Bonaire: Marine Parks, Uninhabited Islands, Lionfish & Goodbyes

Yesterday morning I spent with the older dive team and we went diving on Klein Bonaire! Klein Bonaire is a smaller uninhabited island off the coast that is home to some pretty spectacular reefs. Free from human stressors and part of the STINAPA Marine Park, the reefs are in excellent condition and house a wide array of marine life. We took the boat out to the island and completed two dives! The first was along the ledge and I was absolutely enthralled with the sheer number of fish here. Far more than I had seen anywhere else on the island and there were large heads of brain coral and towering tube sponges that protruded from the reef. Christmas tree worms of all colors dotted the substrate and thousands of chromis swimming in unison with one another gracefully moved over the reef. I was entranced by the natural beauty of the reef and could have spent the entire day underwater.

I even spotted an invasive lionfish under a stand of montipora coral. Lionfish are endemic to the Indo-Pacific reefs, NOT the Caribbean. Likely introduced by accident from an aquarium enthusiast, the lionfish have multiplied and spread rapidly throughout the Caribbean, decimating the small fish populations. With no natural predators, humans are beginning to hunt them and Woody actually speared several while diving over the course of the week! They are an airy, white meat fish that is easy to serve (once the venomous barbs are removed). Lionfish culls are necessary to bring down the populations and help the local fish species to recover.

After spotting the lionfish and giving a science lesson to the kids, we headed into shore and completed a second dive along the ledge in front of Captain Don’s dive resort and continued along the shore until we reached Buddy Dive! That afternoon I helped Woody with the Zombie Apocalypse dive (yes, you read that correctly haha). Woody came up with the idea and even had it PADI certified as a course! From inflating lift bags to recovering a diver, there are many useful skills to obtain from the course. In usual Woody fashion he was able to spice it up by adding some exciting aspects of it for the kids, including an underwater bubble gun that shoots out surprisingly powerful bubble rings. We also had to rescue a diver and patch a zombie bite, all while dodging other zombie divers underwater. After completing the course I took the photos of the divers and Woody smeared green make-up and fake skin on them! It was really entertaining to see everyone pretending to be zombies while diving! That evening, I accompanied Woody and Danae to the restaurant while Rowan and Bryon-Bell were at the kids show for the evening! They truly are the salt of the earth and I was so happy to be able to spend some quality time with both of them. I later went on a night dive with Woody and he spotted a squid hovering near the surface and was able to get an awesome shot of its luminescent eyeball!

This morning we completed our last dive on Klein Bonaire as the family dive! All the families for the week met on the docks and took the boats over to the island. We leaped off the boat and swam ashore to the uninhabited island and I walked along the shoreline reading the Marine Park’s signs about the sea turtle nests here and the bird colonies inland. Walking along a shell and coral covered beach on an uninhabited island in the Caribbean adjacent to turquoise-blue waters felt like an absolute dream. The natural beauty of Bonaire is unrivaled by anything I have ever seen and seeing all the joyous families playing with their kids in the shallow water or snorkeling offshore was a fulfilling way to end this unforgettable week. I was giving Rowan and Bryson-Bell piggy back rides in the water and snorkeling over the reef with them pointing out the various fish species and teaching them about the marine life. Back at Buddy Dive, Woody and I certified another batch of Zombie divers and then attended the award ceremony! From a poetry contest to spirit awards, the event kept the kids entertained while recognizing their achievements over the week. They then had a beach dinner to conclude the week and we are now beginning to pack for out flight home in the morning. I am so grateful to Woody and Danae for their unwavering kindness and support all week. Woody is probably the wittiest and most wholehearted people I have ever met and he deserves so much credit for pulling off an incredible week for all of these families! Danae is a doting mother and gentle soul and I have loved her sarcastic humor and wholesome personality. I have gotten so close to the enthusiastic Rowan and Bryson-Bell this week and I’m going to miss them terribly. The Tinsley’s have shown me nothing but love and I am blissfully happy to have met each of them.

