SEA TURTLEs can snorkel?

What a sight! Ten teenagers and four adults standing next to a huge white van with fish painted all over it. A passerby asks us what we could possibly be waiting for, and we groggily attempt to explain why on earth we are up at such an early hour on a Sunday morning. Well, why you ask? For the first SEA TURTLE pool session of course!

My name is Jacki and have been a volunteer in the education department at the Aquarium for the past two years. I am absolutely thrilled about the entire experience of SEA TURTLE. I mean, really!! How many kids in high school do you know learn to dive but also learn about fish anatomy, listen to incredible guest speakers, and even travel to the Bahamas?! To prepare for this long awaited trip, our team of "TURTLErs" has been and will be attending pool SCUBA sessions and classroom based lessons.

Jacki in her snorkeling gear

On Sunday, with wetsuit, booties, flippers, mask, and snorkel in hand, we made our way to the pool. Despite the early hour I had to wake up on a Sunday morning, my energy level sky rocketed when we walked into the pool area. Never having worn a wetsuit before, I was so pumped to hop in the water!

Jacki gives a wave while trying out her gear

The absolute best part of the day had to be the sea shell collecting races Sarah organized. After practicing our "blasting techniques" with the snorkel on our own, Sarah challenged us to test our swimming and diving techniques by having us dive for sea shells. She sunk a variety of sea shells she collected in the Bahamas in the middle of the pool. Our challenge: to collect the most shells. On her mark, our two teams raced to dive to collect the shells! I kicked as hard as I could, spotted a nicely situated shell, took a deep breath, and dove straight down to snatch it. With just enough breath left, I "blasted" my snorkel at the surface, and raced to touch the pool wall first.

Jacki (second from left) and the other "TURTLErs" get ready for their giant stride.

Finally, after lunch, we geared up in our wetsuits! I took my first "stride" off the edge of the pool deck. Then BAM, I floated! It was such an awesomely weird feeling being so buoyant in the water without needing to tread. Shouldn't I start to sink? Now I can't wait for the next pool session where we will be suiting up with ALL of our dive gear!


I did it!

My name is Oriana. I have been working in the New England Aquarium's Dive Department (which oversees the Giant Ocean Tank) for almost two years now. Every day, I walk in there I think, "When will it be me? When will I be able to explore under the water?" Each day I pined for that opportunity. Now my dreams of diving are within reach.

I, along with nine other students took our first giants strides to becoming a diver into the MIT pool (watch video of our giant strides here). This was our first day of training to get certified. The swim test was, contrary to my belief, not so bad. It was a lot easier than I expected.

Our next event was learning how to snorkel. I am sure many people have had this sensation before, being able to see underwater, maybe even with a snorkel.

Oriana gets that first look underwater.

However, to me it was not only that, but a realization and relief that I've done it! I got accepted to SEA TURTLE and made it past the swim test and with my first underwater breath, I thought, "I did it!" That moment was probably the most rewarding one of the day. After that, we learned how to clear our snorkels and pick up shells at the bottom of the pool.

Oriana having fun during the shell game.

We took a break for lunch (I never appreciated food so much!) and then we put on our wetsuits. All of us of squeezing into our wetsuits was quite a sight. We looked like small undercover spy kids about to go on a mission. Our suits made us positively buoyant in the water, which was quite a sensation. After our first big stride into the water, I anticipated the usual sinking of my body down, however my wetsuit caused me to stay up. We all bobbed in the water together and tried to swim threw hula-hoops at the bottom of the pool. The day progressed with us becoming more and more familiar with our suits and with us learning to control ourselves under the water. At the end, I didn't know if I wanted to keep swimming forever or fall fast asleep and never move again.

I can't wait till next time!

- Oriana


Isaiah 1, Swim Test 0

My name is Isaiah. On Sunday, my first impression of the swim test was that I was not going to do as well as everyone else would. I was very nervous until it was my turn to swim.

Isaiah starts his swim test.

After I started swimming, I became confident that I could do it thanks to the support of the SEA TURTLE team. They provided me with the energy to swim until the very end. When I finished the laps for the test, my confidence had increased allowing me to believe that I could make it through the 10 minute tread.

Isaiah, Nick, and Jane treading and floating for 10 minutes.

