving nature. “I feel bad for the conch, everything eats these guys, especially octopus. Juvenile conch are too easy. They really don’t stand a chance,” Jen remarks. On the human side of things, regulations have been put in place on St. Croix, but enforcement has been proven difficult. Jen and Ron have dedicated themselves to tracking these conch for years in hopes of understanding their life cycle and aggregation patterns better. This information can be eventually applied to a management decision, which could bolster the future of conchs in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Jen, Ron, and Hannah during snack hour at Salt River.

Jen, Ron, and Hannah during snack hour at Salt River.

Ron begins explaining the circular search pattern we will use to find conch underwater. As we get talking, it is apparent Ron has been at this for many, many years. Ron is a jolly guy with a slight southern twang in his voice, though he has lived all over the world- from Indonesia to Puerto Rico. His laugh is contagious and famous throughout NOAA’s dive team. “We are only tagging a couple conch and then measuring the rest. Jen will be topside support and putting the actual acoustic tags on the conch,” Ron tells me. As part of a collaborative study tracking many different species, the National Park Service, NOAA, US Geological Survey, and several universities have put in acoustic receivers all over the seafloor around St. Croix’s north shore. The benefit to this NOAA team is that when a tagged conch comes within a given distance of a receiver, the receiver logs the time that the conch passed by and the team knows where the conch are going.

Acoustic receivers are all over the seafloor around St. Croix. They help the National Park Service, NOAA, and other organizations track conch, turtles, sharks, fish, and many other organisms.

Acoustic receivers are all over the seafloor around St. Croix. They help the National Park Service, NOAA, and other organizations track conch, turtles, sharks, fish, and many other organisms.

The checkout dive involves a couple of skills and then practicing the conch tagging protocol. We don’t find any conch, but I do find Ron’s fins peculiar. I’ve never seen anything like them. They are called Force Fins. Your foot sits on top of a thin plastic/rubber sheet that is forked at the end and there is a little foot box on top of that. “The military used to use these things, you can really move with them!” Ron says. They make my Jet Fins look like 18-wheelers. I watched Ron get good speed with them, but I still can’t believe that they work.

I didn't snap a great photo of Ron's fins, but you can see them here as he swims a search pattern with Hannah.

I didn’t snap a great photo of Ron’s fins, but you can see them here as he swims a search pattern with Hannah.

Back at the dock, Hannah is rinsing gear. “Wow, this water really has a nice spread to it,” she says. “It is pretty light and fluffy, isn’t it,” I respond. “Light and fluffy?! I’ve never heard anyone describe water as light and fluffy, but that’s pretty accurate,” Jen laughs.

It may have been 101 years ago that the Danes controlled this island, but their influence is still strong. Danish flags are the most common flag seen around St. Croix.

It may have been 101 years ago that the Danes controlled this island, but their influence is still strong. Danish flags are the most common flag seen around St. Croix.

Since we finished early today, I decide to check out Fort Christiansted- a historical fort that Danes built when Denmark ruled the islands. Though small, the fort has excellent informational displays throughout its halls and helped inform my understanding of the island’s history. Before the U.S. Virgin Islands, the islands were known as the Danish West Indies. Denmark took control of the islands in the early 1700’s. Slave labor powered lucrative sugar cane and rum industries on St. Croix, which helped Denmark out financial slump in the mid 1700’s. The fort provided two services. First, it provided some security in case of a slave-led rebellion. Second, it protected the island/Denmark’s financial assets from sea-faring attacks. As time progressed and Denmark outlawed slavery, the island was less productive financially. In 1916, the U.S. purchased the islands from Denmark for $25 million, which coincidentally coincided with the establishment of the National Park Service… (more on this next blog)

The Customs House at Fort Christiansted. When mariners would come in to trade purchase sugar cane and rum, cash transactions and record keeping happened here.

The Customs House at Fort Christiansted. When mariners would come in to trade purchase sugar cane and rum, cash transactions and record keeping happened here.


For the first time in 3 days, the wind is low and the swell is down. These conditions give us the opportunity to dive around Buck Island Reef National Monument. “This must be a very romantic area,” Ron remarks. We see mating turtles for the fourth time in three days leaving the marina. Turtle mating season is in full effect and the National Park Service turtle team has been seeing nesting turtles every night on Buck Island.