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The Coral Restoration Foundation

The Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) is a nonprofit organization established in the Florida Keys that seeks to revitalize the Caribbean reefs by replanting coral species that have largely disappeared over the past few decades. Elkhorn and Staghorn corals are two keystone species in the Caribbean that provide fish and invertebrates with critical habitat by growing in a branching pattern towards the surface. They live in shallow, warm waters and are particularly fragile to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification. Their populations have plunged over the last thirty years as ocean surface temperatures have risen and the acidity of the oceans has been amplified due to our relentless carbon dioxide emissions. These dramatic changes place immense stress on coral, and when combined with other stressors such as destructive fishing practices or water pollution, the corals are more susceptible to bleaching. CRF is diligently working to restore the reefs of the Caribbean by planting Elkhorn and Staghorn coral fragments on the reefs –  and their efforts are truly paying off! They have reclaimed several hundred hectares of reef in the Caribbean, and fish populations are rebounding in and around their restoration sites. I had the pleasure of diving with the CRF team lead by restoration specialist Francesa Virdis. Francesca, originally from Italy, moved to Bonaire to champion the health of the reefs through the foundation. She has assembled several “trees,” or vertical coral farms, that hang suspended in the water column and serve as nurseries for the coral fragments. Free from predators and sedimentation, the corals thrive in the shallow, sunlight waters of the nursery.

Fragments of corals from specific genotypes that have survived bleaching events are selected from around the island to ensure genetic diversity and resilience among the newly planted corals. For example, Elkhorn survivor genotype A would produce offspring with a higher chance of survival if bred with Elkhorn survivor genotype B. Through generations of proper breeding of these “survivor corals” the hope is to create a reef that is more resilient to the effects of a warming world. The survivor corals on the island have made it through mass coral bleaching events and by having them reproduce with other survivors it produces a healthy population of corals more resistant to ambient temperature changes.

During our dive, we clipped fragments from one of the trees that Francesca had designated as being mature enough to be planted on the reef. The corals have grown here for months and are now ready to be transplanted. The team uses milk crates to carry the delicate corals underwater from the nursery to the restoration site and then secures them onto the reef with heavy duty zip ties or glue. I helped with analyzing the nursery growth and securing the fragments onto the reef. Mark Evans, a photographer for sport diver magazine UK, photographed the team and I while we were planting the corals. Mark and his family were extremely pleasant all week; the Tinsley’s and I enjoyed getting to know them. I loved having the opportunity to participate in hands-on fieldwork that is truly making a difference in the health of our oceans, one coral at a time. The Coral Restoration Foundation is venerated as a true champion for our oceans, and I feel immensely lucky to have been able to work with such a commendable organization.


Bonaire: Dive, Dive, Dive

The past two days have been full of diving but I will do my best to give each dive a just analysis! The other day I joined Woody on my deepest dive ever! We went out to the reef and descended along the wall, continuing until we reached 100 ft. (My dive computer said 97, but close enough!) Since the visibility is phenomenal in Bonaire, you don’t realize just how deep you really are until you look up and see the endless column of water above your head. It was a short dive, given the depth, but we had a long safety stop in shallower water, while simultaneously checking out the marine life on the reef. After surfacing and having lunch with Rowan and Bryson-Bell, I joined the adults on a boat dive on the southern part of the island! We took the Buddy Dive boat along the coast and got geared up to go in the water. Two very kind guests, Murray and Dale were my dive buddies and we stayed fairly shallow along the Bonaire shelf but saw a plethora of marine life. Pipefish, parrotfish, triggerfish, grouper, palometa, grunts, squirrelfish, chromis, sergeant majors, hogfish and wrasse are just a few of the species we encountered! We even saw THREE hawksbill sea turtles in the shallows that came up for air at the same time! Back at the boat, I snorkeled in the shallows with more of the guests until we headed back to the boat.

Back at Kids Sea Camp, we had the afternoon to rest up and I helped the instructors watch some of the kids jumping off the wall into the water below. That night Woody and I completed our first night dive in Bonaire! Woody uses an alternate light source at night that illuminates the reef with a blue UV light. With a filter over your mask you can see the luminous organisms on the reef. Many coral, anemone and tubeworms glow a vibrant yellow-green color however some even appear bright orange and red! We descended to about forty feet along the shelf and were followed by massive tarpons, which used our lights to hunt with. They would encircle us and wait until we moved our lights to feed. We did our best to not illuminate any of the sleeping fish because the tarpon would use it to their advantage. I also encountered a large moon jelly pulsating in the water column offshore that was drifting in the currents along with the countless other marine plankton that migrate up from the depths each night to feed. What a successful day of diving!

