Friday, December 14, 2018

Sweet Home Keys

     It was 96 degrees and barely thinner than the endless mud surrounding us. It was water in Mobile Bay, AL. I started my summer pulling nets through this water searching for southern flounder as a fisheries tech for two grad students at Clemson, Meghan and Jared. We'd work long days and usually into the night pulling beam trawls and electrofishing all over the bay trying to find what we figured out to be an apparently rare species. We heard every excuse you could think of from the locals. "The oil spill killed em' all" or "It's those gigger's fault", "Wasn't like this before the storm (Katrina)", "This dredging is killing all the fish". About the only thing that didn't get blamed was Alabama football. When you ride around in a boat with "CLEMSON" written on the side in southern Alabama you find out just how much the Crimson Tide really hates us. It kind of made me happy that they hated us because it meant we were relevant enough to be hated and, if we're lucky, a little feared. Long story short, there are not very many flounder to find in Alabama.

Me with not a flounder in Mobile

     That's okay though, because I got to spend some time after that in the Florida Keys with this lab doing work a little different. The keys had cooler water, friendlier locals, and most importantly, more fish. I was there while we were following the stoplight parrotfish around the reef and marking their territory with flags. It was my first time working on SCUBA and I loved the experience. However, I did find out that I might belong inshore rather than offshore, as my stomach doesn't handle the uninterrupted roll of everything very well. And unlike Alabama, the keys wasn't all work. I actually had time to fish. For fun. Something I hadn't done all summer. Rob and I got to go out and optimistically target bonefish, but ended up catching mangrove snappers, and getting our line constantly nipped off by the baby barracuda. But, the highlight of the trip for me was getting to hook into a tarpon on my fly rod. Just being able to fish in the same water with tarpon has been a dream of mine since I was 12. Hooking one hasn't ever been an expectation so getting that was something I'll never forget. It's less like hooking a fish and more like hooking a deer as it runs away at full speed. Except that tarpon was bigger than most deer. And when I tell this story again the fish is going to get even bigger. The best way to catch the biggest fish is to let it get away.

     This summer was filled with hard work, fun work, good memories, and good people. I got to fall in love with the keys and realize why I never loved Alabama. It's left a lot to live up, so future summers better watch out because I'll be trying to top this one for a long time.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Summer Up North

My whole life I have always sought out adventure. From studying abroad in Australia and New Zealand, to vacationing in Costa Rica, my love for travel and my curiosity for nature has taken me around the globe. So this past summer when I was given the opportunity to explore I went to, wait for it, Michigan! But what seemed like an ordinary place was actually a hidden gem, full of giant sand dunes and crystal-clear lakes. I spent 3 months hiking, kayaking, boating, and even trying my luck at mountain biking. Although I was only working at a souvenir shop, I gained some valuable insight about trying new things and meeting different people. 

One really interesting thing I learned while in Michigan was a movement to shut down the Line 5 Pipeline, an oil line that runs under the straits of Mackinac (connects lower Michigan to the Upper Peninsula). This pipeline, built in 1953, was not built to last 60 years and is at risk of bursting any day, sending millions of gallons of oil into the Great Lakes. 

I am thankful to have joined the Conservation of Marine Resources Creative Inquiry team because it has fueled my passion to save the environment, both our salt and freshwater ecosystems. In the past month I earned my SCUBA certification, something I hope will enable me to dive (literally) into more research. Exciting things are coming this way!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Summer in the Marshalls

Most of my life growing up was in the Marshall Islands, so it is only fitting that my last summer in college I got spend time there, working on a project centered on communicating climate change. The island I grew up on has amazing reefs but climate change threatens their health. These impacts will be devastating to not only the reefs but the people that depend on them. To promote student engagement with this issue, I collected 360 reef imagery at spots throughout the summer. These will then be used to create interactive websites and 360 timelapse videos.

Putting these images into a 360 VR experience will enable people to explore the reef they otherwise are unlikely to visit. One of my spots can be seen here: 

These snorkels were long, but often featured amazing marine life such as turtles or an occasional manta ray.
And even on days without any animal sightings, the reef itself is a great sight.

This same spot can be viewed in 360:

Connecting these images to each other or viewing locations through time creates an immersive experience that engages a user more than the regular image. This way students can feel more connected to the location, which encourages learning about its relevant issues- like climate change. 