As we pull into the scuba shop to pick up more scuba cylinders, I see Laura Palma, an intern that I worked with on a turtle grazing project last week. When we get to Buck Island, I see a guy named Mike that I’d met a few nights back in town. In the water, I see my new housemate Brennan. “How do you know everyone?!” Jen asks me. “I guess this island is smaller than I thought!” I reply. After a mere week and a half on St. Croix, I can’t go anywhere without running into people I know. I’m certainly not an introvert, but the small, friendly community Clayton told me about has proven very true.

A conch in conch-like habitat. They truly are the cows of the sea.

A conch in conch-like habitat. They truly are the cows of the sea.

The diving at Buck Island is spectacular and as good it gets for sea grass diving. “Conch are the cows of the sea. They move slow, generally live in herds, and graze in underwater pastures,” Jen tells me. More often than not, sea grass diving can be fairly murky. However, Buck Island’s sea grass beds have clear, warm, bright blue water and more importantly, lots of conch. Up until this point, we’d been diving at Salt River and seeing only queen conch- the most colorful and prized conch (for their shells and for eating). At Buck Island, we finally started to see milk conch. Ron hands me the first milk conch we see and signals for me to bring it back up to the boat.

Ron measures the length of the conch while Hannah records the data.

Ron measures the length of the conch while Hannah records the data.

“Ohh!! A milky!” Jen lights up when she sees our new friend. Jen is an impressive person. Growing up in the mountains of Idaho, she is a strong female mountain woman that muscled her way through the male-dominated fisheries industry to get to where she is now. Her work ethic is an inspiration to the NOAA team and myself.

Sometimes the stars align and you see a constellation. Pun very much intended.

Sometimes the stars align and you see a constellation. Pun very much intended.

As Jen measures a queen conch and preps the tag to secure to the spires on the shell, it hits me. The dedication and passion of this team in unbelievable. They travel over 2000 miles each way every year (for decades in Ron’s case) to protect snails that they otherwise have no relationship to. These are not conch near their home in Texas that mainland fishermen are taking. Rarely have I seen a team so passionate about marine organisms that are so far away from their home base.


“Carrots and peanut butter again?!” Jen asks. “It may not be light and fluffy, but it is a backpacker’s delight!” I say, as the joke of light and fluffy has carried on through the week. I’ve had carrots and peanut butter everyday as part of my snack for the entire summer due to the transport-friendly nature of both foods.

Buck Island. Former Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society® intern Pike Spector described the water is "cerulean blue." I'd say that's about right.

Buck Island. Former Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society® intern Pike Spector described the water is “cerulean blue.” I’d say that’s about right.

Lunchtime on the water at Buck Island is incredible. The water is still and crystal clear. You can see every fish and coral head from the boat. Luckily, we get some time to jump in and snorkel for conch. “I think this might be a dive. It’s definitely looking like a dive to me!” Ron says. Ron has the enthusiasm of someone half his age when it comes to diving and is always pushing to dive, even if the water is only 10 feet deep. “Pretty sure you can do this on snorkel guys,” Jen laughs, as conditions couldn’t be better for snorkeling. Jen and Ron look at me, and I know exactly what they want. It’s time for me to “pull a Seth.” Seth Kendall, a colleague and friend of mine that worked out on Catalina Island, became known for sticking his face in the water with a mask on to check dive conditions as the boat was idling up to our dive site. I have always referred to this as “pulling a Seth,” so naturally everyone else on the boat also said the same. After pulling a Seth, I sit up, “definitely a snorkel, sorry Ron.”

Hannah pulls a Seth.

Hannah pulls a Seth

“Anyone want some elixir?” Hannah asks, referring to her homemade baby shampoo-based anti-fog for scuba masks. “You mean Hannah’s Spit®?” I quip as she laughs. Another running joke of the week is that Hannah’s anti-fog is really just her spit (divers most commonly use spit for anti-fog) that she has bottled up and brought on board to try to sell us on. Hannah is a warm, wholesome, hard-working Minnesotan who is as good of a team mate as you could ever ask for. Though when I say she is warm, I mean that both figuratively and literally- she lives in a perpetual state of sunburn in the Virgin Islands thanks to her fair Scandinavian complexion.