When Jo announced that I had just two minutes left in the 10 minute tread, I suddenly got a charley horse in my right calf. With the encouragement (once again) provided from my SEA TURTLE team, I was given the confidence to make it through to the end. When the whole test was over, I was very proud of the accomplishment that I had just made. Thank you team for helping me make it through it all!

Evan watches as Isaiah prepares for his final lap.


#70: Why does Sherrie Floyd live blue?

Recently the Aquarium launched the Live Blue Initiative, an online tool that allows people from all over the world to share their commitment to protect the blue planet. The divers are sharing their own live blue profiles describing how they care for the oceans. Here's a look at Senior Aquarist/Expedition Leader Sherrie Floyd's Live Blue profile.

Sherrie Floyd
Senior Aquarist/Expedition Leader

Complete the Sentence:
I am passionate about all things aquatic. Working at the New England Aquarium has allowed me to take my love for the ocean to a whole new level. Every day I care for hundreds of marine animals including sharks, sea turtles, moray eels and stingrays. I couldn't look them in the eye, if I didn’t live blue!

Why do you care about the environment?
I care about the environment because it is what sustains all of us as well as the animals I love so much.

How has your environment affected your career/education decisions?
Two words: scuba diving! In addition to diving in the Aquarium’s Giant Ocean Tank, I lead Bahamas collecting expeditions every year. Can't do that without the ocean!

What are some things you do in your life to live blue and protect the environment?
I take great pride in our Bahamas collecting expeditions, as we use only the most conservative collecting practices. Our techniques are gentle on the fish we collect, as well as the habitat in which they live. We carefully choose fish that acclimate well to our exhibits and that showcase the diversity and beauty of a Bahamian coral reef. Not only do these trips provide us with a unique opportunity to teach individuals how to collect aquatics without impacting critical habitat, but they also allow us a receptive audience for marine conservation education.

Other ways I live blue are low energy bulbs, recycling, phasing out plastics, and making sustainable food choices. And last but not least, in an effort to help educate my friends and family, I had a "Live Blue" party!

Read more here and follow this link to see Sherrie's plot of ocean in the Phoenix Islands.



Victory in the pool, woo!

My name is Jane. Although I love swimming and water, I always found it really difficult to find the motivation to continue swimming lap after lap. And when I read the requirement for the swim test I felt a certain sliver of fear down my spine.

Jane before her swim test.

Not to say that I can't swim, I just don't have the endurance, especially for the ten minutes of treading/floating. Hence the start of my practices on Saturdays after work with a friend cheering me on. Finally, it was the Saturday before the test, I had to prove myself. I asked Michelle, my friend, to not allow me to leave the pool until I completed the test requirements. And I did.

On Sunday, I was in the last group to go for the swim test. After seeing each and every one of my friends and teammates pass the test, I felt ready. With a dive and personal motivation, I pushed myself through my laps. For my treading/floating I spent most of the time floating and enjoyed the last ten minutes of my test regaining my breath and calming myself down.

Jane finishes strong.

When Jenna counted down, "3, 2, 1, you're done!", I screamed "Woo!" in victory and swam to the side of the pool. I was so proud of myself. I had accomplished what I thought was impossible. I felt like a superhero :)

- Jane


First Splash!

The SEA TURTLE team gathered early in the morning on Sunday in anticipation of their first day at the pool. Everyone was armed with wetsuits, masks, fins, snorkels, and lots of snacks! We quickly headed over to the pool where we would spend the day in the water.

Team SEA TURTLE gets to the pool.

The students broke into three groups for their swim tests. The test was to ensure that each student had a certain level of comfort and confidence in the water. Each student had to swim four laps (using any stroke) followed by a 10 minute tread/float. Each group cheered each other on to victory. It was amazing to see the students already working as a team and offering eachother support.

Kylie and Oriana after their swim test.

After everyone successfully completed their swim test (yay!), we had about 45 minutes before lunch. I asked the group if they wanted to rest a little or if they wanted to get in the pool and do some snorkeling. What do you think the answer was??? Yup, they had their masks, fins, and snorkels on in about a minute flat. I've never seen these teenagers move so fast...

We learned basic skills (like how to clear a snorkel without getting a mouthful of water) and played some games. As each student focused on racing to a seashell and picking it up before their teammates, they forgot to concentrate so hard and voila! They're naturals, swimming like dolphins.

Tori with her new mask and snorkel.