The next morning I joined the Kids Sea Camp team on an easy shore dive off the resort observing one of the wrecks that had sunk along the shelf. It’s a small schooner that is capsized on the reef, however it has been completely covered in corals and it’s difficult to discern where the reef starts and the boat ends because of all the encrusting corals. The kids enjoyed the dive and the instructors did a great job of showing them the area and accounting for their safety. We came back along the north part of the reef and went through the underwater vertical coral farm established by the Coral Restoration Foundation, which I’m hoping to dive with this week! We then dried off and had lunch before heading to the Bonaire Donkey Sanctuary (Yes, you read that correctly, a Donkey Sanctuary). We loaded up the vans and drove across the island to the sanctuary, which was established for the hundreds of wild donkey’s that roam the island whose ancestors were brought by early explorers. Driving through the island we saw the parched landscape and the dry scrub. Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao are known as the “ABC” islands and they are all off the coast of Venezuela and have notoriously dry climates compared to other parts of the Caribbean. However, they are all currently in the midst of a mega-drought. Rainfall patterns have shifted over the last few decades and the islands are struggling with the persistent lack of rain. The sanctuary is home to over seven hundred donkeys, which freely roam the grounds, and visitors can drive though and feed them! We wen through the sanctuary in the Buddy Dive vans and the kids all reached out the windows with bits of bread for the donkeys that quickly had enveloped our van! We then continued on to the downtown and I joined the Tinsley’s for some gelato!

Continue reading Bonaire: Dive, Dive, Dive

Welcome to Bonaire!

Today was my first full day in Bonaire with the Tinsley family! I flew to Newark, New Jersey yesterday where I met the Tinsley’s to board our flight to Kralendijk, Bonaire. Woody and Danae have two charismatic children, Rowan and Bryson-Bell that are absolutely hysterical and full of life! I have never been diving in the tropics, nor have I ever been this close to the equator so I’m ecstatic to be here! Bonaire is known as “divers paradise” and the reefs are simply spectacular! Protected by the STINAPA Marine Park, the Bonaire reefs are well managed and in an overall healthy condition.

The Tinsley family and I are staying at Buddy Dive Resort for the annual Kids Sea Camp! Buddy Dive is directly on the coast and its location provides its guests with ample opportunities for world class shore diving. I’m here to assist Woody Tinsley with the Kids Sea Camp program! They provide safe, fun and educational vacations to children and their families. Over the course of the week, the children will be become Scuba certified depending upon their group. Some of the families are here to become open water certified, others to become advanced or adventure divers and one is here to become a rescue diver! The instructors are from around the globe but many are from the Netherlands, since Bonaire is governed as a territory of the Netherlands. I’ve been designated as the week’s photographer and assistant to shadow and help the various groups with their dives. Woody, Danae and I got organized for the week last night by sorting through all the paperwork, shirts and prizes for the week. Woody then gave an introductory speech to all the families for the week out on the beach. The resort is absolutely gorgeous and Buddy Dive’s buildings are all a bright Caribbean yellow color. They also have an outdoor cabana where the meals are served which backs up to a pool and a beach overlooking the ocean. This morning, I shadowed the younger group with Rowan and his instructor Michiel in the pool. Rowan was so funny trying to use the SeaLife camera and taking selfies underwater! I then joined the Adventure diver group on their first dive offshore. I couldn’t wait to get geared up and get into the water! It was vey different for me not have to wear a wetsuit while diving haha! The warm water of Bonaire is home to a wide array of tropical marine life and I was stunned by just how many fish species were present along the wall and under the dock. I followed the team out to the edge of the drop off, where the notorious Bonaire reef drops into the depths just a fee hundred feet offshore. I saw large heads of coral along the edge as well as countless fish species. From parrotfish to jacks there were species of all kinds here! I was particularly fascinated with the schools of blue tangs that drifted over the reef stopping to feed on algae along the way. The kids were enthralled with the marine life and the instructors worked hard to ensure that they saw as much as they could while also getting the proper training in. Woody and I went on a dive with a group of the parents in the afternoon and we ventured out to the reef. A group of squid, apparently now known as a squad, was hovering over the staghorn coral. They seemed unfazed by our presence and hovered gently in the water column before continuing onwards. We also saw curious trunkfish and schools of grunt while on the dive! We then quickly dried off and joined Danae and the kids for a sunset tour of the island. The ship was an authentic Dutch trading ship replica that moved via sail and the kids playing on the deck while the parents watched the sunset. I had the opportunity to speak more with Danae while on the tour too! It was a great first full day and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week has in store for us!