As soon as I hit the water, a small bar jack swims right underneath my stomach. I swim out a little further, and the bar jack keeps with me. When I dive down, the bar jack dives down with me and grabs a snack off the reef. This little fish stays with me for over an hour in the water and swims what was likely about one mile underneath my stomach. I feel ownership over this little fish. I make sure to never leave the fish behind and chase off potential predators like barracuda to protect my bar jack. After I see a school of cuttlefish, a giant bar jack leading two nurse sharks through the reef system, and lots of parrotfish, I drop the bar jack off with its school under the boat and get on board.

The flare of the conch, which is what Ron is measuring, is the best indicator of conch age.

The flare of the conch, which is what Ron is measuring, is the best indicator of conch age.

Not having my camera this time was a tough pill to swallow for me. I am a fish person. I love fish and care about them as much as I do mammals. It is incredibly difficult to get people to have this type of relationship with fish. Having an image to capture this experience would really help bring these little fish to life and get people to care about fish not just for the purpose of eating, but for the purpose of having more fish in a healthier ocean.


It’s my last day to dive in St. Croix since I’m flying out in two days. Everyone that I have ever met that has been to St. Croix has told me to dive the famous dive site called “The Wall” at Cane Bay. I have texted everyone I know on the island (which is a surprisingly large rolodex at this stage) nearly every afternoon of my stay trying to find a dive buddy for The Wall. Unfortunately, it seems that diving after a long day of work can be a hard sell. Today is no different.

“I think I’m just going to go and hopefully someone needs a dive buddy there,” I tell my housemate as I hop in the car and head for Cane Bay. I decide not to bring my camera. Some friends of mine have told me that it is not safe to leave things in your car at Cane Bay. Since I’m unsure of the area and whom I’ll be diving with, I decide it will be safer to not bring the camera. I don’t want to be marked as a target and I want to be able to respond to an emergency if I end up diving with a freshly-certified diver.

Sure enough, Eric from Pittsburgh is trying to dive The Wall when I pull in. Luckily for me, he’s logged a few dives at the wall and knows the site well. Unluckily for me, the area is much safer than I thought it would be, Eric is a rescue diver, and I don’t have my camera.

Godspeed spineless friend! Hannah sets a conch back down after being measured.

Godspeed spineless friend! Hannah sets a conch back down after being measured.

The Wall is breathtaking. It lives up to all it is billed to be. You descend onto a horse from a merry-go-round that is planted on the sea floor. 20 meters further is a wall- a seemingly infinite drop off, where the sea floor goes from 60 feet to several thousand. We see turtles, sharks, the healthiest coral I’ve seen all summer, and an incredible diversity of fish.

When we come in, I say bye to Eric from Pittsburgh and say hi to Madelyn Roycroft (California Polytechnic San Luis Obisbo grad student from last blog) and her team. Cane Bay is about a 45 minute drive from Christiansted, where I am based. This is truly a small island. “I think I’m going to try to get out to Point Udall (the most eastern point in the United States) this weekend for sunrise if you guys would be interested!” I tell them. Hannah Rempel, a member of Madelyn’s research team jumps at the opportunity, “I’m a morning person- absolutely!”

Maintaining proper buoyancy and taking data can be a challenge in the shallower sites.

Maintaining proper buoyancy and taking data can be a challenge in the shallower sites.

I leave after making tentative plans with them and get a message from Clayton. “Hey Shaun, just wanted to check in. I think we got to hang out a bit when you first got here but I haven’t seen you much since. What are your plans before you leave? Let’s hang out.” I am genuinely happy to hear from Clayton. I had heard so much about Clayton and the entire NPS team on St. Croix before the summer from previous Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society® National Park Service Interns. In the little time that I have spent with them, they made quite the impression on me. They are one of the hardest working, most professional, and most fun units I’ve met this summer. However, they are in turtle season. Therefore, I haven’t seen them much since they are in full-noctural mode, on a 6 PM to 6 AM schedule.


Sometimes you get lucky and the dancers do something really cool. Here, this dancer isn't moving anything besides her wrists.

Sometimes you get lucky and the dancers do something really cool. Here, this dancer isn’t moving anything besides her wrists.

