Somers Internship: Past Interns

2018
Shane Farrell 

Read excerpts from Shane's report below or view the entire report in PDF format .

As the recipient of the 2018 Dr. Lee H. Somers Our World Underwater Scholarship Society/American Academy of Underwater Sciences Scientific Diving Internship, I spent three months in East Boothbay earning my AAUS scientific diving certification with Chris Rigaud at the University of Maine, while simultaneously receiving hands on scientific research with Dr. Doug Rasher at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. Before I discuss my work at Bigelow Labs with Dr. Rasher – my co-host – I’d like to explain my time with Chris, at the University of Maine. After I accepted this internship in January, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew I’d be earning my AAUS scientific diving certification but what exactly was AAUS and what would this course would entail was a complete mystery to me. After I made the trek out to Maine from Minneapolis, my hometown, I had two days to prepare for my first AAUS class. The only things I was sure of were we had a swim test the first day and a check out dive. I briefly meet Chris before at the OWUSS annual weekend -- a pretty intimidating setting. At the annual weekend, I didn’t get a sense of how funny and caring Chris truly was. His passion for diving and for his students was apparent after the first five minutes of arriving at the dive locker at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center.  During the 12 weeks and over 20 dives with Chris, the students learned a plethora of useful skills. Generally, we learned how to plan dives following the AAUS and U-Maine’s safety standards. Some skills we learned were: peak performance buoyancy, under water navigation using both a compass and natural navigation, deep diving, dive physics, learning to design underwater sampling protocols, multi-level diving, boat diving, search and recovery, dive physiology, rescue diving, DAN Pro basic life support, and many dive tables. I earned four certifications from this summer -- my AAUS scientific diving certification, my second PADI advanced open water certification, a second rescue diver certification, this time for SDI, and my DAN Pro basic life support certification. My summer earning my AAUS certification was special because of the people. The energy and enthusiasm that the instructors brought was unparalleled. I learned this summer that I could use diving as a tool for science, creating the perfect amalgamation of my two passions. AAUS and Chris truly helped me start on that path to creating my dream job. To have a scientific diving certification and hands on research, all before graduation, has and will continue to provide opportunities.

The second portion of my internship, and the majority of my underwater time, came from working with Dr. Doug Rasher. Doug, an ecologist, has projects geographically ranging from Maine, Alaska, and the Caribbean, studying habitat shifts in those ecosystems. The project I was working on involved studying kelp’s return to the Gulf of Maine. More specifically, I was collecting seaweed samples from half meter quadrats from various sites along the coast of Maine. Doug’s lab consisted of two postdocs, Thew and John, along with another intern from an REU program, Courtney. The dive team consisted of Doug, Thew, and myself, with Courtney for surface support. On calm days, we would take the 23ft long RV Silversides and run up and down the coast to sampling sites.

Doug and Thew taught me many skills, proper scientific diving practices such as having the proper safety equipment, and back dive gear. Diving etiquette, such as wearing a weight harness instead of putting the weight in a BCD, for when people lift the system on to the boat. I learned site navigation and delimitation. I learned kelp sorting / identification procedures along seaweed preservation for wet and dry weight measurements. More broadly, I learned about the Gulf of Maine’s aquatic ecosystem and the regional changes over the decades. Most importantly, I learned while working at Bigelow that I could do something I enjoyed for the rest of my life. Diving has always been a passion, and I love getting my head under the water any way I can, in any conditions. I’ve also fallen in love with biology throughout undergraduate time at Lawrence. Doug and Thew thought me that I could use diving as tool for science to create a dream career.

2017
Erika Sawicki 

Read excerpts from Ericka's report below or view the entire report in PDF format .

My internship began with the scientific diver course at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. I was really excited and eager to experience a new region of the country, as I had never been to California or the West Coast before. The course includes five major different components; 1.) Physics and Physiology of Diving, Decompression Theory and Dive Planning, Equipment and Environmental Considerations, Hazardous Marine Life, and Scripps Scientific Diving Program and Policy, 2.) Diving Emergency First Aid (CPR, First Aid, Oxygen Administration, and field neurological examination) training, 3.) Dive Rescue and Swimming Evaluation, 4.) Written Scripps Scientific Diver examination, and 5.) 12 supervised open water dives (Scripps Institution of Oceanography).

