Counting down the days!

Three confined pool sessions completed (see our progress in the pool here and here), and only one to go before diving into the depths of the turquoise blue Caribbean waters of the Bahamas! My experience so far in SEA TURTLE has been a whirlwind in the best way possible.

Jacki and her classmates are traveling to the Bahamas soon!

From the first classroom session I have been completely entranced with the speakers we've heard from. Dr. Rotjan amazed me with her presentation on coral reefs in the Phoenix Islands and the issue of the shifting perspectives of reef health. Then week after week more incredibly fascinating members of the marine biology world have introduced us SEA TURTLEs to even more about the ins and outs of marine bio. Last week we even got to inspect real lionfish spines after hearing all about how this particular Indo-Pacific species is invading the Atlantic Ocean! (Meet our other guest lecturers here and here.)

Jacki and Tori examine a lionfish spine

In addition to the fantastic experience I’ve had in the classroom, the pool sessions spent working on skills have left me itching for more! I can’t believe it was only a couple weeks ago that I breathed for the first time, underwater that is. Now, here we are in our latest pool session having our oxygen depleted to practice emergency scenarios (sorry to scare you mom!). It was a very weird sensation not having oxygen flow to my regulator, but our dive buddies were close by to supply us with oxygen from their octopus (a second regulator which acts as an alternate air source).

Practice makes perfect, especially with buddy breathing!

The pool sessions have become more and more intense. In our first session we worked on our snorkel skills. Now, we have worked on learning emergency scenarios and free flow regulator breathing. All of these skills were intimidating at first, but Sarah and the Divemasters, Barbara and Bill, help to create a comfortable situation. Let’s hope we won’t need to use those skills in April, but if we do then we're prepared.

Trying to breathe with a free-flowing regulator

Since we had a pool session recently we have had a break from class. Nearly two whole weeks without SEA TURTLE is brutal! It’s quickly become the highlight of my week! Now onto counting down the days until we board the Coral Reef II R/V in the Bahamas!

Everything is A-OK!


(See pictures of Jacki on other SEA TURTLE blog posts here and here!)


Lionfish...A Prickly Situation

Our expedition to the Bahamas is getting closer and closer. However, there is still work to be done and learning to do before we travel. A recent lecture had the SEA TURTLEs learning about an invasive species that is quickly taking over Caribbean waters. Don Stark, a volunteer diver at the Aquarium and a fantastic videographer, came to speak about this prickly fish. Here is his post on the problem:

Lionfish on the reef-photo courtesy of Don Stark

One of the tropical species the SEA TURTLEs will probably see during their visit to the Bahamas is the lionfish. Lionfish (Pterois volitans and Petrois miles) are beautiful fish native to the Indian Ocean and tropical Pacific Ocean. But over the past decade, they have been found throughout the tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. How did they get into these waters? The major hypothesis is that the 1991 Hurricane Andrew destroyed an aquarium in Key Biscayne, FL which housed a small number of lionfish. Since this time, lionfish have spread as far north as Rhode Island and as far south as Venezuela.

2009 distribution of lionfish in the Atlantic and Caribbean (NOAA map)

I became interested in lionfish and their potential impact on Caribbean reef health when I first started seeing them while diving around the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) in 2006. Since those first sightings in 2006, lionfish are seen on virtually every dive site around the TCI. These invasive animals threaten the health of reefs by consuming juvenile fish which reduces biodiversity and depleting those animals, such as parrotfish, which help maintain a healthy reef system. Over the past year, I have been working with the Department of Environmental and Coastal Resources in the Turks & Caicos Islands in their effort to control the lionfish population via creating incentives for fishermen to catch lionfish and licensing selected individuals and diving operators to collecting lionfish in Marine Parks around the TCI.

Don speaking to the class

SEA TURTLEs listening

The discussion with the SEA TURTLEs was focused on defining the problem of invasive species and the efforts being undertaken by local governments in an effort to control the invasion. There were lots of great questions and fortunately, no one injured themselves on the needle-like dorsal fin spins I brought in for show and tell about lionfish (which have venomous spines in their dorsal, anal and pectoral fins).

Isaiah looks at a lionfish spine


This isn't the first time teens learned from Aquarium experts about lionfish! Click here and here to read previous blog entries about lionfish in the Bahamas.



We're still here!

Based on some changes by our online publisher, we've modified our blogs a little bit.

The SEA TURTLE blog is now under the Giant Ocean Tank Divers and Expeditions blog. The blog will focus on SEA TURTLE during our expedition. When we have a Bahamas collecting expedition, the blog will tell you all about it. When the dive team is based in Boston, we'll let you know about the fun stuff that's going on in the GOT and about our local specimen collecting trips.

So for now, we're all SEA TURTLE. Don't worry, after the expedition is over you'll still get updates from the students. Expect to see posts about some of the things we do together over the summer. (Who knows? Will we go diving in New England? Will we do beach clean up? Will another guest speaker come talk to us?) Whatever we do, we'll be sure to share it with you!



Why are you here?

Why do you want to learn how to dive?

Who inspired you to go in this direction?

Where do you think diving will take you?

This isn't a pop quiz or essay assignment: all of these questions were posed to our SEA TURTLEs during a recent guest lecture. Paul Leonard, a Penguin exhibit staff person at the Aquarium, asked our students to think about the decisions that made them explore diving.

Some of the answers were easy to come by. An interest in seeing the world from under the waves, their work here at the Aquarium inspiring them to learn more, wanting the experience of being in another universe all were things expressed. Some answers were harder as many of our students don't know what is out there in the world of SCUBA.

