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!