Toward the end of the summer I was also able to visit a summer camp on Guegeegue, another island within the Marshall Islands, and share VR experiences and an activity with middle/high school students. They were able to run through observations of various reefs and compare them to images taken locally in the Marshalls, which turned to discussion on the role coral reefs play in their lives and geologically in the Marshall Islands. 
Photo of 360 activity brought to Guegeegue. This included 360 reef
print-outs as well as google cardboard headsets to view the images in VR.
Overall, this summer was great- I got to spend a ton of time in the water, exploring reefs, and most of it with a lot of cameras! 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Sealy Summer

This summer I had the incredible opportunity to be an intern at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. From May to August I worked alongside the marine mammal training staff. A typical day consisted of greeting and informing guests for animal programs, watching training sessions, and lots and lots of cleaning. I also assisted a trainer with diet preparation two times a week. Sorting and weighing fish at five in the morning sounds terrible, but having fun trainers with great music made it better. Throughout the internship I learned three animal narrations. I hated these at first, but as the summer went on informing the guests about the animals was one of my favorite things. I loved waking up every morning knowing I would see amazing animals. We had dolphins, sea lions, otters, penguins, tropical birds, and my favorite, harbor seals. The seal in the picture is Milo. He was really sweet and super silly.

On my days off from the internship I shadowed the veterinarian at the Gulfarium. We mostly worked on sea turtles that had been caught by fisherman. It was a great feeling to help the turtles and then see them be able to be released back into the ocean. I also saw caiman, stingrays and eel physical exams. Working with the veterinarian was one of the highlights of my summer. It confirmed by goal to become an aquatic animal veterinarian.

Speaking of veterinarians, this summer I also applied to veterinary school. This was a stressful and tiring task, but I finally turned in my application. I want to thank everyone who has helped me get this far, especially this Creative Inquiry team. I have learned so much about the ocean and conservation from CMR. I can't wait to continue making memories this semester.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Genesis 1:26

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Diving into Something Bigger

Growing up I always knew I wanted to dive. From an early age the ocean was part of who I was and I figured the best way to experience more of what it offered, was to learn how to become a diver. So when I was old enough, my dad and I embarked on an experience that gave us the opportunity to do more with the ocean.

At first it was intimidating, being so young and getting dropped into this new situation, I felt overwhelmed by everything. The way I remember open water, they taught us how to be safe divers, and they told us how to be good divers, but becoming a good diver takes experience. So, my dad and I avoided the dive charter scene and focused on doing what we wanted to do. We dove on our boat or in places we felt comfortable. It was something that we shared a common bond over. For a long time this was the way I dove and I never thought about what else I could do.

Going into college, I didn't know I was interested in doing more with this skill. I had already turned down my opportunity to stay in North Carolina and study marine biology. I wanted to be an engineer. I wanted to work in medicine and I was afraid my opportunities in marine biology were going to be too limited. All of this changed when I became involved with Clemson's Scuba Club. I met a lot of people who were passionate about diving and wanted more people to share that passion with them. Eventually, I learned about Carlos Barrios' CI in biomimicry and biomimetics. My second semester I joined so that I could help and learn more about diving and research. I learned that, while the content of the research may not be of high importance, the skills we learn are extremely important. Carlos teaches us how to be better divers in recreation and research, something that I value.

I was still missing a purpose to having all these skills, until that night I went to a documentary showing for Chasing Corals to represent my club. It turned out that the representing part wouldn't be until the end of the showing, which meant our team of three people turned into just me, watching a documentary I had seen twice. But, it was what happened before the documentary that peaked my interest. I learned that Clemson had a creative inquiry team dedicated to marine conservation and that focused their research on the Florida Keys. After the showing I asked how I could get involved and I followed up. I had just learned about this team, but I felt immediately that I wanted to be a part of what they were doing.

After the doc showing I got to do some Florida Keys research of my own, collecting lionfish for Dr. van den Hurk with Carlos and our CI team spring break. When I was down in the Keys I got to dive with my future CI team. We had a bit of a misadventure at the Thunderbolt involving some strong current and a submerged buoy before ending the day with a fantastic sunset dive on a shallow reef off of Marathon. It was then that I knew I wanted to do more with diving; I wanted to dive into something bigger.