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The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries

Vin Malkoski invited me to join him and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries on a dive in Boston Harbor the other day! I met Vin and Steve at the Weymouth Back River and we headed out to Boston Harbor to check up on the progress of an artificial reef mitigation site in the Harbor. A pipeline built through the harbor destroyed some of the local boulder reefs and as part of the permitting process a mitigation site was created to restore the bottom communities. We met the Gloucester team in the harbor and joined them on their boat. They were all very pleasant and I enjoyed shadowing their work! At the first site, Vin and I went down the line and inspected the bottom to obtain a general overview of the marine life in the area. The visibility was poor (reminder, it’s Boston Harbor) but I was impressed by the diversity of marine life! There were blood stars, lobsters and plenty of small fish. We completed three different dives and the second dive I accompanied the team on the bottom and helped placed quadrants for surveying and ran the line down the length of the artificial reef. They were documenting the species present and keeping track on their clipboards. The last dive was very poor visibility due to the slack tide but surfacing and seeing the Boston skyline in the distance was something I will never forget. I loved every minute of the experience and could definitely see myself doing something like this as a career in the future!

I also met Ethan Gordon at his office for Gordon Multimedia in Ashland this week! I was helping Ethan get organized for the 2016 show and going through the logistical side of running a dive show! I had drive to Mike Zapalla’s house to pick up the ticket stubs the night before and I didn’t realize just how close we live to each other; only a few streets away over the town line! Ethan and I also got lunch a local restaurant and discussed my progress so far this summer. Thanks Ethan for being so helpful and kind this week!

Today I met Vin in New Bedford at the Pope’s Island Marine to join the Division in seizing illegal fishing gear! We headed down to the docks and met the Environmental Protection Officer and first mate that were assisting us in removing the gear. We headed out into Buzzards Bay and spotted his buoys and began hauling up the gear. The fish pots and lobster pots were not up to regulation standards and the violator had broken numerous rules on multiple occasions. We set all the lobsters and fish in the pots free and pulled countless spider crabs off the pots as well. After hauling in all of his gear, we brought the boat to Mattapoisett and unloaded the pots onto the dock where we were met by a team of Environmental Police who confiscated the gear. Vin let me drive the boat for some of the ride back to New Bedford and under his watchful eye we made it there in one piece! I loved the time I spent with the Division of Marine Fisheries and Vin this week and I’m extremely appreciative of everything he has done for me this summer! From the Submarine Races to the Division, he has been an excellent mentor and source of guidance for me!


Newfoundland: WWII Wrecks, Icebergs and Sea Caves!