After I completed my scientific diving training at Scripps, my next destination was with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) in Savannah, Georgia, where I was also able to fulfill the requirements to become a NOAA diver.  Once an official NOAA diver, I became a member of the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS) Dive Team. Other members of the dive team include LTJG Marybeth Head, Boat Captain Todd Recicar, and Kim Roberson, Research Coordinator. Each time there were dive operations, I was in the water.  I spent the majority of my time at GRNMS working on the assessment, retrieval, and replacement of acoustic receivers project. The receivers are used to record tagged animals when they are within range.

I also learned the many other aspects of diving operations such as tank fills, gathering necessary gear, cleaning the boat, getting data sheets ready, float plans, etc. It is not all about be in the water! It is important to stay on top of equipment maintenance so that there is less chance that things will break in the field. One of my biggest accomplishments while working with GRNMS was learning how to create ArcGIS (Geographic Information System) maps. While in the office, I focused a lot of my time learning how to create different GIS maps. I learned how to lay xy coordinates on a map. By the end of my internship, GRNMS staff claimed me to be “the resident expert of ArcGIS in the office.”

I also received the AAUS Kevin Flanagan Travel Award. Therefore I was able to attend the AAUS Symposium this year from September 14th-18th, which was held at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Michigan. I also presented my internship experience from this summer. Having the opportunity to attend this conference helped me make various professional connections within the diving community.

From my internship experience, I have found that the scuba diving community is very wide spread, yet also a very close-knit community. It is a very humbling experience to see how many people are willing to help out someone like me who is new to the scientific diving community. I am extremely grateful that there are supportive and helpful people to learn from and who give of themselves. They are the ones who made my internship possible. Without each piece falling together, my internship would not have been possible. It was a great opportunity to work with wonderful people who are associated with the broader scientific and scuba diving community.

This summer has truly flown by and it has led me to places I never imagined I would go. This internship has helped me to land a job as a Hydrologic Technician with the Department of Interior: United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Honolulu, Hawai’i. To jumpstart the New Year, I will be boarding a plan on January 1st, 2018 to begin this crazy journey of creating a home for myself in a place I have never visited and starting my career in the streams of Hawai’i. You only regret the opportunities that you do not take advantage of, so here is to new places and new adventures!

2016
Allie Sifrit
Read excerpts from Katy's report below or view the entire report in PDF format  .

This year the AAUS Scientific Diving internship was hosted by Dr. Scott Noakes, the Diving Safety Officer (DSO) at the University System of Georgia and a research scientist at the Center for Applied Isotope Studies (CAIS) at the University of Georgia. Luckily, Dr. Noakes was flexible with the internship start date so that my foot could heal before I headed to Georgia for the summer. The first week of my internship was in Athens, GA, where the UGA main campus is located. I stayed with Dr. Alice Hunt, her husband Joel and their new puppy while I was in Athens. Dr. Hunt works with Dr. Noakes at CAIS and was kind enough to open up her home to me for the week.  Afterwards, I spent most of the following 9 weeks at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SkIO), in Savannah, GA. SkIO has their own housing on campus and I was able to stay there with roommates Chelsea and Emily for the duration of my internship.

Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SkIO) is located just south of Savannah, GA on Skidaway Island along with the UGA Marine Extension Service (MarEX) Aquarium and Shellfish lab, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administraion (NOAA) Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary office. Dr. Noakes accompanied me to Skidaway so he could introduce me to his colleagues in order to identify some projects I would be interested in working on during the summer. 