Paul talks to the class

To make it fair, Paul answered all of these questions from his perspective and shed some light on a few opportunities available to our students. He described his connections with the ocean as a child, his inspirations (Bob Ballard, Sylvia Earle and Jacques Cousteau) and how he wanted to learn more about ocean life. All of these things pushed him to learn how to dive and to explore his new passion.

Too many questions!

In addition, Paul was able to describe another avenue for the students to explore diving. Paul has the honor of belonging to the Boston Sea Rovers, a group of highly-esteemed divers that help to educate people about diving and to further the sport throughout the world. (Read Paul's guest entry on the GOT Blog for more information about his involvement in the Boston Sea Rovers!) They hold a yearly clinic with classes for people to refine and learn new skills as well as the chance for people to network with other divers. It's a great opportunity for a new diver to go deeper and to connect with people of similar interests.

The students were very interested in learning about Sea Rovers and were fascinated by Paul's experience. Here's what one student said about the presentation:

Paul told us about the organization called the Boston Sea Rovers and the potential scholarship opportunities. He spoke about different famous divers which was great because I didn't know about any beforehand. We learned especially about Sylvia Earle and Robert Ballard (who discovered the Titanic wreck). Dr. Ballard is now doing a project on the Black Sea and when I got home that night I researched all about it. This lecture particularly inspired me to want to learn and train towards being an ocean explorer and coming up with my own questions and discover! -Oriana

Oriana, Isaiah and Evan listen

Yet another great guest lecture that clearly made an impact on the SEA TURTLEs! It's been awesome to watch the class become aware of all of the great experiences and opportunities that will be open to them as divers. And one of the biggest opportunities, the Bahamas trip, is coming soon. I hope that everyone is looking forward to it as much as I am! More fun to come!

- Jo


Everything has been going by so fast!

My name is Kylie, and I began working at the Aquarium last summer as a teen intern in the Education department. Now, I'm learning how to scuba dive with nine other students and am getting ready to go down to the Bahamas in April.

Diving gets a thumbs up from Kylie.

We have had three classes at the Aquarium so far. For each two and half hour class we read a chapter from our scuba book and discuss the nooks and crannies of scuba diving. We also have had two pool sessions so far which are usually about six hours long.

Kylie excited about diving in!

Everything has been going by so fast! I wasn't sure how I would be able to learn everything AND scuba dive in a pool at first. But all of us have done so well at it! Our first pool session, we learned the basics of snorkeling and by our second pool session we were diving ten feet under with our scuba equipment. I loved being able to breathe underwater with my regulator. It was awesome!

Kylie relaxing at the bottom of the pool

During our last class, our guest speaker was Bill, an aquarist at the Aquarium. He talked to us about the differences between cold water scuba diving and warm water diving, like in the Bahamas. It was really interesting and he also showed us his dry suit, which is different than a wet suit. We've learned so much already in just three classes, I can't wait for our next class!

Kylie and her classmates take a break


(See another picture of Kylie from way back at the beginning of the program here!)


Not all diving is warm water diving

Tropical breezes. Warm waters teeming with life. The fantastic turquoise-blue ocean color. During the winter doldrums, it's not difficult to imagine warmer places. This is particularly true for our SEA TURTLEs as our trip to the Bahamas draws closer and closer.

However, not all scuba diving is done in warm tropical waters. Though it can be bone chilling cold, there is some fantastic diving here in New England. Bill Murphy, our latest guest speaker, described diving in the Northeast and what it's like to collect some animals for our cold water exhibits.

Bill presenting to the class

Bill definitely knows something about cold water. He is the aquarist for our Northern Waters Gallery where the exhibits focus on habitats in the Pacific Northwest as well as here in New England.

He discussed what it's like to collect animals in Eastport, Maine. Nutrient rich waters and big tidal currents allow for lots of of marine life to flourish there, and thus it is a favorite site for our aquarists to find exhibit animals. The animals are collected, brought on board the boat and then kept in floating pens until they are shipped back to Boston.

Floating pens used to hold animals before transport back to Boston

Lots of types of animals are brought back, according to Bill. Things like stalked tunicates, sea stars and hermit crabs are always common finds. (You can see sea stars and hermit crabs at the Aquarium's Edge of the Sea Touch Tank!) The aquarists even find lumpfish - green bumpy fish with a suction cup on their chin that are a favorite of visitors and volunteers alike.

Little lumpfish stuck on a fingertip

As with all scuba diving, cold water diving in Eastport takes a lot of planning. There are lots of safety precautions taken because of the large tidal flow and currents that are typical in this area. Sticking to a schedule, staying with your buddy, keeping warm and hydrated are all important good safe diving techniques that Bill described and that our SEA TURTLEs have been learning over the past weeks.

Aquarium divers get suited up for cold water

One of the favorite parts of the night was the "show and tell" portion. Bill brought a dry suit and described how they differ from the wetsuits that our team will be wearing in the Bahamas. Dry suits are designed to keep the water out (the dry part), and with a warm-layer suit underneath you can stand to be in the cold waters. Our TURTLEs enjoyed checking it out and measuring themselves up against the suit. Granted, Bill is well over 6 feet tall, so it wasn't quite fair!

Oriana measures up to Bill's dry suit

Overall it was another great night featuring another great lecture. Bill was able to introduce the TURTLEs to cold water diving and how we collect animals. He also had the best quote of the night when he said, "Each place you dive has a unique feel. The more you dive, the more you will love it. But most of all, it is important to have fun!"

As a lot of the teens have said they can't wait for the next part of this crazy adventure. Another great class session down and another step closer to those warm tropical breezes and blue turquoise waters.

- Jo

PS: Last year, Bill was featured in a guest post on the Giant Ocean Tank Blog about the Aquarium's crafty octopus. Check out that entry here!