Yesterday was my last day in Newfoundland and it certainty was eventful! I practiced my peak performance buoyancy with Johnny Olivero in the Ocean Quest pool as part of my Advanced Certification! We were preparing to complete one of my deep dives on the Bell Island wrecks! Four ships sank off Bell Island in 1942, all casualties of a German U-Boat attack. The Saganaga, Lord Strathcona, Rose Castle and PLM 27 were British ore carriers in Newfoundland to obtain the iron ore mined from the Bell Island mines to help support the British demand for ore during the war. All were sank in the Bay and are relatively close to each other. The Saganaga is the shallowest with the deck at 70 feet. I joined Johnny, Rebecca and the team from the Netherlands on the Mermaid with Bill O’Flaherty and skipper Nick Dawe. We did a giant stride into the water off the back of the boat and began our descent down the line. This was the deepest dive I had ever been on and it was my first true wreck dive, so it was a thrilling experience! Once on the deck you could see the anchor, which catapulted out of the water and landed midship during the attack. We continued along the wreck to the gun, which has a ghostly appearance since it still sits perched on the bow. Diving thirds, we turned around at 2000 PSI and saw the mangled wreck covered in metridium anemones and urchins. There was also a large lumpsucker near on of the ladders. While on our safety stop, I spotted a large lions mane jellyfish pulsating through the water. They are common in these waters and can reach a monstrous size by the end of the summer. After surfacing we went back to boat, exhilarated and high fiving each other after such an incredible dive!

We made a second dive around the Isle to approximately 35 feet where there is a crevice in the rock that you can swim through, which is full of marine life. Colonies of mussels covered the crevice and sea stars the size of dinner plates were happily feeding here. The dive was in a triangle shape and we made a right turn around the cliff and saw an abandoned lobster pot as well as an old coralline algae encrusted anchor. I also saw a massive, ugly Sculpin perched on a rocky ledge that camouflaged so well all the other divers missed it!

The day continued with excitement as I met Sandy Walsh and Matt Billard at the dock for a sea cave and iceberg snorkel tour! We headed out in the Zodiac to the Isle where the cave by the clapper is calm enough to snorkel. We leaped into the icy water and saw the deep crevice below us. The rock was encrusted with pink coralline algae and inside the cave sponges supplanted the algae where there was no light. The rock in the area was mostly slate and Matt had me climb up onto the “clapper” of the Isle to see the layering of the rock. There are numerous fossil finds in the area thanks to the well-preserved and ancient rocks. After swimming through the caves we came back to the Zodiac and went around the Isle to Iceberg Alley! Here there were small bergs floating on the surface and we were able to jump in the water with them. Despite the numbing cold, I couldn’t resist climbing atop the iceberg like a seal! While snorkeling around the berg you could hear and see the millions of air bubbles rising up from the ice. As the ice melts, air pockets that are thousands of years old are released and there is a distinctive snap, crackle, pop sound in the water. Matt brought back a small chunk of ice and so I leaped in the water to push from below and they brought it on board. They add the pure glacial water to drinks in Newfoundland! We continued around the Isle and entered another cave, except this one you could swim through and then reappear on the other side. At one point we climbed out of the water since the tide was low to continue through but we then met Matt at the Zodiac on the other side. On our way back though the glass calm bay, I began to reflect on my experiences thus far. The past ten days in Newfoundland have undoubtedly been some of the most memorable, rich and transformative of my life. I am so grateful to warm and humble people of Newfoundland for instantly making me feel welcomed. On the last day, they brought me to St. John’s where I was “screeched in” as an honorary Newfoundlander! I cannot thank the wonderful people at Ocean Quest and the Stanley’s enough for their hospitality and willingness to show me everything Newfoundland has to offer. I hope to return again in the future!

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Newfoundland: Icebergs & Diving

Today I joined Johnny Olivero and Rebecca Feldman on a dive in South Conception Bay where three whaling ships have run aground. One sits upright out of the water and is a rusty, brown color from years of decay. We geared up and waded into the water, then swam along the side of the upright ship and peered into the hull. It was covered with invertebrates and so much kelp that it was difficult to discern where the actual wreck was! We went to about thirty feet and looped around the back of the ship before surfacing. On our second dive we saw the other two ships, which lay on the bottom behind the beached one. What a rare sight to see!

This afternoon back at Ocean Quest, we got ready to attend an Ice Berg tour! I was overjoyed with excitement because I’ve always wanted to see one in person! Everyone headed down to the dock and boarded the Ocean Quest Mermaid for the tour. I joined the National Geographic team from the Netherlands that was chronicling the effects of climate change the on Arctic. We headed out into the Bay and around Bell Island where we saw the “bell” and the “clapper” which are the two distinctive rock structures that are the namesakes of the island. In the distance we could see the Ice Bergs, which congregate off Newfoundland and Labrador in a region known as Ice Berg Alley. As the glaciers in Greenland and Labrador clave, large chunks of ice float down the Labrador Current and end up in Newfoundland. The frequency and intensity of these calving events has dramatically increased over the last century as the glaciers of the region continue to rapidly melt due to anthropogenic climate change.

