LESSONS LEARNED AFTER 1 YEAR AS A CRF™ INTERN
Coral Restoration Foundation™ supports a very hard-working staff that includes multiple departments, with the Restoration team handling the bulk of the field work. There’s about 10 team members between Key Largo and Key West who are assisted by an abundance of interns eager to help and learn. My name is Jason, and I am one of those interns. Growth comes in many forms, and one of the things this internship has shown me is that there’s more to a restoration diver’s workday than you think.
Jason is the current Restoration Program Intern. Having spent a year with CRF™ he's sharing some of the lessons he learned on the way. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
The first, and most obvious, part of being a restoration diver is you’re in the water most days you’re working in the beautiful, sunny Florida Keys. The opportunities presented while working for a restoration organization like CRF™ are endless. From learning how to make Coral Tees™ to harvesting off those trees in our nurseries, each team member is very well-rounded and confident in their abilities. On top of that, being a restoration diver, specifically for CRF™, exposes you to numerous endangered species of coral that need special permits from policy makers to work with.
With all the exciting and priceless experiences this career provides, there are plenty of factors that interfere with completing restoration goals the team has set out. Some people may not realize this but working on a boat and in the water in a capacity such as a restoration diver leaves you wondering things like how you got a bruise on your left armpit. There’s a plethora of marine life that can sting, cut, or cause intense reactions (e.g., fireworm accidents), and we can find all these growing on our trees and the reefs we outplant on. So it is important to stay vigilant and move with purpose while working in the water.
Jason and the team run safety drills on the water! ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
Some abiotic variables that influence the success of our day include current, surge, and wave height. Storms can keep us on land or cut our day short, and since it’s Florida the weather can be extremely unpredictable. Even though all these factors pose hurdles for the Restoration team, one of the main skills each member hones are being adaptable to anything that’s thrown at you.
So, you want to know what it takes to be a restoration diver? I would say the first step is getting comfortable in the water and under pressure. Start with your Open Water (OW) course and go on as many fun dives as you can, being conscious of how you’re interacting with the environment around you. For CRF™, the minimum number of ocean dives to become part of the team is 30 dives with 10 or more of those dives being off a boat. Building off your OW certification, you would be able to move through courses like Advanced Open Water to being Rescue certified in no time. Rescue is one of the certifications restoration organizations, such as CRF™, look for as skill that sets you apart from the crowd.
Don’t stop there! The more dive certifications that can be obtained, the better. Maybe you don’t know what you want to do before getting to college or this is a passion for you but need a little nudge to pursue this career, do it! If you’re studying marine biology and want to pursue coral restoration, take any marine biology course you are genuinely interested in and if it is focused on coral that’s even better! Luckily you’re not defined by what you studied in undergraduate, and even with a non-marine biology major you can still excel in this field. I've worked with people who studied graphic design, geology, and business administration, and all of us found success as restoration divers. Finding an internship like the one here at CRF™ can help mitigate any absence of prior knowledge on corals.
Jason spent much of his time at CRF™ learning new skills. Here he is experimenting with different types of coral adhesives used in restoration work. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
Throughout my time here at CRF™, which is coming up on one year!, I have been amazed at what passionate and driven intellectuals can accomplish when we all are a team and work towards the same goals. I didn’t know what to expect coming into this internship, but I’m leaving with such high regard for this organization and the work done.
Every year our numbers for outplanting increase as we try to restore coral coverage and kickstart the natural recovery processes these ancient species innately have. By keeping our coral stock abundance above a certain threshold, we can continually grow and then outplant staghorn, elkhorn, and boulder corals. With all the work that’s been completed, it’s actually quite easy to see the impact being made every time we put corals back on the reef.
I have seen such a diversity of life and in abundance that I have been surprised on numerous occasions. For the most part, I’ve noticed that reef sites we outplant on have gotten a little busier with life. I have also seen 5 year old outplants of both staghorn and elkhorn, and again I was surprised! Seeing full healthy thickets of staghorn that came from CRF™ is something I didn’t think I’d see and the elkhorn were beautiful and massive.
Already I’m seeing an huge positive impact from the restoration work I have been a part of. We must continually keep up our efforts to combat climate change and reef degradation. That’s one of the main reasons I decided reef restoration was my calling. Everyone one of us in restoration has a reason for doing what we do, whether that’s to fight climate change or if you just love corals and want to interact with them on a daily basis. With all this passion for something so critical to all environments, not just the ocean and reefs, it’s easy to see why we got in to this field. What’s your reason?
Jason celebrates a year with CRF™, underwater and upside down. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
Bringing It Back Editorial Intern
Jason was born and raised in Boca Raton, Florida. With the ocean just 15 minutes away, Jason was on the water every weekend fishing, scuba diving, or just boating for fun throughout his childhood. He received his boater’s license at 10 years old, and got open water certified a year later. Sporadically diving throughout middle and high school, Jason’s love for the ocean grew immensely. It was in a senior high school class that his passion for the ocean solidified, which caused him to make a career choice once he started college. He studied marine biology at the University of Central Florida and conducted a research project looking at vertebrate impacts on mangroves on a newly restored shoreline within Canaveral National Seashore, Florida. With CRF, Jason is extremely excited to learn and conduct the cutting-edge restoration and conservation practices taught here.
Coral Chronicles Editor
Madalen Howard is CRF's Communications and Outreach Coordinator. She comes to CRF™ via a winding road from the Tennessee hills, to the South Carolina low country, ending here in Florida’s Coral Reef. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Marine Biology and a Minor in Environmental Studies from the College of Charleston in 2016. Her experience ranges from field research to education, marketing and digital communications.
With CRF™ Madalen creates inclusive pathways to scientific discovery through content creation and by building and fostering relationships with press, digital media creators, and local community members. Throughout her life Madalen has had a skill connecting people with nature, and is excited to bring people into the world of coral restoration.