The Perfect Dive Program
You couldn’t have asked for a better day on the water. The participants of our November 16th dive program were some of the luckiest divers ever and were gifted with a beautiful day on the water. On the boat ride out to the nursery, the water was so flat you could see the bottom.
“It was so clear, I spotted a sea turtle as the boat was speeding by!” Wylie added.
In order to have as much time as possible for outplanting, Wylie decided on a short 30 minute nursery dive. While Jessie helped the dive program participants with tree cleaning, Wylie headed off to harvest corals for outplanting.
She raced to the first tree, harvesting 20 corals as quickly as possible. It took far longer than she had anticipated. By the time she finished and was on her way to harvest from the second tree, she was already 20 minutes into the dive. The adrenaline-induced harvesting that followed was the fastest that Wylie had ever harvested. Ten minutes later, she had monitored the tree, cut down 21 corals and was on her way back to Jessie to end the dive.
CRF™ Diver swims through our Tavernier Nursery on the way to harvest corals to return to the wild! ©Madalen Howard/Coral Restoration Foundation™
When they arrived at Pickles Reef, Wylie hopped in to snorkel and find the outplanting site and saw another turtle!
It took about 15 minutes to find the site and Sea Dwellers was able to anchor in a sand pit right next to the outplants, so the divers just jumped right in!
Once everyone was in the water, Wylie led everyone to the restoration site. When they were settled Jessie began mixing epoxy and Wylie divided up the participants between the two clusters of corals. Wylie and Jessie each oversaw the outplanting process and made sure to help participants through any challenges. They assisted the participants by giving them epoxy when needed, adjusting their hammering technique and checking to make sure the corals weren’t too top-heavy or lying flat against the reef. They also double checked every coral with the classic wave test to make sure they had been properly secured to the reef.
CRF™ Divers and Volunteers return corals to the wild! ©Madalen Howard/Coral Restoration Foundation™
“A lot of the participants were afraid to hammer. They were gently scraping rather than chipping away the topmost layer of the reef to reveal the white limestone underneath,” Jessie said.
This timidness is common on dive programs when people are learning to outplant for the first time. As divers, we learn to never touch the reef, so using a hammer is something that takes a bit of time to adjust to. Once the divers got over their fear and understood how to effectively clear an area, the restoration work really picked up! All in all, everyone had a great experience and 41 more corals were returned to the reef!
CRF™ Divers and Volunteers gather around a central restoration site to prep the reef and secure coral fragments to it, a process called "outplanting". ©Madalen Howard/Coral Restoration Foundation™
If you'd like to hear some of the first hand accounts from participants that day you can listen to NPR's Morning Edition featuring testimony from CRF™ Dive & Snorkel Program participants! 6 Minute Listen Linked Here!
TRAINING VOLUNTEERS: WHAT TO DO WHEN THINGS GO WRONG UNDERWATER
Intern training charters are always some of our staff’s favorite days. During our most recent training day, Wylie our Dive Program Intern, and Sam, our Reef Restoration Associate, had a special plan to film some boulder coral training videos. These videos will be used to train the incoming Spring 2023 interns in boulder coral care and restoration techniques!
At this point in the year, the water temperatures have dropped which makes long dives a little more tricky especially when working with tools like a camera. When you get cold the first thing to slow down is your fingers! Even in a 5mm wetsuit Wylie was feeling the cold!
While Wylie and Sam were filming, the first-round and lead interns were practicing tree installation with some lead interns. The leads found plenty of ways to test the first round intern skills. Lead Intern Thomas Reesa swam away “entangled himself”, and quickly a first round intern, Marine, jumped into action.
“In an effort to replicate an inexperienced diver, I entangled myself,” Thomas said. “I was trying to throw her off. That was my goal.”
By the time Marine got to him, his hands and feet were all tied together.
“I had been ignoring him because he wasn’t listening, and at this point, I was so done with him,” Marine recalled, amused. “So, instead of going all the way over there to untie him, I just started pulling on the downline to bring him to me, dragging him through the sand.”
Despite Thomas’s best efforts, Marine’s unconventional detangling technique worked and she freed him of the ropes. Proving that there is always a way to make learning fun!
By this point Sam and Wylie had finished filming the segments they needed for their training video and had rejoined the group. Sam taught all of the interns to install and fill boulder coral trees and how to scrub algae from boulder coral plugs without harming the corals. The day ended with a topside recap of all the things the intern’s had reviewed and a hilarious retelling of the shenanigans pulled while Wylie and Sam were busy.
"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. .