A Handful of Divers and a Boat
This summer I embarked on an adventure entirely new to me in almost all ways. On May 12, 2014 I piled into a Clemson University vehicle with motley crew of students with our sights set on the Florida Keys. Working with graduate student Kylie Smith in the lab of Dr. Michael Childress, we were tasked with a summer of research in the water, obtaining data on the coral reefs of The Keys. With fair weather and water as blue as the sky, we hit the ocean swimming. We began our data collection with a census of the parrotfish population at 14 previously established sights. During the census, we also performed behavioral observations of all parrotfish species.
I was a greenhorn to the diving world upon arriving in The Keys but quickly adapted to the salt life in a very literal sense. We spent a minimum of a couple hours in the water on most days but still couldn't seem to get enough. After completing the census, the team began replacing cages on the reef that had been placed there for Kylie's ongoing experiment observing correlations between parrotfish grazing, macro algae and corals that were transplanted as part of the experiment. Cage instillation was a true test of will and grit but it proved no match for our dream team of divers. We accomplished this feat some two weeks ahead of schedule. This extra time allowed us to broaden our horizons and venture out to new sites to gather census and behavioral data.
It is fair to say that our data collection period from approximately May 12 to July 24 yielded a bountiful crop of data in the form of video, and hundreds of data sheets printed on underwater paper. However, this was not the only success. The team shared many experiences, laughs and good times. We that were new to The Keys were able to experience what were considered the most sought after aspects by locals and researchers that have been there for years. It was nothing short of a summer for the books and I am proud and privileged to have been a part of it.