I have been an avid diver for about a year and fell in love with it from the beginning. I’ve done numerous dives along coral reefs and wrecks but I was looking for something more than just being a tourist of the sea. Then I got the opportunity to go to the Keys as a member of the Childress lab for spring break, which completely changed the way I look at diving.
To start from the beginning of the week, a group of six students from the Childress lab accompanied our graduate assistant, Kylie Smith, to Athens, GA to present at the SEEC conference. This was great experience to see the incredible research that other undergraduate and graduate students were doing. We got to see a very impactful keynote speaker who presented on her overlap of forest conservation and social justice. This inspired our lab to work on community outreach with our lab studies. We also got to present posters of our own research to graduate students. This weekend was a lot of fun for our lab group because we got to bond and become close in a way we weren’t able to before. We even delivered all of the unserved food from the conference’s lunch to a nearby homeless shelter. This was an enriching experience for us that brought all of us close to each other.
As the two day conference came to a close, I hopped in a giant truck and drove down to the Florida Keys with two other students and Kylie. It was a twelve hour drive full of singing, laughing and great conversation. The drive was a perfect way to kick off the week in the Keys and we were all so excited to get there. We began our mornings early and acted together to get the boat loaded and ready for the day’s work. We did reef condition reports and parrotfish behavior analyses. This took my love for diving to a completely new level because, for the first time, I was diving for a purpose. I wasn’t just going underwater to look at pretty fish anymore – I was doing productive research for marine ecology. It was a hard day’s work as we visited multiple sites in one day. I spent half my time under water doing condition reports on our transplanted coral as well as following parrot fish around to observe their behavior. The rest of the day was spent on the boat loading and preparing gear, and assessing the water quality. The work was long and could be challenging at times but we kept good attitudes the entire time, laughing and joking around all day long. Most of the time, the work did not actually feel like work. It was just fun to be with such a great group of people in a beautiful place, researching something I am passionate about.
We had five days to complete our research but the three of us undergraduate students decided we wanted to get it done in three days so we could have time to play in the Keys. Kylie did not think this would be possible but we worked very hard and put in extra hours on the boat on the second and third day and shockingly we were able to finish by our goal! Our last two days in the Keys were incredible and I will never forget them. We spent our first free day doing some fun dives where we saw an incredible amount of turtles, nurse sharks, and even a sea horse! These dives were the highlight of the trip for me and we even got to spear some lion fish, which are horribly invasive to the reef. On our last day we went to Key West and had a great time site seeing, particularly watching all of the crazy street performers at the Sunset Festival! While in Key West, we sat down over dessert and reflected on the amazing week we had. None of us wanted to leave and we got to share our favorite part of the week. We all agreed it was difficult to choose only one event!
I think the best part of the week in the Keys was that the four of us did everything as a team. We grocery shopped together, cooked together, and spent all of our free time together. This allowed us to bond very quickly and, even though it was a long and intense week, we never complained or got sick of one another. This week taught me a lot about team work because we made all of our decisions for the good of the group. We were brought together by our love for diving and our passion for marine conservation but we established friendships that go far beyond that.
The view from our spring break house as the sun began to set.