Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Waiting on the World to Change

 Hi everyone!

My name is Madeline Odom, and I'm new here to Dr. Childress' CI. My freshman year, I helped with Something Very Fishy, but I'm a junior now and that really seems like forever ago. College has flown by. I'm actually an animal and vet science major, hoping to be a vet one day. And I can't tell you how excited I am to be doing marine work at a Clemson! 

I do work at a vet office, but the weirdest thing we have seen there is a snake. No marine life :( I had applied for an internship with the South Carolina aquarium but you know.... COVID-19. So, I am overly thankful to be participating in this CI, and I can't tell you how much I've learned about marine species and debris and (the topic of our discussion this week) forensic entomology in the ocean. 

I've always been a criminal minds fan, so this discussion will be fun. 

But apart from me, this semester I have been helping Kea with her Dive Against Debris project. We have spent countless hours organizing all of her images that she took from dives into categories, based on species type, debris type, location, and more. It is tedious work-- but when work like this interests you as much as it interests me, the work passes by quickly. 

As much as the pandemic has affected us, it still gave me the opportunity to be a part of something I've been looking forward to since I was a senior in high school. I knew one of the old members of the team, and the way she talked about it, I just knew I had to be a part. I actually emailed Dr. Childress the summer before my freshman year. 

I've never been diving, but I have snorkeled a lot in Florida on vacations. One of my top goals for this year is to get my certification and be able to dive and (hopefully) help Kea develop this project. 

But until this pandemic is over, we're just waiting on the world to change. 

And loving every minute of the work while we wait. 

Thank you, 

Madeline :)

Thursday, October 15, 2020

My First Dive

 In light of COVID taking away a lot of opportunities for our undergraduate team to do field research in the Florida Keys last spring and over the summer, instead of discussing the countless hours I spent on my laptop, I thought I’d share the experience of my first real dive ever that really began my passion for the ocean. 

In 2013 my family took a trip to a Guanacoste, Costa Rica, the Pacific side of the country. After listening to my dad’s countless stories about diving throughout the Caribbean and even in the Charleston Harbor, I really wanted to go SCUBA diving. My dad signed us up for a resort diving course with the resort we were staying at.

We woke up first thing in the morning, where the dive instructor taught me the basics in a pool. Afterwards, we boarded the boat and took off to our first destination. The first dive was about 25 feet down. The most difficult part was trying to clear my ears and equalize for the first time, but once I got past that I got to see the beautiful world that lies just beneath the surface. Schools and schools of beautifully colorful fish. The most amazing starfish that looked like blue porcelain. It was a very serene experience. The dive went by so quickly and we were back on the boat before I knew it.

The second dive solidified my newfound love for diving in which the dive instructor took us a little bit deeper than we were supposed to go to see an extraordinary white tip reef shark. As a 13 year old girl I was both scared and amazed. It was very surreal. Quickly after returning from the trip I began the journey to getting certified.  

I don’t have many pictures from the experience as I was a 13 year old with an underwater disposable camera where most of the pictures were of the island we dive around, Monkey Head Island, which looked like a monkey’s head, and blurry fish. 

This picture is of me, my father, and the dive instructor. 

 Coming to Clemson, a school far from the coast, I didn’t think I would find a marine research lab. When I found out about the Childress lab and Something Very Fishy I felt I had found my place. My experience in this lab has been amazing and I have met many talented students and future scientists in this that have helped to motivate and teach me. 

I am currently studying the effects of marine debris under PhD candidate Kea Payton and I am really enjoying it! 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Corals from Quarantine: Research in the time of COVID-19

In March 2020, I was eagerly awaiting my first trip to the Florida Keys.

I spent a ridiculous amount of money on sunscreen, an embarrassing number of hours in the aisle at Target making sure it was all reef-safe, and over a semester listening to my lab buddies tell stories of their time there. Going to the Keys feels like a rite of passage for Childress lab members, and I was ready to - quite literally - dive in.

But then, of course, the world turned upside down. And, well... here we are! 


From a campus walk after everyone left. I had never seen Cooper so empty.

But of course, there was still work to be done! Data to be collected. Fish to be counted. And while my Ikea desk in my college apartment is a far less exciting workspace than the Atlantic Ocean, I was still determined to get as much out of my research work that semester as I could. We were all adjusting to a new normal, and we all just had to make it work.

So I spent hours identifying fish species on our reef sites in photographs from last year. I could probably recite the table of contents of the Humann/Deloach Reef Fish Identification of the Florida Keys book. I drove myself crazy trying to figure out if the speck I was looking at was a wrasse or a rock. (and, being the nerd I am, I had a really good time doing it!)

Between fish ID work and Clemson's virtual new-student Orientation sessions (I was actually orientation ambassador of the year, thank you very much!), I had the opportunity to begin my journey as a Hollings Scholar with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They also were scrambling to move everything online, of course. But it was an exciting new thing to start during a pretty monotonous time!

Day 1 of online NOAA orientation

It feels like all of this just started, but also like we have been doing it this way forever. And for the foreseeable future, it looks like our research will continue online. This semester, I have graduated from counting fish and am studying foraging behaviors and social groups of Butterflyfish in the Florida Keys. Our work has translated to a virtual setting very well, and I truly am learning something every day. 

But I am so ready to be back in the lab!

(Oh, and I did manage to sneak down to the Keys over the summer on my own... and got to do my first saltwater dive with my dad as my buddy! Finally got to put all that sunscreen I bought to good use.)

And thus, my life was changed forever.