The majority of my time at SkIO I spent working at the MarEX Aquarium with curators Devin Dumont and Lisa Olenderski. The MarEX Aquarium is dedicated to education and hosts several summer camps and school-year courses dedicated to teaching children about the Georgia Coast. At the MarEX Aquarium one can learn about the salt marsh, estuarine and the offshore reef communities in Georgia. All of the animals on exhibit are found in Georgia and the facility is located adjacent to a salt marsh. It is possible to learn so much at a small aquarium used primarily for educational purposes because they are more willing to take people with little to no aquarium training and teach them about daily facility up-keep and animal husbandry. As such, I was able to work on a variety of tasks during my time with Devin and Lisa. I completed daily chores such as cleaning the acrylic tank windows and display cases, emptying the protein skimmers attached to each tank, and feeding the seahorses and sea jellies.  In addition, there is a lot of fish, shrimp, squid and gel-food prepared for the other organisms. After Devin or Lisa chopped up the food items I would feed Rider and Lefty, the loggerhead sea turtles, and occasionally the marine life in the other 12 tanks as well. Sometimes I was allowed to help with food prep by chopping up the gel-food, which can be tricky if you’re new to it because the pieces have to be different sizes for each tank to correspond with the mouth size of the fish in each tank. Gel-food is a homemade nutrient supplement, which is needed because the MarEX Aquarium gets their fish food from trawling trips on the rivers surrounding Skidaway Island. The wild-caught fish, shrimp and squid may not necessarily have sufficient nutrients for the high standard of aquarium food, so they prepare gel-food, which contains carrots, spinach, eggs, gelatin and various spices. In addition to daily tasks, the aquarium also had weekly tasks for me to complete, such as tank cleaning, and reptile husbandry. Cleaning tanks sounds like a boring job, but it does allow for some creativity in redecorating the tanks after they have been cleaned. One of the highlights of working at the MarEX aquarium was turtle husbandry. I was able to take Rider, the three year old loggerhead sea turtle, outside for a sun bath. It was somewhat difficult to carry the turtle, but it was fun. I was also able to take Lefty, a one year old loggerhead sea turtle out of his tank to weigh and measure him. Keeping track of the reptile size is important for determining the amount of food they should receive.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this internship. It was an extraordinary experience and opportunity to work with so many great people. I was able to get funding to travel to Rhode Island and present my internship at the 2016 AAUS Symposium, which was a great experience. This internship was not quite what I had expected and I learned that diving off the coast of Georgia can be difficult due to sea conditions and boat availability. However, I did get an excellent opportunity to experience coastal living and participate in several marine related projects at Skidaway and MarEx.

 

2014

Katy Newcomer

Read excerpts from Katy's report below or view the entire report in PDF format .

As the 2014 AAUS Intern, sponsored by Our World Underwater Scholarship Society, I spent the summer in Walpole, Maine at the Darling Marine Center, part of the University of Maine. My main goals for the internship were to experience first-hand science diving with a working team, and to learn the role and tasks of a DSO at a marine lab. I split my time interning for the DSO Chris Rigaud and fisheries scientist Rick Wahle. I learned how to teach and lead dive classes and how to collect live specimens through dive surveys. Through the summer I earned my DAN Pro Diver First Aid certification, PADI Nitrox certification, PADI Drysuit certification, AAUS Scientific Diver certification, and my PADI Divemaster certification. I also dove on average twice a week throughout the summer and gained lots of experience planning and implementing dive protocols for scientific projects. I worked with lobsters and scallops and have worked to better understand fisheries population studies and reproductive experiments.

I was simultaneously working towards AAUS Science Diver and Divemaster. Although it was a lot of work to do both simultaneously, since both courses complement each other so well, often the lessons from one were useful for the other. I suggest to anyone attempting both to try to do them at the same time, if you have enough time to read all of the material. Chris and I did lessons throughout the summer,

starting with First Aid (and the DAN Pro diver course), through equipment training (and computer manual tests), and eventually to physics and teaching others. Much of what I learned this summer revolved around dive preparation and readiness.

I also participated in research projects in the Richard Wahle lab during the summer, diving most often for lobster suction sampling and scallop collection. Research varied from dive collection projects to in lab dissections and simple animal housing and care. This summer offered a great view into the world of fisheries science, with a bit of population monitoring, animal breeding, and growth studies.


2013

Teresa Tymon

Read excerpts from Teresa Tymon's report below or view the entire report in PDF format .

