By: Emma Thomson
Now, it’s easy enough to go online and read about the new interns, learn how they found their way to Coral Restoration Foundation and be done with it, but that just seemed a little too impersonal. A couple lines to encompass an entire life couldn’t possibly tell the story of what brought our interns to the Florida Keys. People aren’t drawn to conservation work because of the fame and certainly not the fortune, so what drew these three women to work as interns for this incredible organization? Let’s go one at a time.
Megan was faced with the terrible hardship of diving the Great Barrier Reef when she had her defining love-of-the-reef moments. As you can imagine, we don’t feel very sorry for her. However the love affair with the whole ocean started as a young girl going on family vacations to Padre Island in Texas, and many coastal trips to the east coast. Even as young as 13, Megan knew that the ocean was going to be “something to explore for the rest of [her] life” which is when she found herself snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef. From there she continued to push her education to coral reefs and tropical oceans, even going so far as to live aboard a catamaran for 18 days to dive and study the reefs. It’s a rough life. She says of her schooling that “every action I took reflected my love of the reef”, which is how she found herself going to college in Miami and being exposed to the terrible truth that is the state of our beautiful underwater world. Faced with such hard truths, Megan knew that she had to go into restoration work. How could she let something that has directed her life so beautifully this far, just disintegrate into rubble?
Emma’s story starts at a relatively young age, sometime around her junior year of high school. Her first time diving was on a Discover Scuba Diving course right here on Key Largo. Nothing in particular sticks out in her memory of that first dive; not the reef she was on, nor a single interesting thing she saw that day. However, that is probably because she was too busy crying over how amazing everything was to her. That’s right, the woman’s first time diving and she can barely see the reef because her tears of joy were filling the mask and fogging her view. “I feel blessed”, she says, “because most people never have a defining moment in their lives when they know exactly what they are supposed to do with the rest of their lives – but I did”. DSD after DSD, she dragged her father, brother, and neighbors along with her to experience and revel in the amazing underwater world that had so quickly found its way into her heart. After her first environmental science course in high school when she learned about the extreme peril that the coral reefs were in, she knew that she was going to step up and dedicate her life to the restoration and benefit of the oceans. Nothing else would make her happy and nothing else could be more important. After about 7 years of study and unrelenting adoration of this precious environment, she still feels the sting of those first tears and the call to action to preserve and restore a world that captured her heart from the very first splash.
Katie seems to have been drawn to a career dedicated to making things better from the very beginning, as she initially intended to be a doctor. However, as is all too common with the ocean, she had one taste and was hooked. It started with a marine ecology class that focused on intertidal ecosystems, and from there she took a turn and found a coral reef ecology course that would send her out to Perth, Western Australia to study Ningaloo reef for a few months. Her field of study out in Australia seems to be extremely well-matched to work here at Coral Restoration Foundation as she was studying they effect of sanctuary zones versus no sanctuary zones on the reef, something that will definitely come in handy as an intern here! This being her first immersive experience with coral reefs she “found the complexity intoxicating, always leaving something to be discovered”, and was later asked by a professor to assist in her research on Big Pine Key, right here in Florida. This aspect of the story follows a similar path, it seems, with most of the stories of people who find themselves drawn to protect the reefs of south Florida. Katie was familiar with the ideas and statistics about the reef destruction and coral die-off but once she caught sight first-hand of exactly what shape our reefs were in she knew she had to help and applied to be a Coral Conservation & Restoration Intern a week later! The reefs immediately called her to action and we are so excited to have such an enthusiastic intern in our group.
So it’s pretty obvious that these three women are head-over-heels for the coral reefs and are probably going to spend their lives underwater. Keep your eyes on these three, because they’re going to lead the charge to the most beautiful reefs we’ve seen in decades. And maybe even make the transition to full-mermaids while they’re at it.