After a well-earned lunch, everyone put on their wetsuits to see how it felt to swim covered with a layer of neoprene. We did some laps with our snorkeling gear on to get used to the feel of it. We also learned how to do a "giant stride" entry into the pool. Next time we'll practice this skill wearing scuba gear:

Ready, set, go! Wait...where did everyone go?

By the end of they day, we were swimming through hoops (literally! we weighed down a few hula hoops at the bottom of the pool).

Swimming through hoops.

I think we have a team of divers forming here.

Peace, love, and wetsuits for all :)

In the upcoming days, you'll hear what two students had to say about their own experiences at the pool.


Families and paperwork and dive gear, oh my!

"Umm...Mom/Dad, can I learn how to scuba dive at the Aquarium? Oh, and go to the Bahamas for a week?"

What a way to start a conversation, huh? Well that's what our teens had to do as they as they discussed the first ever SEA TURTLE program with their families. Now I'm not a parent, but I can only imagine the questions that followed: You're going to live on a boat where? How does this scuba stuff work? Who are you going with? In our recent orientation, families were introduced to the program and had the opportunity to ask lots of questions.

Sarah talking to the group.

The evening featured a great presentation by Sarah that outlined what the teens would be doing, seeing and experiencing throughout the program. Families were able to meet the rest of the staff, the other teens, have their questions answered, paperwork was filled out (and there is a lot of paperwork!) and the teens received their first set of dive gear. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, especially when their teens received their shiny new fins, masks, snorkels and wetsuits!

Jacki, one of the teens selected, her mom and dive gear!

Isaiah and his family

The wall decoration seems appropriate for this time of year!

I am sure that there are more questions to come, but hopefully we have started to answer a few. Not only do we hope to have an excited group of teens partake in this crazy adventure but an excited group of families as well. Hopefully this night has started to instill that excitement in everyone. And now the fun truly begins! Check out our upcoming blog entry as our teens take to the pool for the first time!

- Jo


10 teens + 1 boat + 18 scuba tanks + 1 island in the Bahamas = SEA TURTLE?

Huh? Before you start wondering about my math skills, let me tell you about the New England Aquarium's new program called SEA TURTLE.

The turtle in SEA TURTLE stands for Teen Underwater, Research, Training and Learning Expedition. It's an exciting new opportunity for teens who are interested in marine biology, conservation, and scuba diving.

The R/V Coral Reef II docked during a full moon.

The idea for this program was born from my experience as a trip leader for the Bahamas collecting expeditions, and from the students themselves. I'm a scuba instructor and a diver in the Giant Ocean Tank and I can't tell you how many times teens have come by the Dive Office to ask, "How can I learn how to scuba dive? How do I get to dive in the GOT?"

It took some time and a lot of hard work but we came up with an answer--and the answer is SEA TURTLE! Here's how it's going to work:

Ten teens were selected from a strong pool of applicants from the Aquarium community (you'll learn more about them soon). They'll attend weekly classes at the Aquarium and a local pool. Students will practice basic scuba skills underwater and will learn more about scuba equipment and diving safety in the classroom. We'll also hear from really cool guest speakers (like a shark biologist and an underwater videographer). Stay tuned to hear what the students learn each week!

Now here's the REALLY fun part. During April school vacation, we'll fly down to Miami and jump onboard the R/V Coral Reef II (the boat we use for collecting trips). We'll travel down the Miami River and cross the Gulf Stream to the beautiful islands of Bimini, Bahamas. We'll spend a week learning about mangroves, coral reefs, invasive species, fishes and invertebrates. Students will also complete their open water dives to complete their scuba certification.

We'll also be having a lot of fun along the way. We hope you'll come along with us on the journey.

Here are some photos to get us started.

The beautiful waters of Bimini.

Kayaks lined up in Bimini.

Here are a few beautiful underwater scenes (courtesy of past collecting trip participant, Mark Rosenstein).

A gorgonian soft coral. (Photo: Mark Rosenstein)

A flamingo tongue on a sea fan. (Photo: Mark Rosenstein)

A school of snapper. (Photo: Mark Rosenstein)

A school of grunts. (Photo: Mark Rosenstein)

A barrel sponge spawning. (Photo: Mark Rosenstein)

- Sarah


#69: What's Happening - A Footnote...

I need to add a footnote, of sorts, to my 2009 Things To Remember post. I realized this weekend that I managed to forget one of the biggest things that happened during '09 in the micro-universe that is the GOT. And how could I?