The iceberg we found was enormous. And that’s only what we could see from the surface. The blinding white ice protruding out of the water had veins of blue refrozen water cutting through it. I was in awe with these icebergs and Bill pointed out a defined brown streak in the ice. These brown streaks are indicative of air pollution at the time when the ice was laid down. He explained that it was either Europe’s industrial revolution or a relatively recent (within last few hundred years) volcanic event. While fascinating to see, it was sobering to know that many of these icebergs drifting south are a symptom of a warming world.

I joined James Humby for an evening dive just in Holyrod. We completed a simple beach dive and entered the water to see large Jonah crabs scuttling along the bottom. There were also many Winter Flounder in the area and more metridium anemones along the wall. What a great shore dive and a phenomenal day!



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Newfoundland: Exploring Trinity, Holyrod and St.John’s

Over the next few days we continued exploring the area and I accompanied Rick, Jill and Sabine on a road trip to Northern Newfoundland visiting the small coastal fishing village of Trinity. Driving there took almost three hours and the rugged landscape we crossed though was spectacular. Large granite peaks, pine forests, arctic grasslands and cold-water steams dotted the landscape. Trinity is a small, charming village is nestled on the Northern shore of Newfoundland and still retains its authentic feel. Rolling green hills covered with lupines and the powerful Atlantic Ocean surrounds the village of Trinity. Jill and I walked along the coastal paths and took photos of the town. Afterwards, we met Rick for lunch at one of the oldest restaurants in Newfoundland. They served us with locally caught fish & chips covered in gravy; known in Canada as a Newfie delicacy! Trinity was honestly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and I’m so grateful for being able to visit.

I joined Captain Bill O’Flaherty on a dive off Harbor Maine beach with a team of filmmakers and divers from the Netherlands yesterday. It was absolutely pouring rain and we scrambled to get geared up before being soaked! We waded into the icy water and then descended along a rock wall covered with colorful anemones and invertebrates. Upon entering the water I stunned by the excellent visibility and the diversity of marine life in such cold waters. We continued along the wall until we found an old mirror on the bottom, behind which a resident wolf eel was hiding. Bill explained that he has seen that eel for over a decade in the same spot! After the dive we headed to a local teashop to have lunch and to warm up! After getting something to eat we continued driving along the southern coast of Conception Bay to a remote area locally known as Bacon Cove. The cove was given its name because there was once a boat that sank offshore carrying pigs and for months afterwards they washed onshore in the cove! The beach was covered in smoothly rolled stones and we had to be cautious when walking down to shore. A small red fishing hut sat perched on the cliff and birds were circling the area because a school a capelin had come in close to shore. We snorkeled through the school close to shore and soon realized that they were here to breed because the water was clouded with eggs and sperm! I continued along the wall and saw hundreds of green sea urchins amongst the kelp as well as sea stars the size of a dinner plate clinging to the rocks. Just as we were packing the car to leave, out of nowhere a large Minke whale surfaced in the cove and we could see the capelin darting away from the whale! Just as quickly as it came, she went but we were all fascinated by the unexpected surprise!

The weather was poor today so I spent it with Keith Small, James Humby and Michael Fost in the dive shop learning about the business and getting to help with filling tanks and sizing customers. I enjoyed spending time with them and that afternoon James drove me into St.John’s to see the city! St.John’s is one of the oldest cities in all of North America and is known for it’s steep streets that are carved into the rugged coast and for it’s vibrant “jelly bean” houses that add a pop of color to the city! James took me hiking on a local favorite spot known as Signal Hill. This is the location that the first Trans-Atlantic telecommunication message was received! Atop the hill is an old castle that resembles something out of England or Scotland! We followed the unsuspecting trail along the cliff and passed many joggers and dog walkers. The trail winds it way through backyards and along the coast until you reach Widow’s peak. The peak offers some breathtaking views of Cape Spear, the Eastern most point in all of the Americas, and of the St.John’s lighthouse and WWII bunker. I was spellbound looking out at the mighty Atlantic and the unbelievable scenery. We continued up a steep flight of stairs to the top where the castle provides a panoramic view of the city. It used to be used as a watchtower and has canons placed around the exterior. I loved the hike and I’m grateful to James for showing me such unique hiking spot! That night back at Ocean Quest, Rick had prepared us an authentic local dinner of “Moose Meatballs!” Only in Canada, as they say!