The 2013 AAUS-OWUSS internship was hosted at the Oregon Coast Aquarium (OCAq) in Newport, Oregon. Throughout the three-month internship my knowledge of diving related topics expanded as I learned through AAUS training PowerPoints and modules. I further develop my underwater research skills with in water training, both in the aquarium’s exhibits and diving off shore. As the weeks progressed, I was able to utilize my new skills as I participated in ongoing research projects that the aquarium is involved with. I was exposed to various aspects of research diving including handling equipment underwater, dive planning, equipment repair, and managerial skills. Vallorie Hodges, the DSO at the aquarium and my supervisor, oversaw my projects and training and was very supportive of allowing me to explore my own interests. Jenna Walker, the 2011 intern and assistant DSO at OCAq, was another great mentor to me and personally trained me throughout the internship.

The first half of the internship focused heavily on academics. Each week I studied the AAUS Powerpoints on various diving related topics and reviewed the material with Jenna or Vallorie. I particularly liked the diving physiology and accident management/emergency care portions,and found Vallorie a great resource to further discuss these topics. In accordance with AAUS standards, I was trained in emergency care through the DAN diving First Aid For Professional Divers course, and became certified to administer emergency oxygen, CPR, and neurological exams.I also became trained as PSI/PCI Fill Station Operator, which included both classroom and hands on orientations to the proper way to handle and fill cylinders.I became even more familiar with the components of high-pressure cylinders by helping Vallorie service cylinders for their annual inspection.

Prior to this internship I had no experience with cold water diving, with the majority  of  my  experience  coming from  an  internship  in the  Indo-Pacific. I  found diving in the Pacific Northwest to be much more arduous than what I was used to, but  I  feel  the difficult condition provided an ideal  training environment. Visibility was often very poor, many dives had less than 3 foot visibility, and I was not used to diving  with  surge.    Furthermore  I  was wearing  much  more  gear  than  what  I  had been used to, and had to learn how to regain dexterity while wearing 7mm gloves.  Even the simplest of tasks, such as opening and closing a zip lock bag, proved to be a challenge.

 

2012
Annie Thomson

Read excerpts from Annie Thomson's report below or view the entire report in PDF format .

The 2012 AAUS-OWUSS internship was hosted at Shannon Point Marine Center (SPMC) of Western Washington University. SPMC is located in Anacortes, WA, the gateway to the San Juan Archipelago, a productive, dynamic and temperate marine environment. During this two month internship from July to August I was provided the opportunity to develop my underwater research skills. I was able to continue my diving education by utilizing the AAUS training modules, associated coursework, and in-water training; and apply this newly developed skill set by assisting with the ongoing dive projects taking place at the Marine Center.

My mentor and diving safety officer (DSO) was Capt. Nathan T. Schwarck, M.S. Nate personally spent the first several weeks of the internship training Anne Benolkin, a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) intern and myself. Anne was my primary dive buddy for the summer, and together we went through the AAUS training modules and associated coursework. The internship also provided opportunity for training in the Divers Alert Network (DAN) diving first aid for professional divers, emergency oxygen, first aid, CPR, and neurological exam courses. We also reviewed the PADI advanced course, and completed the PADI rescue diver and NITROX courses. We learned about high pressure cylinder safety and the logistics of diving from the Shannon Point dive locker. This training was complemented by a twenty-three page final exam. Understanding the AAUS history and regulations helped facilitate the development of an awareness of the safety precautions necessary for conducting scientific diving.

SPMC provided many opportunities to continue my education and involvement in the marine sciences. I had the opportunity to routinely help out with Anne’s lab work for her lab based abalone weaning project. This work included preparing macro algae for juvenile abalone and measuring feeding rates every week. Work also included the collection and care of the macro algae used in the abalone weaning experiments.

During the summer I became familiar with Nate’s duties as DSO. Part of Nate’s job at SPMC is to facilitate safe diving. Planning around the environment is a big contributing factor to safe diving and Nate taught us about the importance of tidal planning in the San Juan’s. Even with this planning we learned that the currents often don’t correspond to predications due to local variations including back eddies. This variability helped us become more conscious of the environment around us and also more flexible divers. After our AAUS and SPMC training Anne and I conducted our own pre-dive plans, dive safety checks, and learned how to develop an emergency action plan. With this training, Anne and I learned to balance confidence in our skills while respecting the dynamic waters we were diving in. Developing this balance in divers seems to be a big part of being a successful DSO.