I am excited to be starting that dive now.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Wonderful Summer

This summer was my first field season with the CMR lab and it was a once in a lifetime experience. I spend most of my time in the lab identifying corals, sponges, algaes, and more for various research projects but I never realized how much depth the pictures lacked. Diving in the ocean for the first time showed me an incredible underwater world that looked nothing like the pictures I had worked on for months.           


 The reefs were absolutely stunning but still we saw debris and trash on the reefs and in the water and it really solidified the need for us to work towards preserving the reefs. The main project I worked on was taking time lapse pictures of both natural and artificial structures to determine how different fish utilize different structure types. The staghorn coral is a species that is dramatically decreasing in the Florida Keys and we are hoping to prove that the structure it provides is essential to fish communities and is therefore worth the conservation efforts to save it.

Overall I had a wonderful summer and I miss the days where I spent most of my waking hours out on the water just enjoying the beauty of the sea and the diversity of life it holds.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Field Work = Best Work

What an incredible summer I was privileged to enjoy! Being in the field for the first time was nothing like I expected, but even more engaging and amazing than I could have ever hoped. If anything, it further solidified my desire to go to graduate school upon graduating from Clemson and pursuing marine ecology as a career!

The project I have been working on since joining the CMR team has been organizing and analyzing the photographic data taken of the coral transplants (as shown) from the 2013 study and the 2017 study during each quarter census of our field sites. These fragments were transplanted to discern how increasing sea surface temperature due to climate change affects bleaching rates and severity, as well as how algal competition for space and nutrients effect coral growth and survival. As fun as it is to use CPCe (Coral Point Count with Excel Extensions) and other Excel software to analyze factors like growth rate and algal cover in the lab, it was amazing to see everything come together by actually being in the environment with our coral fragments that I’d only ever seen on a computer screen. Pictured below is yours truly, holding the PVC frame with a GoPro camera attached to the top, which we used to place over the coral transplants and take photographs. During the time I was manning the camera, Kylie Smith also noted specific features about the coral and its surrounding environment, like algal presence, level of disturbance in the form of sand cover, and fish presence within the cage surrounding the coral.


This photographic data was then downloaded and organized to the shared folders where my team members and I are now analyzing it to use in this year’s poster presentation! We would like to investigate specific algae species presence around the coral transplants and determine their role in competition with corals, and if they are indicative of coral bleaching rates and severity. It is most definitely a unique experience to be this hands-on with coral reef restoration and marine science, and I am very appreciative for these opportunities! 

This was one of the many things the team and I did this summer, and if you would like to see more of what I was able to experience, please visit my Adobe Spark page:

Also see this great footage Dr. Childress took of the different fish survey counts the team did!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A Summer Well Spent

This summer I had the great opportunity to experience the part of our CI’s research that I have never seen:  field work. All data collected for my team’s research came from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, ranging from coral reefs off the coast of Key Largo to Marathon. Based out of Lower Matecumbe Key, we stayed in a house on a canal. This location allowed us to dock our boat directly in the backyard. Every day at 8:30 AM and 4:30 PM, you could find me loading or unloading SCUBA gear to and from the boat.
Due to the timeframe of our work, SCUBA gear was required. We spent three hours or more per day underwater, seven days a week, South Florida weather permitting. A wide variety of methods were used for the various projects. For research on fish community and species diversity, we set and captured photos from GoPro cameras underwater. Additionally, we anchored artificial PVC structures on the bottom to see how they affected fish communities. Another focus of our work was coral transplants and the documentation of coral survival. For this research, we set cages around designated corals by hammering them into the limestone. The main focus of my project in particular was the territories of the stoplight parrotfish (Sparisoma viride). For ten minutes, an individual fish was followed around the reef. Its territory was mapped out by placing markers at every point the fish turned. Afterward, the distance from the estimated center of the territory to each marker was measured, along with a compass heading for each point. This data will allow us to create a map of the territory once we get back to the lab.
If there is one thing that I learned from my summer in the Keys, it is that field research is a great deal of work and very enjoyable at the same time. I have never been as tired as I was at the end of the summer, but my time spent in the field was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I would never miss a chance to go back.