Music plays loudly inside of a beautiful courtyard laced with the smell of Mexican food from the restaurant inside. It is my last night in St. Croix and I decided to watch my friend Jeff Jung (mentioned last blog, St. Croix resident and former high school classmate of mine) and his girlfriend fire dance. The heat from the torches is sweltering, but I decide to get as close as possible to get some photos. I’m sweating uncontrollably for the entire performance, but looking at the photos as they are shot keeps me motivated. A woman then comes out with a single fireball and spins it wildly, creating a trail of fire across the deep blue sky. It’s a mesmerizing effect, but I remain focused on getting the shots I want. The creative process of finding the right settings, angles, and light to create the vision in my head is simultaneously one of the most frustrating and rewarding experiences I have ever had. It’s what keeps me going as a photographer.

After the performance, I say my goodbyes to Jeff, his girlfriend, and all of their friends that I have come to know over the past two weeks. I don’t stay too late though, because I have one more goodbye to say. I hop in the car and drive over to Jen’s hotel. I thank Jen for giving me the opportunity to dive with her and the team for the week. The conversation turns, as we discuss the rollercoaster of life and the wild places that call each of us. As passionate as Jen is about the conch in the Caribbean, nothing makes her feel more at home than the snowy mountains around Idaho and Wyoming. She has lived quite a few places and loves Galveston, but the mountains hold a special spot in her heart. I really connected with her on this, as Catalina Island feels that way to me. In my internship summer, it has proven true time and time again- as incredible as the work is and as passionate as I am about photography and marine conservation, establishing a relationship with the people I work with is equally as rewarding.


Sunrise at Point Udall.

Sunrise at Point Udall.

It’s what I like to call “dark o’clock” in Christiansted. I am never up at this hour, but I’m meeting with a research team from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo at 5AM to go to Point Udall for sunrise. Hannah’s excitement was contagious enough to convince the rest of the team to come too. “I’ve done this for three years in a row on St. Croix, so I had to come!” Madelyn states.

The beach was such a short walk from Point Udall, we had to go explore.

The beach was such a short walk from Point Udall, we had to go explore.

Upon arrival at Point Udall, I’m still half asleep and the sun is still below the horizon. We all hop out and take photos of the beautiful landscape capped off by Buck Island sitting in the background. Just as a beautiful pink cloud rises above the island behind us, the sun starts to rise from the ocean and shoot out beautiful orange rays in the sky. I am not a “morning person” and 4 hours of sleep certainly doesn’t help, but watching the sunrise at Point Udall reminded me that getting up early for the outdoors is always worth it.


“I love these passion fruits! Thank you so much Clayton!” a local woman says as she takes a bag of passion fruit from Clayton. Clayton and I are having lunch right before I catch a flight to St. Thomas as customers in the restaurant say hi to him intermittently. After living on the island for nearly a decade, Clayton seems to know everyone. We chat for a while over a few arepas and I thank him for everything he did for me on St. Croix. I would have been in serious trouble without him. “You know you have a place to stay out west with a STOCKED fridge, if you are ever insane enough to go to colder waters,” I say as my parting message to Clayton. “Be careful of what you wish for, we just might take you up on that!” he responds. I sincerely hope he does.

The scene in the restaurant is representative of both the St. Croix and National Park Service communities- tight-knit and friendly. I came to St. Croix as unprepared as I could be, and ended up having a wonderful experience working with some amazing people. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing, and the flexibility required of me during my first week is a skill I’d need to utilize at my next stop in St. John.

As I leave St. Croix, I look forward to my next stop in St. John and the journey in the small sea plane.

As I leave St. Croix, I look forward to my next stop in St. John and the journey in the small sea plane.

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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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Halfway point

This week, I’m halfway through my internship. I was originally only going to stay for five weeks, but the folks at Bonnier offered to house me for a sixth week. Awesome, and very much appreciated.

To start this week off, I wrapped up my story about the navy dolphins. It’s looking a lot different than I envisioned it would, but I sent it in rather than miss another deadline. Sometimes you have to show them where you are so they can work with you.

This week I started doing some book reviews. The reviews were short and fun to write. Rather than write a lengthy, critical review, I simply decided whether the book was worthy of attention, and wrote 100 words about it. Typically, that meant reading through a few chapters to get a feel for the book and skimming through the rest for details. Really, the most difficult part about doing the book reviews was putting the book down; I had at least two books that were really good and that I wanted to keep reading. But there isn’t enough time in a week or two to read three medium-length books. It was a fun assignment though, and challenging.

Besides working on the book reviews, I posted some videos to Youtube for Sport Diver, videos that were pre-made but that they wanted up on Youtube.