Newfoundland: Swimming with Whales!

“Giver’ til ya shiver!” exclaimed Rick Stanley as I walked out of customs in the St.John’s airport. I had just arrived in Newfoundland, Canada after a long day of traveling! Rick Stanley is the owner of Ocean Quest Adventures, an adventure and eco-tourism tourism company based in South Conception Bay, Newfoundland that provides their guests with high quality close encounters with nature. I stayed with Rick and his wife Debbie at their dive resort situated on the pristine Conception Bay South along with their other guests during the week. After Rick gave me a tour of their resort, I met explorers Jill Heinerth and Sabine Kerkau, who were also staying with Rick for the week. Jill has been extensively involved with the Sea Rovers in the past and is a world-renowned exploratory cave diver. She has an impressive history of diving in extreme environments and I sincerely appreciated her willingness to interact with and teach me throughout the week.

On the first day we all drove to the coastal town of Petty Harbor, which is sheltered in a cove on the Eastern side of the island. Migratory whale species, such as Humpback and Minke, stop in the rich waters of Newfoundland and Labrador to feed on capelin during the summer months. Newfoundland is one of the few places on Earth that you can legally snorkel with whales and Ocean Quest is extremely respectful and courteous of the animals while also providing their guests with an unforgettable experience with these gentle giants. Johnny Olivero is the operator of Ocean Quest’s close encounter whale tours and he leads the Zodiac trips with Rick Stanley. Johnny also graciously took me diving on several occasions throughout the week and he even helped me work towards my Advanced Diver certification! We cruised along the coastline scanning the horizon for any signs of feeding whales. Typically, large flocks of feeding sea birds are an indicator of whale activity. The whales drive schools of fish up from the depths to feed on them at the surface, where eager puffins and kittiwakes will snatch up any extra fish. Everyone in the boat scrambled to get our snorkeling ad camera gear together when Johnny spotted the first whale. Everyone plunged into the frigid water and swam to the front the boat where we followed Jen Jeans, our Ocean Quest whale guide, to the feeding area. Below us swarmed schools of capelin when out of the blue appeared a behemoth humpback whale! While our encounter was brief, since the whale continued onwards, looking into the eye of a whale was an exhilarating and simultaneously humbling experience. After attempting to find more whales, we continued onwards and were greeted by a pod of Atlantic white-sided dolphins that playfully surrounded the boat. We also saw numerous puffins, kittiwakes and even an Eagle nesting on the rocky coastline. Johnny brought the boat along the coast to a spectacular waterfall that plunges into the ocean from a several hundred foot high cliff. Everyone crowded to the front of the boat to get a freshwater rinse, as Johnny edged the Zodiac underneath the falls. The melt water was brutally cold but worth the excitement! Later in the afternoon, we explored the town of Petty Harbor by visiting the Mini-Aquarium and having lunch at a local café.
That afternoon, I rode my bike that Rick lent me around the area and to see the fields of lupines and the local fishing boats in the harbor. I met Rick at the docks we headed out into Conception Bay to the historic Bell Island! The island is ripe with history from the WWII era because of its well-known iron ore mines and the WWII wrecks that lie off its shores. We met the rest of the group that took the Ferry on the island and headed to the Bell Island Mining Museum. The Museum is perched over the entrance to the Bell Island mines and we were even able to receive a tour! Walking down ¼ mile into the mines was unlike anything I have experienced before. The temperature drops dramatically after descending just a few feet and all light is lost. The mines were used to help fuel the British demand for iron during the war since Newfoundland was a British colony at the time. Many of the mines have since flooded and they are largely unexplored. Jill Heinerth, Cas Dobbin and John Olivero attempted a cave dive and I was able to witness their intense preparation and entrance to the mines. After ascending they described the numerous untouched artifacts left preserved in the mines from intact wooden horse stalls to metal carts still full of ore. The Bell Island mines hold many secrets and the museum is working in conjunction with Ocean Quest to continue exploring and documenting their history.


