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"Diving In" to November 2022 with the Coral Chronicles

CRF™ INTERNS SEE MEASURABLE PROGRESS IN JUST ONE MONTH

The CRF™ internship incorporates hours of training to ensure our interns are equipped with the skills they need to be successful coral restoration divers. Since our most recent intern cohort began in early September, the start of October meant it was time time for their one-month training review. Wylie, our Dive Program & Volunteer Training Intern, remembers how fun these training days were when she first started her internship 9 months ago and now gets to share what it is like when the student becomes the teacher!

In their initial training in September, our interns worked in pairs to install Coral Trees™. This time, they had the opportunity to do it solo. It’s a daunting task, with lots of knots to be tied, which is always more difficult underwater, and then you have to haul down the extremely buoyant floats 30 feet.

CRF™ interns learn to install Coral Trees™ in CRF™ open ocean coral nurseries using technique and elbow grease! ©Madalen Howard/Coral Restoration Foundation™


One new intern, Elsa Portanyi recalled, “Honestly, it was a physical and mental challenge the first time I had to pull down two floats that were designed to specifically stay above water.
Imagine my surprise when one month later I not only pulled them down by myself, but I also installed a Coral Tree™ on my own!”

While half of the interns did tree installation with our Dive Training Associate Megan Fryer, the other half joined Wylie for SCUBA navigation practice. They started at the permanent anchor aka mooring where our boats tie up to and one by one, they swam to different locations within our Carysfort Coral Nursery.

All of our nurseries are organized on a grid system, and each tree has a number and a letter that indicates its position in the grid. Wylie decided to choose H1 as the first tree to navigate to.

When Wylie showed the intern, Amanda Neudenberger, this tree written on her slate, Amanda waved. Wylie thought maybe she hadn’t been clear enough in her instruction and pointed at H1 again. Again Amanda waved, though this time with a confused look on her face. It turned out Amanda thought Wylie saying hello, because "HI" looked like “Hi” rather than “H1”.

Amanda recalled, “She kept on gesturing at me to start swimming and I thought she just wanted me to swim off into the deep blue.” It was a lesson in underwater communication, but it’s alright because everyone always gets a good laugh out of it.

Writing on dive slates is one of a few forms of communication underwater. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™

The last task of the day was frag and fill. Our Dive Training Administrator Roxane cut down some elkhorn and staghorn corals, the interns got to practice attaching monofilament fishing line loops to individual corals and hanging them up on the appropriate tree.

One intern Jessie Dambra said, “It was really difficult in the initial training. There were so many other people trying to hang corals on the same tree at the same time and I was having trouble figuring out how to hold the coral, the cutters and the crimp all at once. By the one-month training, though, it was much easier as I started to get the hang of it.”

All in all, the polyps felt that they had made some significant improvements in their own abilities and skills after just one month and Wylie was so happy to have been there to see it all happen.

 

THERE'S A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING

After completing 4 months with CRF™ and applying to the second stage of our internship program as a Lead Intern, you gain the opportunity to lead our Educational Dive & Snorkel Programs. During their first time leading a program, interns are accompanied by Wylie, our Dive Program & Volunteer Training Intern, or Roxane, our Dive Training Administrator.

Our interns are typically very excited about leading these programs because they finally get to share their passion with the public. Claire Geiman, who has been with CRF™ for 7 months, led her very first Public Dive Program in October and is sharing that experience today!

Claire Geiman, CRF™ Lead Intern, leads a Dive & Snorkel Program solo, after months of training for this day! ©Coral Restoration Foundation™


During the morning educational session, when she was explaining the importance of genetic diversity for reef resilience, Claire said, “Genetic diversity is vital for the survival of reefs. As an example, people have different hair colors, like blonde, brown, and black. But people also have differing physical traits that aren’t so apparent, like how I have bad vision and Wylie has good vision. Because I have bad vision, I might not survive long in the wild, but say I have a really good immune system, while Wylie is prone to illness.”

Then Wylie laughed and said, “That’s actually true because my immune system is terrible.”

Claire laughed and then added, “Then when a disease comes through, I might be more likely to survive, even though I have bad vision. So that’s why it’s important to have a lot of genetic diversity, because the more diversity habitats have, the more resilient they are, with a greater ability to survive a variety of different environmental stressors.”

After the morning educational session, the group headed off to Rainbow Reef Dive Center and began their first dive in the Tavernier Nursery. They were a bit behind schedule and Wylie advised Claire that a short 45 minute dive would be best. Everyone hopped in and went to the staghorn section where another CRF™ intern, Rebecca Jones, stayed behind with the participants to help them clean Coral Trees™. Meanwhile, Claire and Wylie swam off to harvest 50 staghorn corals for outplanting.

Luckily, the first Coral Tree™ they planned to harvest from was close by. Unfortunately though, after harvesting 25 corals, the next tree was a bit further away and they had to swim into an extremely strong current to get there. At the second tree, they harvested another 25 corals and made friends with a fairly large hermit crab that had climbed all the way to the top of the tree and perched itself on a staghorn coral.

Coral harvesting completed, Claire and Wylie headed back to the participants and directed them to surface. Next stop was Pickles Reef for coral outplanting! Outplanting is a very specific skill and even with the training that comes from the morning educational session of our Dive Programs outplanting can take a very long time for beginners! Claire and Wylie set their participants, and corals, up for success by quickly establishing a restoration zone along a nice ledge. Participants got to outplanting as soon as possible and returned all 50 staghorn corals to the reef!



Volunteer divers return corals to the reef alongside CRF™ staff and interns! ©Alexander Neufeld/Coral Restoration Foundation™

Claire recalled, “Introducing the public to coral restoration by leading the dive program was a fantastic experience! It allowed me to hone my public speaking and teaching skills, and was a great opportunity for me to practice managing larger groups of divers. It was great seeing participants get excited about reef conservation and restoration through their experience outplanting corals.”
 

"Diving In" Editorial Intern

Wylie grew up in landlocked Pennsylvania, but after a few family trips to Grand Cayman as a kid, she instantly fell in love with the marine world. She remembers snorkeling and later trying to identify everything she had seen. When her granddad got certified to SCUBA dive at the age of 70, it inspired the entire family to follow in his footsteps. Wylie went on her first dive at 13. From that moment on, she realized that she wanted to dive for the rest of her life. In college, she double majored in Marine Estuarine and Freshwater Biology and Spanish at the University of New Hampshire. At 20, she was an intern at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute on Little Cayman where she was introduced to coral monitoring. During the last two years of college, she dived in New England, acquiring her Rescue Diver and AAUS Scientific Diver Certifications as well as working with crabs, mussels and limpets. While she had come to love cold water diving, she realized that she missed coral and wanted to get involved with coral restoration. That said, she is beyond grateful for the opportunity to intern for Coral Restoration Foundation™.


Coral Chronicles Editor

Madalen Howard (she/her) 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. .

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