I didn’t do a whole lot more than that this week, as the book reviews took a few days. I got pretty restless and distracted this week, so at one point, tired of sitting at my desk all day, I started to look for new places around the office to sit and work. There’s a lounge area that no one uses right around the corner from my desk that’s perfect. I’ve been switching between there and my desk a few times a day just to change it up a bit.

Something not many people know about me is how restless I get. I was diagnosed with ADHD growing up, and to this day sitting in one place and doing the same thing for a lengthy amount of time is difficult for me. That’s one way this office job is such a learning experience- I’m learning a lot about how I work.

One day, during lunch, I left the office and did some exploring by bike. Across the street from the shopping village where Bonnier office is located, I found a fast food restaurant on a lake. There were kids out on the water using stand-up paddleboards, and families eating out on picnic tables.

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The food was overpriced, but the view was worth it. After lunch, I walked around and grabbed some pictures. Most people had left, but I found a good spot to sit with a view of the water.

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That’s it for this week- although on Thursday I got stuck in my first big rainstorm during my bike ride home. The rain was ridiculously heavy for almost the entire bike ride, and even with a raincoat on I got soaked, as did nearly everything in my backpack.

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Next week it’s diving at Blue Grotto Dive Resort to check out some wetsuits!

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Week 3

I started off week three playing a bit of catch up.

I ended up finishing the Grouper story on Monday, but that was basically all I got done that day.

On Tuesday I posted some more print content onto the website, and began researching for my story due Friday. The deadline was getting closer and I was a little worried because I still had to interview some sources for the story, so I reached out to my editors early to let them know that it might not get done by Friday.

Finally, on Wednesday I was able to get in touch with somebody for an interview… for Thursday. This meant it was really unlikely I’d get the story done by Friday.

The interview itself, with a scientist from NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association), went really well. The story was about a huge initiative being coordinated between the United States and Mexico to rescue the severely endangered vaquita porpoise. It’s estimated that less than thirty of them remain in the wild. One of the craziest parts of the whole thing is the involvement of the U.S. Navy’s Marine Mammal Program. The Navy has been training its dolphins from the program to seek out the vaquitas, which are small and difficult to find. The scientist I interviewed works at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, CA, and while the dolphins search for the vaquita in the water, she is leading the effort to sight the porpoises from the ships. We had a great conversation and I learned a lot about the whole operation. I’ll share more when the story gets published!

After spending the rest of Thursday and part of Friday transcribing the phone call, I wasn’t able to finish the story by my deadline. Usually for me, I need two days to write large stories. One day to write a rough draft, the night to forget about it, and the next day to edit and finish it. I don’t usually do last minute writing very well, although I have before and could do it again if I have to

What I did do, however, was finish three short pieces for a regular feature in the magazine called “Wreck Roundup.” For each of these pieces, I was given a recent shipwreck to research and write a short (100 words) blurb for each, highlighting the details of the wreck, where it’s located, and whether it’s reachable for divers.

There isn’t a whole lot more to report this week.

Some last good news, though: I found out this week that I’m scheduled to go diving the second week of August to test out some wetsuits at Blue Grotto, a freshwater lagoon/dive resort in Williston. We’ll be gone the 8th and 9th. It’s been a while since my last dive, so I’m really excited.

I didn’t take many pictures this week, so here’s a picture of the cats at the Airbnb apartment I’m staying at.

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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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Getting settled

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What an exhausting week this was.

But first, over the weekend, I got to stay a night at my co-worker’s condo on Lake Maitland, which was really nice. It had a pool, too, which I was more than happy to check out.

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On Saturday, I had the pleasure of having dinner with the editor-in-chief of Scuba Diving and Sport Diver, Patricia Wuest, and her husband. They were very helpful, and shared some good local spots and restaurants for me to check out during my stay. Patricia also shared some alternative bike routes I can take to work to avoid the busy streets, which proved handy.

On Sunday morning I went to check out a farmer’s market Patricia and her husband told me about at a lakeside park nearby. However, as I arrived, police were sectioning the place off. I later learned that they were closing the place down after someone found a body in the water! An interesting first weekend, without a doubt.

I found another place to have breakfast, and that afternoon I took a dip in the pool, which was nice.

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After the weekend, week two started off a little more slowly than the first. Which is not to say that I didn’t have plenty to do- I’ve just started to settle in more at the office.