 

2011
Jenna Walker 

Read excerpts from Jenna Walker's report below or view the entire report in PDF format .

Located in Anacortes, Washington, Shannon Point Marine Center of Western Washington University was selected as the host site for the internship in 2011. I arrived in Anacortes, Washington after a cross-country flight and three-hour bus ride, eventually making my way to Shannon Point Marine Center. There I met SPMC's Diving Safety Officer (DSO) Capt. Nate Schwarck, M.S. who immediately showed me around the facilities and diving locker.

The AAUS is well known for their diving safety record and rigorous education/training standards, standards that I became familiar with during the course of my internship. I worked through both theoretical and practical training modules before participating in scientific diving activities as required by Shannon Point. Eventually I acquired a letter of verification from SPMC's scientific diving program, recognized by all AAUS sites, allowing me to further my career in marine science with the ability to use scientific diving as a research tool.

The waters near Anacortes are not the friendliest of diving territories. Besides frigid temperatures, average visibility is around 3-4 m and strong current systems leave average slack windows of 20 minutes between 0.5 kt ebb to flood tidal exchanges. Even though it was a challenging environment, I am very grateful for my experience as I feel it made me a better diver. It is one of those reassuring things that if you can make it here, you feel prepared to handle diving most anywhere. Helping Shannon Point with their scientific diving tasks allowed me to acquire experience in a variety of diving techniques. I did organism collections for staff researchers, REU students, and community outreach tanks. We sampled surface and benthic water from the Salish Sea for water quality analysis. A CTD was retrieved and redeployed monthly for local water profile analysis by the Washington State Department of Ecology. And finally we completed a survey of SPMC's sea water intake system for the Washington Department of Natural Resources to assess the local impacts of building the system. By far the star of the summer was our research with native Pinto abalone. The Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF) and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) funded two days of brood stock dives where we collected solitary, reproductively isolated adult abalone for hatchery efforts. These were some of the most interesting dives we did, lots of beautiful habitat and kelp forest canopies. Eventually I had to rinse off my gear for the final time, pack up, and head back to the east coast. I had an absolutely fantastic summer and hope to return to Anacortes one day, but for now I am off to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where I will be diving as a field technician for some physical oceanographers!

 

2010

Mykle Hoban

Read excerpts from Mykle Hoban's report below or view entire report in PDF format .

I have long had a passion for the sea and in recent years diving has become equally as important to me, both recreationally and as a potential research tool. When I discovered the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society was offering an internship in conjunction with the AAUS, I knew that I had found what I was looking for. I was pleased to learn that I had been selected and excited that the site was Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  Scripps was the first research institution to establish a scientific diving program and is the oldest continuous non-military diving program of any kind.

The internship began with the Scripps scientific diving course. This course trains divers in skills and practices necessary to safely and successfully conduct research underwater. The first week following the scientific diving class was a dramatic shift of pace. In that period, I learned about and worked on dive equipment. As time went on, I was given the opportunity to assist various researchers in the field. Faculty and graduate students at Scripps have research sites all over the world, but many are local to San Diego. Some of the disciplines in which I was able  to participate during my time there include kelp ecology and biological oceanography, physical oceanography, ocean chemistry and marine natural product research. The project I spent quite a bit of time on was a long term monitoring of kelp forest ecology run by the Dayton lab. My role consisted of conducting field urchin surveys and measuring kelp density and recruitment. It was good to make a contribution to a project that has been on-going since 1971.

I was impressed with the breadth of the scientific  diving program and the relative smoothness with which it appeared to be managed. I learned an extraordinary amount this summer. Scripps is a very diverse and dynamic research institution and I was able to involve myself in an interesting array of projects, and make some good personal connections within the research community. I believe that the first OWU/AAUS internship was a resounding success.