National Aquarium: Animal Care Facility, Fish Transfers, Baseball and more!

Over the remainder of the week I continued to have some awesome experiences at the Aquarium! The other day we completed the second fish introduction and Holly was instrumental in organizing and planning the fish introductions with her friend Ashleigh Clews. Ashleigh works at the National Aquarium’s offsite Rehabilitation, Quarantine and Holding facility. She leads a team of aquarists that handles everything from treating injured and sick animals to maintaining optimal water quality. Holly drove me over from the Inner Harbor to Fells Point to meet Ashleigh at their facility! I was able to shadow her for the day to see what her work consists of and to assist her in caring for the animals. Ashleigh has many animals on site that are not on display at the Aquarium due to behavioral, health or space related reasons. From creating and mixing a batch of Aquarium saltwater to feeding a massive Australian freshwater whipray, I had quite an exciting day with Ashleigh!

Back at the Aquarium, Holly and I attended a going away party for one of the Aquarists and then completed another dive in the ACR! This time, I was with the volunteer dive staff and helped to feed the fish! I was able to help prepare the food for each of the animals and every on has a distinct diet. From the puffer fish, eating crab and clams to the parrotfish eating food suspended in a dental mold, every animal is a little different. In the tank, I was surrounded by schools of hungry fish and I could not believe how investigative they were! One of the divers picked up a handful of sand and began dropping to the bottom through their fingers. I followed suit and soon found that countless tangs were congregating under my hands, suspended in the water and entranced by the falling grains of sand brushing over their bodies. I was told that the tangs possibly use the falling sand grains to clean themselves and love being assisted by the divers. That evening, Holly, Bill and I had homemade pizza and discussed life in San Diego since Holly’s brother lives there too!

During the next fish transfer, I helped Morgan Denney and Emily Kelly bring up a container of fish from the loading dock that Ashleigh had brought from Fells Point! We repeated the same process as the other day but this time we had some diverse species in the container, including a flying gurnard! Everyone began high fiving each other after the last fish was added. Another successful day that Aquarium! Later that evening, Holly invited me to the Baltimore Orioles game with her husband Bill and Ashleigh came as well. We all walked down from the Aquarium along the Baltimore waterfront and had dinner together at a bar outside the park with Holly’s aquarist Josh Foronada. Attending a MLB game at Camden Yards was thrilling and I had so much fun with Ashleigh and the Bourbons! We entered the park and had seats with an incredible view of the park. With the Baltimore skyline on the horizon, the park is unlike anything I have ever seen! It was a nice opportunity to get to know everyone better and I feel so lucky to have been invited by Holly. Not a bad way to round out the week!

During the week I worked with many of Holly’s aquarists including Jackie Cooper, Morgan Denney, Allan Kottyan, Emily Kelly, Josh Foronada and Aaron Plinick along with many of the volunteer staff and divers. They were all exceptionally kind and offered to show me their exhibits as well as teach me about a variety of topics raging from animal care to visitor education. We bonded together as a group over the week and I truly felt immersed in the day-to-day aspects associated with running the Aquarium. This morning I shadowed Aaron Plinick in his Tropical gallery learning more about the chemical and biological aspects associated with running a reef exhibit. Aaron graduated from Tufts and used to work at the New England Aquarium so we had a lot to talk about! After saying goodbye and thanking everyone in the office, Holly and I headed to the airport!

Holly is a brilliant leader at the Aquarium whose kindness, spirit and resolve is unmatched by anyone I’ve ever met. Holly’s passion for her animals and fellow aquarists is evidenced by the diligence and patience that she exhibits through her work. I was humbled to have been able to learn from her guidance this week and I leave Baltimore incredibly grateful for everything Holly and her husband Bill have done for me. I look forward to seeing them again soon!

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