On Monday, I learned how to post content from the print magazine onto the Scuba Diving website, and published a story on the website about turtle conservation & marine pollution. I also began research for a new story about Goliath groupers in Florida.

Homesickness started to kick in this week, which made it a little hard to focus at the office the first few days. After struggling a bit Monday and Tuesday, I took a mental health day on Wednesday to catch up on sleep. Nonetheless, I worked a bit from home, where I watched the Netflix documentary Chasing Coral, and wrote a review of it the next day.

Some minor medical issues on Thursday put me behind on my work, so the Goliath Grouper story I was supposed to finish on Friday ended up carrying over to the next week, as did the Chasing Coral review.

I wanted to get caught up over the weekend, but in my tiny Airbnb room, it just wasn’t happening. I decided weekends are for resting and having fun, so I went out and saw the new Spider-man movie.

After a weekend of rest, I’m looking forward to starting next week fresh. I’m a little disappointed that I’m starting the week behind on my work-especially since I have a fairly large story due on Friday that I haven’t started. But I’ll make do. The editors here seem to be pretty understanding, as long as I keep them posted.

One last thing- I also got to see one of my pieces published in the magazine, which was really cool. It was only a tiny summary I wrote, but still. Here’s a picture.

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Far away from home

Preface: My name is Chase. I’m the 2017 recipient of the Bonnier publishing group internship. I graduated from the University of Maine in 2016, and it’s my goal to write about marine science for a living. This internship is a sweet opportunity for someone like me.

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Well, my first week in Florida has come to an end, and I’m tired. It’s been a full one.

I landed in Orlando Sunday morning at 2 AM, feeling tired and a little disoriented. I took an Uber to the place I would be staying in Winter Park and crashed.

On Sunday, after sleeping most of the day away, I received a warm welcome from the Bonnier Dive Group. I was invited to a cocktail party at a Condo overlooking a lake, where I met most of the people I’d be working with, and got to know everybody a little bit. There were a lot of new faces at once, and many of the names I would mix up for at least a little while after. After lots of chatting and a few drinks, I went home feeling excited and nervous for my first day.

I woke up Monday morning, after fitful sleep. There are lots of strange sounds to get used to here- mostly the highway located right next to the house I’m staying in. Still, I got up early and got to work well before 9 AM. A good start to my first day.

Except when I got there, I couldn’t find the entrance to the building. Google maps lead me to the employee entrance, which was locked. After searching around for another entrance, I called the Bonnier secretary, and just then some men came by, headed for the door. I awkwardly explained that I was there for an internship, and they let me follow them in. One of the men was kind enough to lead me to where Bonnier Dive Group works. Before long, I ran into one of the editors I met the night before, and he showed me where I needed to be.

I get a quick tour of the building, and get to see some of the different magazines that publish here. I’m shown the desk I’ll be working at, and get settled in for a brief time. During the day, I tag along for a few meetings, where the magazines discuss production details. It’s a nice, slow first day, and when I’m not attending meetings, I spend most of my time reading the magazines and getting a feel for the kinds of things they write here.

On Tuesday, I get my first assignment, which is to write some short blurbs for the next issue of sport diver. I also get to fact-check a few of the longer articles.

By Wednesday, the assignments start to pile on, and by Thursday I’ve got enough work to keep me occupied for a while. I also get a bike, borrowed from one of my editors, which means I can stop paying for Uber and start biking around the city. After work, I explore the area on my bike.

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Friday I publish a full-length news piece on the Scuba Diving website about the marine conservation documentary Chasing Coral. I love writing about films, so this is an enjoyable first longer-piece for me. I go to more meetings. Attending the meetings is interesting, because I get to see how ideas get thrown around and get to learn the dynamics of how the team works. It’s a diverse team; some of the members are very vocal, while others are more reserved. It shows me how different personalities can work with each other. At this point I’m more of a fly on the wall during the meetings, but as time goes on I can see myself contributing more.

Then it’s the weekend, which goes by quickly but mostly consists of me riding my bike around a lot, exploring the area around Winter Park.

It’s taken me a little while to get settled in, but now that my first week is over, I’m starting to feel more comfortable here. Nearly every day I am learning something new, either about working here or about the local area. I’m excited for what the rest of my time here will hold. I miss Maine just a little, but I am starting to warm up (literally- it’s pretty hot here) to this place.

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