How could I forget Andrea?

No, not the Andrea Doria...

Andrea the Diver! Well, I suppose "Andrea the Penguin" might be more accurate, if it didn't sound so strange.

While Chris was off on his five month walkabout, Andrea - an intrepid penguin staffer - came 'upstairs' to fill his shoes (hence this being a FOOTnote...) in the GOT. And though Chris was missed by us all - it's equally important to say how great it was to have Andrea with us for five months. She was always smiling, always good natured, and dove like, well, like a penguin. Not to mention her mad skills at trivia!

So though she's now back down in penguin land, and her smiling face can still be seen through a sea of webbed feet, feathers and flightless wings, she has cemented her place in history as a GOT diver and should top the list of 2009 Things To Remember.

Safe diving.

- John



#68: What's Happening - 2009 Things To Remember...

It's hard to believe that 2009 has already retired, heralding in not only a new year but the exciting prospect of an entirely new decade. How time flies, it seems as if it was just last week that I sat down and wrote about the Best of 2008. If there's one thing's for sure, there's never a dull moment when working in the Giant Ocean Tank. So take a break, grab a snack (I'm currently munching down a fantastically tasty spicy turkey panini from the Aquarium's cafe), and let's cheers to 2009, GOT-style...

The Best of 2009

  • 2009 saw us entering into an exciting partnership with Roger Williams University that includes a larval fish program. This program has already yielded results, including the little guy below - a juvenile Queen triggerfish. Queen triggerfish have not been reared in captivity, until now, so we are very pleased with this achievement.

  • The GOT is nothing without its inhabitants. In 2009, we had the good fortune of adding some very interesting animals to the already diverse exhibit...
    • In March we introduced a new green moray eel into the tank. He had a rather interesting history prior to making the GOT his new home and I'm happy to say he is doing extremely well!

    • In July we added a second barracuda, a juvenile that was MUCH smaller than the big guy we already had. However no one told him he was small and, like the new moray, has adjusted to his new home with ease.

    • Finally, we recently we added Ari, a Kemp's ridley turtle that had been rehabilitating down at the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans after sustaining serious wounds from an unfortunate encounter with a boat's propeller. What an amazing story, and what an amazing turtle. We all love Ari!

  • In the fall, we temporarily removed all four of the GOT's resident sharks (three sand tigers and one nurse) for physicals. That equates to 32 feet, 878 lbs of shark (!). The dive staff is very skilled at this process and the sharks were all pronounced quite healthy.

  • 2009 brought us Big Blue, a brand new SCUBA air compressor. GOT divers use a lot of air, about 215,000 cubic feet of it for 2009, so we need a hard working compressor to meet the demand, and I know Big Blue is up for the task. (By the way, that amount of air would fill over seven GOTs!)

  • Speaking of large numbers and hardworking equipment, in 2009 the pumps for the GOT pushed over 1,168,000,000 gallons of clean water through the tank (yes - that's over one billion gallons).

  • Of course, the GOT couldn't exist without the hard working staff, co-ops, interns, and volunteers that work so diligently at making the GOT such a fantastic, diverse, and healthy exhibit.
    • 2009 saw a surge in diving interns. All told, we had seven: Franco, Linda, Suzanne, Alex, Lizzie, Samantha, and Kristen.

      • We had four fantastic teen interns: Isaiah, Nick, Oriana, and Tizzy.

      • Six new volunteers were added to the ranks of GOT volunteers: Rob, Daire, Ashley, Doris, Alfredo, and Simone.

      • DVIT volunteer (Dive Volunteer In Training) Don converted to a full blown Dive Volunteer in 2009 (Congrats Don!).

      • A testament to how much they enjoyed working in the GOT, we had eleven former co-ops and interns return to volunteer their services in 2009.

      • Finally, though we are all extremely busy with our jobs, the dive staff is a rather diverse and energetic bunch, and we all manage to pursue unique interests outside of the GOT. By way of example, here are two activities that were blogged about during 2009:

      Well, since there's always something interesting happening when it comes to the GOT, I know I've missed a bunch, but it was fun looking back on the exciting year 2009 turned out to be. And I've no doubt 2010 will be anything but boring. As a matter of fact, right now I have to get ready to help pull one of our turtles for a veterinary procedure, and it's not good to keep the vets waiting. So 'til next time...

      Safe diving.

    - John